Grounding the past: Portuguese pavement and how to tour history
To begin exploring Macau, we can begin with the statement that Macau's economy today is largely based upon a very visible tourism. This tourism can be generalized into two parts, which do, of course, overlap. The first is tourism related to casinos, gambling, and nightlife. The second is tourism related to Macau's historic role as the first European colony in Asia, and the sites of interest that reflect this Western legacy in an Eastern region.
We may argue that the former sector of tourism is the more important to Macau's contemporary existence. In 2006, more than 70 percent of the government's total revenue came from gaming-related taxes. It was also in 2006 that income from Macau's casinos surpassed that of the Las Vegas strip.1 Today, we can say that Macau's notoriety as the "Las Vegas of China" is among the first things a foreigner knows about the centuries-old city. In many ways, the foreigner's visit to Macau is thus defined by any previous experiences with Las Vegas.
And indeed, it is hard to erase this impression from the mind. This is not to say that all of Macau is the "Vegas of China," but rather to say that its major offerings to the foreign visitor invite comparison. Macau's hotels and casinos hold court over the city skyline, just as casinos dominate images of Las Vegas. Casino interiors in both cities are opulent and glimmering, and even if you are more likely to hear Mandarin than English, the smell of cigarette smoke and the sounds of excited gamblers are strikingly similar.
Step outside the casino and hotel environment and stroll down to another tourist hub: the historic center of Macau. This is region is generally seen as what makes Macau unique, and what sets it apart from being just an Eastern rendering of Vegas. The Macanese government, both before and after the city's return to China, has emphasized this area's importance as a world heritage site as a place marking the union of East and West. Yet how is the tourist, carrying notions of Macau and images of Vegas, to experience this historic site?
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