What do we miss most about the old Macao? That question came to my mind during a recent class discussion on Macao’s culture. As my students started googling and discussing a cultural symbol for Macao, I started thinking about the different faces of my hometown. To me, the first thing that always comes to mind when I think about the beauty of Macao is the waterfront of Sai Van Lake, Avenida da Republica. Not as it is now, but when the water was still part of the sea and we could hear waves splashing against the rocks. I remember enjoying having coffee and banana split al fresco at Henri’s restaurant on cool Autumn afternoons.
Another nostalgic local establishment was also an outdoor café that used to be near the Rotunda de Ferreira do Amaral. I remember the garden-like café in the middle of the road; a picture of it can still be seen at the traditional Macanese restaurant Riquexo Café. The café, the name of which I do not remember, was already gone before I went into secondary school. But I remember the décor of the café, the people drinking beer and eating peanuts around white plastic tables on not very hot summer afternoons, and I remember enjoying a large banana split in the café.
One common point of both my nostalgic memories of Macao is obviously banana split. That got me thinking; was it actually banana split that I have been nostalgic for? Or was it the environment in which I had those many banana splits? The garden-like café at Amaral is gone, but Henri’s is still there. While the restaurant has not changed much in all these years, the view is definitely different, and I doubt whether banana split is still a highlighted item on their menu, if it is still there. I believe it is the era of a much simpler time that I am nostalgic for; a time when banana split equaled happiness. This is not just for me; when I bring up the topic of banana split to “Macaoians” of my generation, the first thing that comes to our minds are special treats and happy times.
At the time when Macao was a quiet town, there was not much entertainment. On weekends, most people watched TV or played mahjong, and children ran around the streets playing all kinds of games. For the small number of families that owned automobiles, the more common activities were going to the beaches in Coloane or to one of the seaside cafés for beer or ice-cream – well, beer for adults and ice-cream for kids. Having a banana split was a big treat at the time, and restaurants put up photos of banana splits like it was a luxurious item. But with the many choices for desserts nowadays, banana split has become a hidden item on the long lists to be found within dessert menus.
As I am thinking of banana-split these days, I recently saw an old-style ice-cream cart on the street, one which I have not seen for a long time. There was still an old lady pushing the cart to sell homemade ice-cream and other old-style local desserts, but definitely not the same old lady who sold me ice-cream when I was young. The difference with this scene is that the ice-cream cart used to be surrounded by kids – we used to have to rush out after school to queue up for the ice-cream. But today, what I see is a lonely ice-cream cart parked at a street corner near some schools, with school kids running past it to the nearest 7-Eleven without paying attention to the local homemade ice-cream for sale. Perhaps modern creative destruction has struck ice-creams as well. That is why ice-cream carts disappeared from the streets, and banana-splits disappeared from café menus.