Goa and Macau share an Iberian past and a gambling present. Yet, casinos which rely on local heritage as lure do nothing to sustain it.
While on the hydrofoil to Macau on a recent visit from Hong Kong, I chanced upon an older issue of the on-board magazine, which prominently featured an article titled “Your Very Own Macau Experience” (Horizon, June 2016). The article is about the region’s latest tourism slogan: “Experience Macao Your Own Style”. Leaving aside the odd grammatical composition of the catchphrase, it and the article’s title reminded me of the slogan created by Tata Housing for their Goa Paradise property project: “It’s Time to Claim Your Piece of Goa”.
Writing elsewhere, columnist Jason Keith Fernandes notes of the poster for paradise that greeted him at Dabolim airport in January this year, that what is most offensive about the Tata slogan is its blatant imperial tones. “The word ‘claim’ continues to have [colonial] connotations, and … is [an] effective call to an act of conquest” (O Heraldo, 22 January, 2016), Fernandes argues. While the consumer is given primacy in the case of both these advertising phrases, what the slogans also suggest is that these former Portuguese enclaves – their very Iberianness being the major draw for holidaymakers and investors – are devoid of locals, or that they do not matter. As Vishvesh Kandolkar deduces when writing in this newspaper about second homes in Goa, investment properties are promoted as “‘virgin’ sites” for the wealthy while the presence of Goans and their housing needs are occluded (“The Rise of the Villament”, 13 September, 2015).
Even as the article I read about the Macanese slogan presents the veneer of the isle’s culture, its true purpose is to showcase the many attractions offered alongside the casinos that the place has become famous for. The coincidence with Goa is once again self-evident, and not least because of designs to introduce yet another gambling boat into the state’s waters, amidst protests. As the pleasure peripheries of the great modern empires of India and China, Goa and Macau, respectively, serve as playgrounds whose Iberian charms make them just that little bit different, but not completely alien, from their mainland metropoles. Doing no great favours for the growth of local culture, casinos at both sites bank on the differentness of their host locations as a lure, with scant regard for sustainability, either of environment or industry.
Ironically, I used the casinos in Macau as my landmarks as I ventured around the island. I’d ask for
directions based on the proximity of heritage sites to these modern edifices. But at one point I was
spectacularly lost. Thanks to a passenger who spoke a little English, I discovered that I’d taken the bus
going the wrong way. Privy to our exchange, an elderly woman first asked the person I had spoken with
something in Chinese and then touched my sleeve. “Fala Português?” she enquired. I brightened up.
“Sim!” I responded, hoping that the few years I had spent studying the language would pay off now. I
understood enough of her rapid fire instructions to find my way to Fortaleza da Guia, making the trek
all the more memorable.
On the return trip, seated in front of a group of American exchange students on the hydrofoil, I could
not help overhearing their conversation. I gathered that they were on a weekend jaunt away from their
university in Hong Kong, and as they compared notes on this their first visit to Macau, they came to the
same conclusion. “I don’t know that I’d come back”, one of them said. “For what it is, it’s just not worth
it. Too expensive”, another added. “I could have just gone to Vegas”, yet another decided. As
illuminating as this conversation was, it was also rather disheartening. It was clear that these visitors
had not ventured past the casinos, had experienced nothing of Macau’s unique Luso-Asian heritage, and
might never have the opportunity to do so in the future. Indeed, they had travelled halfway around the
world to have the same experience they could have had in their own backyards.
How long before some other attraction calls to the fickle tourist? While the impact of waterfront casinos in Macau and floating ones on Goan waters take their toll environmentally, they also cannot be relied upon as guarantors of local employment; simultaneously, the casinos’ reliance on local legacies sees no return. Investment in cultural heritage could be the long game, a consideration eclipsed by the desire for fast profits through short cons. For now, though it is the house that always wins, that victory does not belong to the land upon which it is built.
From The Goan.