Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Gambling with Macau

I have long been fascinated by the Treaty of Tordesillas in my courses on Latin America, I mention the many levels of audacity it represents, starting with the vagueness of its definition with respect to the Cape Verde archipelago and ending with the fact that two guys in Europe decided that a meeting with a third guy was the way to settle their differences over how to divide up the right to subjugate much of the rest of the world. I've been so fascinated, in fact, that a visit to the site of that meeting is on my agenda for a (now postponed) family trip to Europe.
Every once in a while I am reminded that the line across the Atlantic had a counterpart on the other side of the globe, established by the Treaty of Saragossa. I found this map of both on the very informative Doctrine of Discovery page posted by Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer, a professor of history retired from Humboldt State University. Those reminders usually relate to the tiny Lusophone countries of East Timor or Macau (Macao) -- that is, coffee or gambling.

And this morning it was the latter -- the UrbanX course I am taking online features a 2016 article by journalist Simon Lewis about plummeting casino revenues in Macau. I include it here because it describes several aspects of the economic and cultural geography of this tiny country while explaining the counterintuitive finding that falling revenues might be a positive trend for its citizenry. Gambling addiction is often seen as an individual problem, but the experience of Macau illustrates the damage that can result when governments or entire economies become dependent on it.



The article includes this video from the Macao Government Tourism Office, in which historian Julian Davison explores the city, making many connections between its unique local features and its global position along what he calls the maritime silk road. We also learn that its name derives from the Portuguese spelling of the name of a Chinese ocean goddess -- this naturally reminds me of Iemanja/Yemaya. This is broadly similar to that of nearby Hong Kong, but with Portuguese rather than British connections.



How small is Macau? Even smaller than I realized. At 45 square miles, it is only twice as large as the small town I live in. I used the magic of The True Size to bring its shape to my neighborhood in southeastern Massachusetts for comparison.
Comparison: The True Size 



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