Monday, May 07, 2007

Protests, a Gunshot, and Love in Macau

What the world sees from afar through the eyes of the media is fascinating, especially when you are in a place at a time when something happens. A ferry goes down in Thailand, and everyone from all over the world starts frantically sms-ing you whether you are alright; even though you are on the island where the ferry went down, a few miles from the accident, you are getting the news via satellite and a fellow traveller...the news source being Sweden.

On Labor Day, May 1st, a rare protest in Macau turned violent when a policeman fired warning shots to dispel a crowd demonstrating against illegal and cheaply-paid mainland labor. This in turn enraged and drew more protestors to the demonstration, while a nearby motorcyclist was hit in the neck with a "metal object," as it was described in a local paper. While the metal object has now been declared to be a bullet, no one has said with absolute certainty that it came from the policeman's gun. It's good to be careful, I guess, but I think it's fair to say that in all likelihood it was a stray warning shot. (Many of the original stories that day do not pick up the wounded driver. Read an IHT story here.)

Even though you could probably spit from one end of Macau to the other, I couldn't have been less aware of this event; I was much more focused on my friend's wedding ceremony, at which I had to give a keynote speech.

It turned out to be a great day. The wedding was on Hac Sa, the black sand beach on Coloane, the far island of Macau, and by far the least populated part of the former colony. My friend and his wife looked resplendent and very much in love, he in a kilt and she barefoot in a cream-colored dress. A bag-piper backed up a long procession to the beach. The local people were stunned and enthralled by the bag-piper. I got through my speech without to many gaffs. The couple drank champagne there, with their friends and family, and we all took photos on the beach.

Somewhere a few miles away, the protest was occuring. Later on, when I joked with my girlfriend about how the Macanese were going to come after her, she seemed at least half-afraid for her safety.

"I'm just kidding -- they want mainlanders like you here. Here to spend your money, a tourist. It's the da gong ren (migrant workers) they don't want, " I said.

There seemed genuine confusion there: Macau was getting rich, why were they protesting?

Perhaps for many young, university-educated people from mainland China, capitalism is new enough that they they are not comprehensively aware of how divisive it can be.

But my Labor Day was what it should have been: a rest from work, and an appreciation of greater things.

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