The notion of time is relative, ask Einstein.
In Macau it is even more relative. We live within a very limited perimeter, and family, work or the leisure dimensions of our lives are just minutes away from each other; they almost overlap giving us not the sensation of the passage of time.
Ten years ago on June 1, 2007, the Macau Daily Times was launched to serve the growing community of English professionals and executives who were coming to town en masse on the wave of a development of such extraordinary magnitude that few could then foresee.
Cotai was under construction with one property, The Venetian, about to open its doors as the biggest resort-casino in the world – right here in one of the tiniest cities in the world. It added yet another contradiction to the land of contradictions and striking contrasts – this should be the tourism authority’s slogan, by the way, but I’ll spare you the enumeration of the other examples.
Times went so fast that when we woke up, the next decade or so, Macau was ‘just’ the biggest gaming market on earth, dwarfing mythical Vegas, amassing by May 2014 seven times the GGR of Sin City (West). The gambling dollars shifted gradually from the overcrowded peninsula strip to the 5-sq km new land of Cotai where brand new properties opened (and more to come soon) to meet the fantasies – and hit the wallets – of middle-class Chinese mainlanders.
Every single day around 90 thousand people visit Cotai.
MDT witnessed all this and other dramatic changes, events, demonstrations, high-profile arrests and a mystery suicide. In the meantime, we witnessed the installation of a new chief executive and a brand new policy cabinet that promoted musical chairs around the departments. A new, oh so old, legislature was elected, selected and appointed to the three ‘wings’ of the Nam Van hemicycle.
We saw demonstrations of discontent against the lack of transparency and checks and balances in our very modest democracy. And on a daily basis we witnessed the dilapidation of the rule of law in the courts, with summary convictions based on ill-prepared prosecutions – these are the accusations made by top lawyers and legal operators written all over the newspapers.
Moreover, how long – and what – will it take to increase the number of judges in the highest court and create an instance of appeal for high officials? Secretary Ao got the heaviest sentence possible from a panel of three judges and Prosecutor General Ho, with accusations of a Guinness World Records- style account of thousands of crimes against him, will be served a similar fate from an appeal-less system – I’m not talking about the merit of the case(s) but of the means to have them trialed.
Demolition and/or disrespect of heritage assets, deterioration of healthcare services, Ma & Pa shops going south, housing unaffordability, transportation hurdles: the city is engulfed in walls of concrete that obfuscate horizons, while cars in the tens of thousands more than the infrastructure should bear run upon the streets polluting the air we breathe to many a-times perilous levels.
A mountain of toxic waste is piling up for decades, not that far away, at the Northern end of the Inner Harbor Canal, while the government perpetuates the discussion to solve the problem in an environmentally-friendly fashion.
The light rail is nowhere to be seen rolling very soon, while the Y-Bridge is around the corner. Hengqin is growing towards this side of the canal at the speed of light – you can actually see it if your window faces the old Mountain Island. The Grand Bay area is rapidly taking shape and integration is on its unstoppable march.
Is it all that bad? No, median salaries increased 3-fold in a decade or so, tens of thousands of jobs were created; there is no unemployment in the MSAR, and residents are entitled to a range of financial and social benefits that really helped the lower strata of the community. We are the proud producers of a stratospheric GDP per capita – best in the world, just the best (a little White lie).
The very few – traditional families and tycoons incorporated – still call the shots in this little-big town and grab most of those numbers. As a very pragmatic young entrepreneur said the other day: Macau is the land of monopolies. Was he sad about this? No. He just wants to join the elite club.
One cannot escape the unbearable lightness of sameness. What did really change?
PS: We remain indebted to the directors that preceded us at the helm of the Times, Rogério Beltrão Coelho (2009-12) and late journalist Rodolfo Ascenso (2007-2009) who was the first director of the Macau Daily Times. Also, we take the opportunity to acknowledge the fine contribution of hundreds of journalists, experts, writers, designers, proofreaders and assistants that work or have worked at the Times to give shape and substance to this project. Thank you.