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On Assignment

Macau trees pretty much healthy

by Sara Farr

It’s hard to say exactly how many trees there are in Macau with all the green and what’s left of the bushland in Coloane and some parts of Taipa, mainly around the walking trails. However, they are all pretty much healthy, with only one single percent of all trees in the territory being sick, unwell or on the verge of dying.
Speaking to the Macau Daily Times at his office at the Seac Pai Van Park in Coloane, Walter Ung Sio Wai said that trees are now monitored with a tag and have an ID number allowing for all information to be stored in an electronic database. This makes it easier for the department of green areas from the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau (IACM) to closely monitor and regularly check trees’ conditions and their progresses.
Given that pollution severely affects trees’ stress levels, it is fair to say that a mere one percent of them being unwell is a pretty astonishing figure.
“Pollution is one of the many factors that affect a tree’s condition here in Macau,” Ung said, adding that trees suffering the most stress will show it on their leaves. This is most notable in areas where there is a lot of traffic, movement and congestion – almost anywhere in Macau with the exception for Coloane.
One of the biggest causes of concern with trees in Macau are termites or “white ants”, which eat the fibres from the trees, leaving them frail. But still, it has only affected around one percent of trees, and the medication IACM has proven to be “very good” given such results, Ung said.
However, a new disease that has been developing in the past three years is leaving researchers and experts scratching their heads as to why and how trees get cancer. Scientifically called Phellinus noxius, cancer on trees is not detectable until it is too late. It is also not preventable since it starts from the root and therefore making it difficult for it to be traced. Similarly to the “chicken and the egg”, the “cancer” cycle in trees starts at the root.
Ung explained that an infected root which has contact with a non-sick tree will contaminate it, the symptoms will then only show either on the stem with the formation of fungi or when leaves start falling out in large numbers. This fungi on the stem, similarly to what happens with pollen and the wind, can be blown to different areas where again it will infect another root of another tree which in turn will only show symptoms of the disease when it’s too late already. By the time the disease reaches the stem, the root has all been damaged. And this why it is so difficult to prevent the disease from spreading. The cause for the disease in Macau is also unknown yet, since it spreads from root to root. Thus, has nothing to do with irregular pruning or pollution or any other external factor expect for the fungus.
According to Ung, this form of fungi was first found in Singapore in 1932. But in Macau this has only began to be noticeable since 2006, because a growing number of trees have contracted the disease. Between 2006 and 2009 as many as 730 trees were diagnosed with cancer in the territory. Although these are spread throughout Macau, Taipa and Coloane, the disease is more noticeable in the peninsula, mainly at the Luis de Camoes Garden, Montanha Russa Park and Guia Hill.
“It’s not a very serious disease, however we only started noticing it and trying to learn more about it in 2006 when more trees started showing symptoms of the disease,” Ung said.
An interesting phenomenon is that 60 percent or 665 of these trees with cancer are young trees which are only one or two metres high.
It is difficult to determine why the root got sick in the first place, however Ung said that due to the number of construction works on the roads, it can be possible that one of the roots of a tree got damaged and therefore became more prone to infection and disease from fungi in the ground.
Ung also said it is not up to IACM to inspect works and whether government entities are being careful with trees when carrying out road works. However, when it is works in which the bureau is involved, it takes extra precautions to make sure trees remain unhurt. But should a tree be injured during the works, then IACM will disinfect the damaged and hurt area before completing the works in order to avoid the spread of disease.
The humid weather in the SAR only helps spread the fungi even more. And although 48 different species have contracted the disease, in Macau, the most vulnerable trees to the disease include the Pagoda Tree, the Cinnamon Tree, the Camphor Tree and a small number of other species.
When asked how Macau’s cancer trees figure against neighbouring regions, Ung said it was difficult to say since Hong Kong and the mainland do not have any statistical data or scientific study of their own on this matter. However, compared to Taiwan 119 different species of trees have shown to be vulnerable to the disease, almost triple that of Macau. But there are no immune species from the disease, as it’s transmitted from root to root. Apple and cherry trees have shown to be quite resistant to cancer, but these are only found outside the SAR. In Macau, however, all citrus family trees have shown some resistance to tree cancer.
However, the staff at IACM has now come up with a new system to try and prevent healthy trees that sit next to unhealthy trees from also being affected by diseases, not just cancer. According to Ung, around Avenida Ouvidor Arriaga, trees planted there will be separated underground from one another with a new type of cloth that contains medication to prevent diseases in trees. Once the root of a growing tree touches the cloth, it will in theory then know to go back or not rupture the cloth to continue growing.
Although this is in study phase, Macau and its counterparts in Guangdong are working together on the project to see whether this is a viable preventative measure for spreading disease amongst trees. These two parties are already working together in cooperating and exchanging information on a preventative measure for white ants. This cooperation for the treatment of white ants is set to last until 2010, according to Ung.
In order to prevent major damages including the falling of sick and frail trees, IACM takes precautionary measures which include drastically cutting the stems and heights of trees.
There currently are 75 trees under observation in Macau, all still alive and all in the peninsula side. These also include “very old” trees nearing the end of their cycle, Ung said. These numbers are all part of the one percent of unwell trees in the territory.


A look into Macau

A look into Macau’s expat communities – II
Macau’s longest expat community

Last week the Macau Daily Times took a brief look at the American expat community by interviewing Reggie Martin, one of nine US Wardens for the Hong Kong Consulate in Macau (our thanks to Linda Switzer, another US Warden in Macau who wrote in to warn us of our mistake in stating that there was only one US Warden in Macau).
This week we take a look at what is most likely the territory’s oldest ex-pat community, the Portuguese, through the eyes of Regina Paz, Asia International Open University’s (Macau) Director of Portuguese Courses, who has been living in Macau for nearly three decades.
Regina and her husband, Mário Paz, came to Macau in 1982, from Portugal, but prior to that she had been living in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“Portugal was a very short stay of about three years and we came over” she said. “Why? Quite honestly we didn't ask. The opportunity just came our way and our sons were young enough to adjust and we decided it was a very good opportunity to visit, and leave and experience another experience, different place to be.”
However, Paz says her family’s first year was quite difficult because of the climate, the difficulty in understanding and daily life. But those hardships were soon overcome and they were certain that they would leave once their contract expired after two years. However it was their two sons who were to affect their decision to stay.
“They wanted to stay on longer and visit other places nearby so we stayed for another two years and in the meantime we changed our life completely and went into a private activity. It was easier to manage our own time and opportunities,” she explained.

Colonisation woes

Although her family was based in Mozambique, like many children of her generation Paz was born in Portugal, to ensure there was no risk of becoming a second class citizen like many of those born in Portuguese colonies had endured. After that country’s independence her family moved to neighbouring Zimbabwe and then later to South Africa, an experience which gave her a specific view of the diverse Portuguese Diaspora.
“I'm not able to speak of other communities in the Diaspora, other than those in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and again, I'm biased because the ones we dealt with and contacted daily were like us, more political refugees from troubled Mozambique than other types of people. But yes, we met some that went directly from their places to Zimbabwe, from different backgrounds and most of them, because of a relative, a working contract, or something of the kind. The pattern was, the husband, or the father, goes ahead and is prepared to work a year or two and go back home. But once he got there, and he gets used to it, and he commands a little bit of English, or he can find friends, and he realizes the beauty of the country, the climate and he enjoys [it]. Then he brings over the family, with or without children, and well, then the children many are born there, for many their mother language is English.”

Integration after handover

Paz’s impression of the Portuguese community after the handover is that of immense change. “Prior to that, yes we had some individual or small group initiatives for companies or for businesses, but predominantly they were civil servants” she said.
She identified three major trends up to the 1999 transfer of sovereignty. Those who left Macau early, to avoid the large numbers of those leaving; those that went during the 1999 handover, the larger percentage; and those who decided to stay on and risk continuing their lives in the territory.
“In 1998 we had no idea how the following year would turn out. We hoped it would be as it was,” said Paz.
For her there were peaceful and harmonious adjustments made in the public services in many ways.
“You either had to be prepared to be able to go back at a later stage if you had to, or you were predisposed to risk, and most of us who stayed, one way or another, we do have links in the civil service in Portugal, including myself and my husband. We're still civil servants but we chose the 10 year [leave], or other ways of being absent.”
But there were other who didn’t have a choice, such as the civil servants who had contracts coming to an end, most of whose contracts were not renewed by the Chinese administration. There were a few exceptions in the fields of education, health and finance.
“Just about everybody who was on a contract saw that contract ending and went back or started something private or moved into professions that were linked to private groups in Macau,” said Paz. “Slowly, we are being repopulated again by young people on three grounds. The expat children that were born or brought up here, attended secondary school, went over, finished their studies and decided to return because they could remember, they could compare and could miss Macau; their husbands, wives, boyfriends, neighbours, friends, colleagues; and those that just risked coming, more adventurous, that had no prior links at all to Macau. So now the older generation, relatively few, and I suppose we're all waiting to be retired, or just about to go back because we really don't feel like starting a new professional life or resume our old one, this late in our life.”

A new generation

Paz feels that the Portuguese community is getting younger and younger with so many new arrivals, although she only has a fleeting impression of the sort of people that this new community encompasses.
“I would say they're prone to be in the legal profession. You don't see them in the Health sector, you see very few in education, although a considerable number, but mainly in architecture, law, private lawyers, some are Magistrates but then you have some veterinarians, and that's about all,” she said. “Yet, you have some in the field art as well. There's quite a number, but they tend to come and go, some stay for awhile but it's an uphill struggle.”
I then touched on a subject that many know about but barely discuss; the staggering number of Macau Chinese who have Portuguese passports.  Not the ‘citizen in name only’ variety such as the British National Overseas passports issued to Hong Kong natives, but full Portuguese passports which entitle their holders to full rights as Portuguese and European citizens.
“They were born at the right time in the right place” she said. She also expressed her opinion that these two communities of Portuguese will most likely continue to live in separate spheres.
“Some of the ethnic Chinese, who are Portuguese passport holders, didn't even know they were entitled to it. So it was just at the time they were born, because one of the parents was Portuguese, and OK, they hold dual nationality anyway, although the Chinese will not admit that, but the Portuguese do and they know, so it's a matter of convenience for what document to use when they need it.”
However, she did point out that the younger generation of local Chinese are more open and worldly than that of their parents and grandparents, mostly due to their higher levels of education and access to new media such as the Internet.
“Now their minds have expanded, they're a lot more international, not necessarily Portuguese, and they have this curiosity; ‘Oh Portugal, let me try to make some Portuguese friends, their food is not bad at all, and they're nice guys and gals, we all laugh and have a good time’, but the approach is very slow,” she said
Paz spoke of some students who visited Portugal and Europe and shared their photos with her of major tourist hot spots, but were unable to recall which country the images were taken in. “Oh, I don't even know the country. [There was] so much to see in only nine days,” one of her young students said to her.
There are exceptions however. “About three or four years ago, we helped a completely Chinese family, where the children happened to have Portuguese passports, the two older ones, not the younger ones, although he could and did apply [for the younger ones] and got it.  Unbelievably, this guy was in high school, and when the father said, ‘what do you want to do after high-school? You want to go into the Police? You want to start a small business? Do you want to continue to study or something else, and what?’ And he said, ‘I'm in IPOR, I'm learning Portuguese, and I want to be able to live one year in Portugal, learning Portuguese’ and it was arranged.  IPOR was very helpful, and he did go to Coimbra, and he absolutely loves to be there, and he still is, and his Portuguese became very good, and now he's in his third year of history. And the second brother, motivated by this one I suppose, did exactly the same. He took classes in Portuguese, joined Portuguese younger people to practice his Portuguese, and has gone to Coimbra to do this year [of study] for foreign people. But these are rare cases, very rare. Altogether there are four or five young men in the whole of Coimbra from Macau, who choose to go, five,” said Paz.
The Portuguese community was certainly privileged in many aspects before the handover. While many of these privileges were lost with the end of Portuguese rule of the territory, the particularity of the Portuguese Diaspora in Macau, which is generally comprised of higher educated people, still remained in higher paid jobs in certain prestigious sectors which allowed this expat community to somewhat retain its status.

Expat influx

I wondered whether Paz considered the Portuguese community somewhat overtaken by the sudden influx of new expats to the city following the liberalisation of the gaming industry.
“It made a difference to a certain extent, because they were also rather closed in groups, the Americans kept to themselves, the Australians kept to themselves in jobs and while quite open and flexible, each group kept to itself,” she said, offering a differing view from the one expressed by Reggie Martin in last week’s article.
“Celebrations, there are a couple of celebrations and you could see it was the same nationals, either the Australians or the Americans or the very few British and Irish, which usually are antagonistic towards one another, but not this far away. They made an alliance,” she said with a chuckle.
As to how the local Chinese and other expat communities might view the Portuguese, she said, “To me they are indifferent and some of the older one are a little bit nostalgic, because in the times when the police, (…) all the security forces, were people coming from Portugal, and so many of them didn't go back, usually they would marry Chinese women, Chinese girls, and there was a lot of interaction and [now] the average person on the street is quite indifferent.”
But for some she said, the nostalgia went beyond harmonious inter-cultural relationships, especially for those in the civil service who were faced with new rules after the handover. According to Paz, the civil service suffered a change into a harder, more competitive and more unpleasant environment which generally just made people unhappier. “Some have adjusted, others have retired, [and] others just keep on going. As long as they won't make trouble for anybody and as long as nobody makes it for them, and the younger ones have never experienced anything different so for them it's quite normal, so they're happy.”