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Macao, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is known as the place where “east meets west.” The Portuguese arrived and settled in Macao in the mid-16th Century. Thus, the city’s architecture, art, religion, traditions, food and community reflect the integration of Chinese, Western and Portuguese cultures. Located on the southeastern coast of China – across the waters from Hong Kong – Macao, like Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and exercises a high degree of autonomy under the principle of “One country, two systems.”
Macao consists of the Macao Peninsula itself and the islands of Taipa and Coloane, which are now connected by landfill to form the Cotai strip.
The history of Macao is traced back to the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC), when the region now called Macao came under the jurisdiction of Nanhai Prefecture (modern Guangdong). The first recorded Chinese inhabitants of the area were people seeking refuge in Macao from invading Mongols. Under the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), fishermen migrated to Macao from Guangdong and Fujian. The Macao native people were Tanka boat people.
Macao did not develop as a major settlement until the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century. In 1513, Jorge Álvares became the first Portuguese to land in China. In 1535, Portuguese traders obtained the rights to anchor ships in Macao’s harbors and to carry out trading activities, though not the right to stay onshore. Around 1552–1553, they obtained temporary permission to erect storage sheds onshore, in order to dry out goods drenched by sea water; they soon built rudimentary stone houses around the area now called Nam Van.
The Chinese government assumed formal sovereignty over Macao in 1999 as a special administrative region after over 400 years of Portuguese colonial rule. This event also marked the end of the Portuguese Empire and European colonialism in Asia. In this agreement, China promised that, under its “one country, two systems” formula, China’s political and economic system would not be imposed on Macao, and that Macao would enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” in all matters except foreign affairs and defense for the subsequent 50 years.
Han Chinese make up 95% of Macao’s population; another 2% is of Portuguese and/or mixed Chinese/Portuguese descent, an ethnic group often referred to as Macanese. According to the 2006 by-census, 47% of the residents were born in mainland China, 42.5% were born in Macao, and the remainder primarily in Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Portugal.
Macao’s official languages are Chinese (Cantonese) and Portuguese. Macao still retains its own dialect of Portuguese, called Macanese Portuguese. Other languages—such as Mandarin, English, and Hokkien—are spoken by local communities.
Macao has a humid subtropical climate, despite its low elevation coastal location south of the Tropic of Cancer, with average relative humidity between 75% and 90%. Similar to much of South China, seasonal climate is greatly influenced by the monsoons, and differences in temperature and humidity between summer and winter are noticeable, though not as great as in mainland China. The average annual temperature of Macao is 22.7 °C (72.9 °F). July is the warmest month, the average temperature being 28.9 °C (84.0 °F). The coolest month is January, with a mean temperature of 14.5 °C (58.1 °F).
Local cooking in Macao consists of a blend of Cantonese and Portuguese cuisines. Many unique dishes resulted from the spice blends that the wives of Portuguese sailors used in an attempt to replicate European dishes. Its ingredients and seasonings include those from Europe, South America, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, as well as local Chinese ingredients. Typically, Macanese food is seasoned with various spices and flavours including turmeric, coconut milk, cinnamon and bacalhau, giving special aromas and tastes. Famous dishes include minchi, capella, galinha à Portuguesa, galinha à Africana (African chicken), bacalhau, Macanese chili shrimps and stir-fry curry crab. Pork chop bun, ginger milk and Portuguese-style egg tart are also very popular in Macao. A popular treat is the Macao-style egg tart which blends British and Portuguese styles.
Peggy Vong and S.K. Vong from the University of Macao provided these insights: The government of Macao provides for 15 years of fee-free education – 3 years of kindergarten education, 6 years of primary school education, and 6 years of secondary school education. At the policy front, there has been effort to implement laws and stipulations inherited from the colonial era from 1555-1999, while adding new ones to address new challenges arising from the post-colonial time.
Education and care for the young is by and large provided by two types of institutions: nurseries and kindergartens, mostly private. In principle, nurseries provide care and education for children between 3-month-olds and before turning 5 years of age. Yet the majority will enter kindergartens at 3 and exit at around 6 years of age. The primary role of nurseries is to prepare the very young ones for kindergarten education, while the latter sets the foundation for primary school education. Quality of provision of nurseries is supervised by the Instituto de Acção Social, IAS (Macao Social Welfare Bureau), while that of kindergartens is guided by the Direcção dos Serviços de Educação e Juventude, DSEJ (Education and Youth Services Bureau).
Compared to other systems, ECE in Macao might seem rather straight forward and appears easily manageable. Nonetheless, there is a missing conception of childhood as can be evidenced by the independent operations of the governing bodies, also in terms of nursery and kindergarten programme designs, ‘teacher’ qualification requirements, salary scales, and upward movement of teachers’ career path. Moreover, as in other Chinese societies, the general public of Macao would regard development and learning as significant to one’s personal growth, ‘family face’, and future prospects. Yet, the ideologies in today’s early childhood education, such as play as a means of learning, promoting children’s rights and creativity, are not highly appreciated by many parents since children’s academic achievement is seen as the key leading to future prospects and success. A 21st century, culturally and socially appropriate curriculum and pedagogy is needed in early childhood education of Macao. In year 2016, the government launched the Diverse Assessment Scheme hoping kindergartens to consider multiple means of assessing young children’s achievements at schools. The effect of this new Scheme in loosening up and providing a new direction for the compact and academic-oriented curricula is yet to be determined.
Population: 601,969 (July 2017 est.)
Area: 115.3 square kilometers (44.5 square miles)
Life expectancy at birth: 84.5 years – 2nd highest in world
Population density: 21,185 persons per square kilometer – highest density in the world
GDP Per capita: $91,376 – 4th highest in world
Sources for “About Macao”
“Historic Centre of Macao,” www.unesco.org
Macao Government Tourism Office
The Lonely Planet: Macao Travel
K.I.P. Vong and S.K. Vong, Faculty of Education, University of Macao
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