National Geographic : 1969 Apr
In autumn, gamblers can find cricket fights to wager on. The male crickets battle in small wooden-tub arenas, and bets up to 4,000 patacas have been laid. The best fighters, I learned from importer Chong Ming Hong, come from graveyards or the invigorating en vironment of mountainsides. Mr. Chong sells bananas on the Rua do Teatro, and deals in crickets from China as a sideline. "Owners train them on a diet of lotus seed and rice cooked with frogs' legs," he said. "Every few days you have to put a lady crick et with them to keep them happy. "Males are matched by weight before fights and are made angry by having their antennae brushed with a mouse whisker. A fight lasts until one cricket gives up and hops away-a few seconds to half an hour. Consistent win ners can be worth hundreds of patacas." All forms of gambling, even the cricket matches, are strictly controlled in Macao. The syndicate that holds the concession from the government pays handsomely for its exclusive rights. In 1961 the Sociedade de Tourismo e Diversoes won the bidding for a 25-year con tract. Its announced terms: establish and maintain additional ferries, including a hydro foil, dredge Macao's Outer Harbor, erect a sumptuous casino-hotel, pay an annual tax that now equals nearly a million U. S. dollars. Gold Flows In, Then Disappears Figures on Macao's traffic in gold are hard er to come by. Portugal did not sign the Bret ton Woods Pact that, at the end of World War II, regulated the international exchange of gold. As a result, its overseas province can trade legally-and freely-in the yellow metal. Imports of 22.5 tons-some 30 million dol lars' worth-were officially recorded in 1968. Exports? Nil. Gold comes into Macao in brick-size ingots via Hong Kong; it has been properly bought-usually through banking circles in London. A fraction becomes the gold jewelry that abounds in Macao shops (page 522). The rest disappears. "Where does it go? To make rich people richer," quipped my journalist friend Edmun do J. Martinho-Marques. "The ingots are melted and the gold is di vided into small, easily handled packets. Then it goes abroad by devious means, most of it to India, China, and Southeast Asia. "You see, people in the Orient don't trust paper money. They prefer to put savings into something more dependable, like gold. And they're willing to pay a premium to get it." I met a Chinese fisherman who admitted 534 Where pirates plundered, the Red Chi nese patrol as doggedly as the Portuguese once did. Communist gunboats, on the alert for smugglers who ship gold, drugs, or refu gees across the border, often stop and search the great batwing fishing junks. This flag laden gunboat carries an overload of soldiers on an excursion through the Inner Harbor. The Portuguese in the 16th century won Macao from China as a reward for dispers ing a band of pirates, one of many that have plagued this coast. Refugees from Red China make former wastelands bloom. Tilling empty land near the Outer Harbor, they raise six to eight crops of vegetables a year, including string beans, cabbage, turnips, spinach, and rad ishes. Here a farmer dips water from a pond filled by August rains. Much of the city's drinking water comes by pipe from China.