Thursday, April 19, 2012

Looking Back at Zhuhai from Macau

Two earlier posts (here and here) included scenes in Zhuhai with Macau in the background--a special administrative region that mainland Chinese can only visit with a special permit. As a reminder, here is a photo from a popular "boardwalk" in Zhuhai with a view of Macau across the water:

people in Zhuhai with Macau in background

Like many other times I visited here, there were numerous Chinese walking with family or friends, riding bikes, or having their photographs taken. In fact, the two umbrellas in the photo are for vendors who photograph customers for a price and then use a computer to quickly produce photos. Although there are other popular waterside walkways in Zhuhai where Macau cannot be seen, it appeared that visitors to this location were particularly drawn to the view of Macau.

I had often wondered how the area of Macau seen in the background would compare to this vibrant area in Zhuhai which was excellent for both enjoying the view and people watching. I answered my question during my most recent visit to Macau. Here is the view of Zhuhai from there on an overcast day:

view of Zhuhai from Macau

The location where I took first photo in this post is near the tallest buildings. Although it was interesting to see Zhuhai from a new vantage point across the border, what most caught my eye was a bit closer:

waterfront in Macau with 2 people sitting on a bench and an empty walkway

There were very few people on the Macau side and no vendors of any type. The difference does not seem to be solely explainable by the weather since on the opposite side in Zhuhai I typically saw more people even on days with similar weather.

So what is the explanation for the difference? Is it because Macau offers a more interesting or photogenic skyline? Is it because the Zhuhai walkway itself is more appealing? Is it because the cities have different visitor numbers and demographics? Is it because the cities differ in what else they offer for ways to spend free time? Is it because Macanese can more easily visit Zhuhai than mainland Chinese can visit Macau? It is because Macau has a status in the eyes of mainland Chinese that Zhuhai does not have in the eyes of Macanese? Some of these explanations could be interconnected. Others are possible as well.

Whatever the reason, the difference in the number of people at the opposite waterfronts can be seen as symbolic of deeper differences. Compared to mainland Chinese, Macanese can travel to a far larger number of other countries without needing a visa. Macanese enjoy greater freedoms of expression and use an open Internet not censored by mainland China's Great Firewall. Macanese on average earn more money. Regardless that many mainland Chinese may not necessarily want to live in Macau, they may desire some of what Macau has to offer in a way that does not hold true for Macanese regarding mainland China.

It would be fascinating to know what people in Zhuhai are thinking when they gaze at Macau. It would also be fascinating to know what they would think upon learning that so few in Macau are gazing back.


  1. Without being trite, can you not simply 'ask them'? I know you probably cannot be overt like a reporter but maybe the next time you visit, you could ask informally 'Why?'. I think you already have the answers in hand - Freedom brings with it many rewards! W.C.C.

    1. Good question and something I hope to address more in a future post. In short, there were two reasons I did not ask people those questions:

      1. Based upon my previous experience I did not think I could reliably expose people's deeper thoughts on this issue without a more extensive interview process.
      2. Simply asking people whether they could visit Macau seemed to sometimes cause a "reflective" expression. Given that many of the people were there during their precious time off trying to enjoy themselves, I did not want to risk spoiling the moment. Sometimes doing something like that feels worth it. Other times it does not. It's a judgment call.

  2. I very much agree with your judgment call. I am just always interested in your observations and curious about all of Southeast Asia. Thanks for your insights!