National Geographic : 1932 Sep
MACAO, "LAND OF SWEET SADNESS" When the crucial moment has arrived the master of ceremonies, who sits at the head of the table, pours out a gallon or two of cash, the familiar Chinese coins with square holes in the center. Then, with a little rake, he begins rapidly to draw them in, four at a time. The spectators on the mezzanine floor stop cracking watermelon seeds and eagerly wait for the last motion of the rake. It takes about five or ten min utes to reach the fateful termination, and the issue depends upon the number of cash left for the last move. If you have placed your bet on number 3 and there are three cash left, you have won twice the amount of your wager, less Io per cent commission. If there are I or 2 to 4 cash remaining, you have lost. With a wheel or a top marked with the four numerals, you could have the answer in stantaneously; but that would not be fan-tan. Fan-tan in full swing seems nothing like so wicked as it sounds, and as a gambling hell the fan-tan house is remarkably se date. The game lacks the picturesque ac companiments of a "crap game." It has none of the "bluff" of poker, none of the repartee of a lively game of bridge, and none of the suicides of Monte Carlo. Just what happens when a desperate loser has staked his return ticket to Canton, I had no opportunity to learn. CALDRONS OF ORIENTAL DREAMS Perhaps the strangest sight in Macao, when you remember that the official name of the place is "City of the Name of God, Most Loyal of the Colonies," is the opium factory. If you have taken the pains to inform yourself in advance with respect to Macao, you know that the Portuguese obtained a permanent foothold here as the result of helping China to suppress wholesale piracy in the Canton River, and that their sover- eignty was finally confirmed in exchange for a promise to aid in stopping the smug gling of opium into China. Historical facts, therefore, seem to be standing on their head when you view them from the shore instead of from a book, for the opium factory is one of the institutions of Macao and its annual revenue has been reckoned at several millions. Of late years it has been decreasing. You are not asked to crawl surrepti tiously through a cellarway to view it, but it is, nevertheless, a dingy, dirty place, as becomes so vile an industry. Crude opium worth perhaps half a million dollars is to be seen bubbling in large pots all over the place. Were it not for the distinctive odor, one might mistake the establishment for a chocolate works. When sufficiently cooked, the black, vis cid mass is scooped into little tins. Where grow the poppies which furnish the raw juice and by what devious paths the finished product reaches the poor wretches who are willing to barter their very souls for it are details not explained to the traveler. All in all, this Portuguese outpost in China is a most curious mixture of the po etic, the romantic, the historic, and the vile. The "sweet sadness" of Camoens's Garden is disturbed by the popping of handmade firecrackers. The bells of time-hallowed churches mingle with the clank of the cash on the fan-tan table. The requiem of the branches above Morrison's grave is broken by the bubbling of black opium in huge caldrons. White, fleecy clouds float across a sky of infinite blue, while out yonder in the black, slimy ooze a half-naked Chinese boy joy ously lifts toward his peasant mother a mud-covered arm within whose tiny fist is clutched a clam. The Sui An quickens its pace as it heads for Hong Kong. "4~"