For a long time I have wondered about Cotai and how it fits in to the city’s identity and overall sense of historical coherence.
It still does not match well with the old urban fabric, although the casino strip is a strong component of the city’s economic machine – the most powerful one.
After Cotai started building up, amassing casino structures ever more colossal and grandiose, its influence on the old casino venues on the Macau Peninsula was somewhat gradually felt.
Some of the previous casinos from the Stanley Ho era located in the ZAPE district started adopting the LED patterns of the new times and gained more ornamental façades.
Against all odds, Jai Alai, which is one of the oldest gaming venues in town, emerged as a quite successful example of renovation – at least its exterior. Amazing retrofitting work, low key, low rise, with some dignity.
As many others slowly revamped and had to compete with the new casinos of the liberalization era, which were popping up across ZAPE, in the NAPE district, they have engendered some gentrification in their whereabouts.
New businesses that gradually opened, clearing away some old shops and leading to a wave of standardized products and services in the area – clothing and liquor stores, or traditional Chinese medicine – do not necessarily mean that good taste is their strongest currency, but also do not mean they have a cheap price tag.
So ZAPE became a little bit more adapted to the ideas of ‘wealth’ and ‘success’ that a gaming hub in Asia, and in particular China, can project to the types of clients that they cater to in that specific area of town.
We have to keep it real too. Many of the rich bunches, and not so, that end up here, belong to the new rich class China has produced over a two-decade span.
For many years, the Chinese central government promoted the idea that ‘to become rich is glorious.’ Yet I really have a hard time seeing gloriousness in a lot of rich, poorly educated people, who have particularly strange taste in clothes.
But then again, Macau is a place free of many constraints, where people come to be someone else, away from work hierarchies, family commitments, and the vigilant eyes of China.
From that perspective, Cotai suits much of what Macau has been for centuries: a place of laissez-faire. So it has its spot, even if it seems a bit at odds with history, within the city’s soul.