Sixty kilometres west across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong lies the tiny Portuguese enclave of MACAU .
A mere sliver of mainland and a couple of islands covering about twenty-four square kilometres in total, the territory is geographically and
economically a midget compared to its booming cousin across the water, and the Macanese transfer of sovereignty back to China in 1999 - two years
after Hong Kong's - had none of the drama or controversy that surrounded that of Hong Kong.
As in its larger neighbour, Hong Kong, the majority of Macau's population are Cantonese-speaking Chinese. However this has not prevented the
territory from developing an atmosphere distinct not only from Hong Kong but from other parts of southern China. With outdoor cafés, charming
Portuguese place names, public squares, the odd palm tree and numerous Portuguese restaurants, there is a definite whiff of southern Europe in the
However, by the millions of gambling fanatics living in nearby Hong Kong (and increasingly Shenzhen and Guangzhou as well), Macau, with its liberal
gambling laws, is seen as little more than one giant casino . It is largely as a spin-off from the colossal gambling trade that money is being
pumped in, allowing large-scale construction to take off, including that of Macau's own (underused) airport on the island of Taipa. New highrise
hotels, highways and bridges are appearing, and even Hong Kong-style land reclamation has begun in earnest.