The last public holiday, Dragon Boat Festival on May 30, seemed to have brought about some significant postholiday blues among us working class. Not that it was an exceptionally long holiday, but it was the last public holiday we are going to have in a long time. Scanning through the calendar, one would notice there are no more red dots until October 1. Here, we are in the summer months – the longest months of the year.
However, there are still some interesting festivals going on to refresh a rather long and dull summer. One of those is the Lotus Festival. Unlike other festivals, there are no public holidays on which we can enjoy the view of lotus flowers, but our little city is brightened up a bit with blossoms of lotus. Moreover, this is not a festival for mere flower appreciation. The lotus is special to Macao, as it is also known as the “Land of Treasure Lotus”「蓮花寶地」. Understandably, it has been chosen as the flower emblem of the city, the most noticeable symbol on our Special Administrative Region flag. So, in celebration of the Lotus Festival, we may reflect on the significance of the flower to us “Macaoians”, while appreciating the view.
One reason for the connection between Macao and the lotus flower, I have heard, was the shape of the peninsula. Approximately fifteen years ago, before all the land reclamation, Macao was shaped like a lotus flower with the Macao-Taipa and Taipa-Coloane bridge looking like the stem. I was told that this was the reason Macao got the romantic name of the “Land of Treasure Lotus”. The name may also have come from the large number of lotus flowers seen around town, though they are getting fewer – I imagine there were once more lakes and ponds where the flowers could be seen, given the names of hills and temples named with the Chinese name of lotus ‘蓮 = lin’.
Aside from the physical aspect of the flower, there is a connection between Macao and the lotus in relation to the symbolism of the lotus flowers within the Chinese saying: 「出淤泥而不染」 meaning “growing out of mud, but remains untainted”. This could be understood in different ways, but the general idea seems to grow around the fact that Macao was never affected by crisis or wars from the time of the revolution at the end of the Ming Dynasty and the beginning of the Ching Dynasty, to the Anti-Japanese war, making Macao a safe haven for refugees. Even typhoons that have caused destruction in nearby places seemed to be bounced off or weakened before hitting Macao. This little city seems to be untainted by bad luck. But the ‘mud’ in the saying refers not only to bad luck. The lotus flower is more generally used to signify purity and integrity in our culture, which in this era is really put to the test in Macao. In its continuous economic development, and the fact that we are reaching the highest number of casinos built in this town, can the peaceful tradition of this former fishing village remain untainted, or will Macao be turned into a sin city? Perhaps now is a time to prove if Macao is worthy of the lotus symbol.
Aside from purity and integrity, I have also heard friends from the Western world saying that they perceive the symbolic nature of lotus flowers to relate to the fact that beauty blossoms but only for a short time. In this instance, we can only see lotus blossoms in the summer. Does this symbolism befit more the current situation of Macao? Is all of the shining development in Macao a flash in the pan, and will winter come soon? During the Lotus Festival in June, perhaps we can see what insight the appreciation of the lotus flowers may bring us.