Far from where

Paulo Coutinho

Paulo Coutinho

3 Jews are sitting in a DP [Displaced Persons] camp after the war.
Says the first Jew, “I’m going to settle in England.” The second Jew states, “I’m going to Canada.” And the third Jew declares: “I’m going to Australia!” Asks the first Jew: “Isn’t that too far?” “Far from where?!,” replied the third Jew…
This kind of tragic joke, which precedes the establishment of the State of Israel, in 1948, is a pretty good illustration of the stateless Jewish dilemma and, hence, of the great Jewish diaspora.
For the survivor Jews of the anecdote, the Promised Land was nowhere to be found.
Times have changed, and nowadays there are millions and millions, from a panoply of origins, displaced in the world: due to wars, famine, or more prosaic economic reasons.
Macau has long been a place of and for migrants: those who come here to take refugee, work or get a piece of the trade pie of the moment – be it silver and silk, opium, rice, gold, coolies or gambling – the old entrepot always lived in a kind of ‘rite of passage’ mode. The population is mostly young, fairly detached from local traditions and politics, with a constant share of floating people that come and go.
Most of the Macanese people – born-here, long timers or later arrivals – feel that being in Macau is an unsaid deal between the person and the place: we borrow time from Macau and Macau borrows time from us.
For years, this was quite a fair deal. We’ve felt safe here; we belong to a certain extent, the same exact way we care to a certain extent. Macau, on its side of the bargain, makes us feel safe, makes us feel needed and takes care of us. And in this way, a sense of belonging grew inside of us, insidiously, like my good friend Eduardo Flores so astutely said the other day: “Under the skin, like dirt on a coal miner.”
Lately, however, in its quest for progress the city has spawned an unbearable array of burdens. High pollution, chaotic traffic, a housing bubble, rampant inflation, healthcare issues, a growing sense of inequality; a declining living standard.
What’s worse is that the solutions that are being presented to us usually show a tremendous lack of vision and common sense; lack of respect both for the people and the cultural heritage. The master plans for the new reclamation zones look more like a road map to growing inequality and exclusion. It creates ghettos in the city; it erects walls of concrete that will obliterate the sights of historic Macau for good.
It looks like Macau isn’t living by its side of the bargain anymore.
Therefore, every other day, I hear people saying “I’m leaving.” And every other day people are actually leaving. From all walks of life, people are leaving Macau to a place more or less distant. And one day they will be living like the Jew of the anecdote: more or less distant to… where?


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