Insight | Disenchantment in the air

Paulo Barbosa

Macau is a funny place. Regarding the most recent case of junket fraud involving Dore Entertainment, enraged “investors” staged protests in several locations to complain about the government’s alleged inability to supervise the gaming industry and junkets in particular. An individual tasked with representing the protestors was interviewed while wearing a mask and sunglasses that concealed his identity, and claimed that the government should intervene and help the petitioners get back their “hard-earned money.” Isn’t it funny that those who benefit from the legal loopholes now ask for legal support?
Too often laws are enforced only when it is convenient.
This made me consider a rhetorical question: What happens when a society’s most esteemed values turn out to be flawed? And what happens if a region subsists on the presence of legal loopholes?
I believe that many foreigners living in Macau began their summer holidays with this question – or variants of it – on their minds. People here are disenchanted. As I saw written in a Portuguese newspaper, people in Macau who are “tired of moronic procedures” remain here, but they do not enjoy the region as they did before. Others simply abandon a city that they once loved. Obviously, countless more arrive, seduced by the easy dollar but completely oblivious to the region’s identity. And maybe that is the best way to deal with it.
What is happening in Macau was foreseen a long time ago: the Portuguese and the Macanese feared that the transfer of sovereignty to mainland China could mean the end of Macau as they knew it – and it did, although not immediately. That fear led some to leave in 1999, only to return later amidst the region’s sudden economic development.
In fact, it was raining money, due to the end of Stanley Ho’s long-held monopoly and the liberalization of the gaming industry. Macau soon become the world’s most unrestricted gaming den, surpassing even Las Vegas.
The large influx of money, a stronger connection to the motherland and the perception of better living conditions still continue to attract crowds. The territory is literally saturated with new residents (whatever title they hold on their ID). Tourists have arrived in droves, attracted by gambling and an image of cosmopolitanism and luxury, which remains little more than a slogan.
Consequently, many of the people who used to like living here now feel uncomfortable, residing in cramped houses and seemingly perpetually stuck in traffic. Some find it difficult to live with dignity.. To give just one example, “blue-card” holders are charged over 20 times more than residents to obtain certain treatments at public healthcare facilities. Almost nobody seems to care.
Some people start to have the notion that they are entangled in the system or are even guinea pigs – voluntary, of course – in a social experiment that consists of the creation of a micro-state with its own currency and judicial system, albeit one that lacks the critical mass to work properly.
Some remain here mainly because it is still financially rewarding. They stay because they are grounded here, because of inertia. They stay here, but they complain. There is a lot of whining in Macau, an atmosphere that is somewhat incomprehensible given the resources available in the region. That pessimistic tone surfaces in idle chatter but also in the media – and this column is no exception.
After I wrote this piece, I heard Saturday’s statements about a candidate for the upcoming legislative election in Portugal. Carla Félix visited Macau and listened to the concerns of local youth. “I think that the possibility of acquiring a house is out of the question [for them], and that compromises family planning and possibly even the chance of [staying in] Macau forever. In some cases, people think of plans B and C,” she told Radio Macau.

Categories Opinion