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So What’s Macau Like?


Asia-Lite. I’ve heard it called that a number of times by people here and it is very true. There is a European feeling to the place that extends beyond the Portuguese street signs. Four hundred years of colonisation will do that. It makes for a very soft landing for a new ex-pat.

This really is a company town, or rather country, or rather six companies in one industry. Eighty per cent of the economy is gambling and associated service industries. Six companies have licenses to operate casinos. SJM, run by Stanley Ho, had a monopoly until 2002. I work for the Venetian Sands, one of the Las Vegas companies that came in after 2002. I am officially employed by the casino itself but work on the Cirque Du Soleil show.

The job is great. I haven’t worked in this level of theatre for a while and although it was intimidating at first I soon remembered that I am actually good at this sort of stuff. It is wonderful to be working with professionals again. Everyone knows their job and just gets on with it. After years of working with clueless clients it is fantastic.

Language wise I am not having any problems. English is the main language of the show crew here. Macau’s official languages are Cantonese and Portuguese. The latter really only remains on government signs and menus. Hardly anyone speaks it here aside from the Brazilians and Portuguese ex-pats. Mandarin is fairly common too but English is the lingua franca. Although the majority of guests come from mainland China, the real area of growth is India.

One of the factoids I remember from my casino orientation, which was done in English by Cantonese HR ladies to a room full of Filipinos, Thais, Vietnamese, Indonesians and one native English speaker (me), is that over half of the world’s population lives within a 5 hour flight of Macau. India, home to a billion people with a rapidly growing middle class, speaks English. So most of the casino staff do too. This is no doubt going to affect the country as a whole.

My Cantonese is coming along. Learning with a mixture of mp3 lessons and asking locals and ex-pats for tips. I know my numbers, please/thank you and “here”. Basic stuff for dealing with taxis and shop keepers. I also know how to order a beer but with widespread hospitality English, I’ve never used it.