March 12, 2004

This morning Rex and I walked along the water to Barra Temple, considered to be the oldest in Macau. When the Portuguese sailors first landed on the peninsula and asked the name of the place, the natives replied “A-Ma-Gao” (Bay of A-Ma), and so the peninsula was named “Macao” in Portuguese.

Now the temple is a popular attraction, full of large tour groups wearing the same backpack, or sporting the same baseball cap. Jammed against the alters where incense burns in abundance are tourists snapping pictures and vendors selling souvenirs. While there were some that prayed – hands together, eyes closed, lips moving, rocking back and forth – there was not as much sacredness as I expected to find at such an ancient place.

I wandered away from the throngs, hoping to find some sense of spirituality on the path that led from the lower alters to the ones perched above on a rocky outcropping. There I found bamboo groves with brightly colored prayer sheets tied to the green wood. I also found large Chinese characters carved into boulders and painted red. Still, though, the incessant jammer of the tour groups below was at such an odd with my surroundings that I could not summon any sense of history or feeling of consecration. It seemed that the architecture was aching, and it was all I could do to not apologize to the air and leave.

But then, peering through a locked gate, I came across a tiny puppy who was playing with a discarded wrapper on the ground. Seeing me, he immediately sat down and cocked his head to the side. He was brown and scrappy, and was probably a member of the neighborhood pack, living off of scraps and officially belonging to no one but his own rabble. I talked to him and he yipped, backing up and then slowly moving forward. He wanted to play, but I couldn’t find a way around the gate, so instead I talked to him for a long time through the metal bars. In response, he jumped around, barked, whimpered, lay down, wagged his tail, cocked his head, and barked some more. I had come to the temple expecting a connection to the temple itself, but I had instead found a connection to a life within it. And everything felt all right again.

We all met in the lobby in the afternoon to head off to a local school, where we were to perform for 800 Chinese students. When we arrived the kids were at recess, and many of them eyed our large cases with curiosity and shyness. We set up the show on a tiny little platform in an enormous gymnasium and waited as the kids filed in class by class and the noise level raised to a gentle roar.

When we hopped out as frogs, the decibel level increased significantly as the kids jumped to their feet and began talking loudly to themselves and to their neighbors. I kept laughing beneath my mask, because I couldn’t understand what the kids were shouting, and had no idea if they were invested in the performance.

She show turned out to be slightly anarchical. In the audience, kids were popping up like gophers, practically clambering over one another to get a better look. They laughed a lot and yelled a lot and even started chanting during Penguins. Backstage was even crazier as we scrambled to make entrances from underneath the chalkboard masking and climbed over tables and benches to run our sound through a system with no volume control. It was also 787,386,859.924 degrees, which made it exceedingly difficult to get into and out of our costumes. Because the show was not only a shortened version of our concert show, but also a mix between the regular show and the demo show, we often had no idea what was next, and frequently had to shout the show order to one another over the incredible din in the auditorium. It was all around a big fun mess that the kids enjoyed immensely and which made us really, really sweaty.

Jaime and I went shopping in Senado Square after the school show. Senado Square, at the center of downtown Macau, is a neat collection of 18th century Portuguese buildings. The ground is paved with a waved-pattern mosaic of colored stones, and at the center of the square there is a large fountain. Because of the arts festival, the buildings were lit up in blues and greens and reds, and the square was packed with people. Before going home late in the evening, I joined the masses to watch Tucanas and Bandaloop perform. Tucanas is an all-woman badass drumming group, and Bandaloop is a dance company that performs while hanging from the roofs of famous buildings. They performed a kind of lovers dance, throwing themselves from the walls of the clock tower and then flying back to embrace one another, upside down.

I took the bus home alone, rocketing through the quieting streets of the city.


All of the Macau photos featured on this site were taken by a team of wiley photographers. Their names are: Rex Jantze, Sam Kusnetz, Jeff Simmons, and Danielle Vermette. And me too.


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