Walking on streets of Macau, we see foreigners everywhere. Sometimes, we wonder why they choose to stay here when we’re so dissatisfied with this place and are keen to live abroad.
Before she came to Macau, Catherine grew up in Belgium and spent two years in Russia. Although there are many Portuguese in Macau who speak Cantonese, looking at Catherine who has a beautiful Northern-Central European face, I have no idea why she speaks Cantonese so fluently. Her native languages are French and Dutch. Moreover, she speaks English, German, Russian, Mandarin, and Korean as well. For many urbanites, Belgium is a desirable place to live. So how could people who have been living in that dreamy place then get used to living in Macau?
Her husband is a Macaoese; they met each other in Belgium. Their first son and second daughter were born in Belgium as well. Six years ago, she came to Macau accompanied by her husband. As Catherine says, it’s easy to go to other countries in Europe when she lived in Belgium; that made her travel a lot. So she has gotten used to her life in Macau very smoothly without being disoriented. Instead, she thinks it’s quite pleasant to live in Macau as it’s so tiny and cosy. “I feel like home because I always meet someone on the streets, but they don’t usually say hello to me; they’d text me a few days later to tell me that they have met me somewhere. That’s funny." Maybe it’s the way people socialise in today’s world.
Macau is an easy place for foreigners. Catherine studied tourism in university, but instead of working in the tourism industry, she works as a teacher. For many English-speaking foreigners, teaching English is a popular job in Macau. She taught English in a Chinese middle school. Being the only foreign teacher in the school, she was questioned about everything. “But sometimes it made my work easier. Some secondary students used to come to my desk to share their problems with me, because they think a foreign teacher must be open to their thoughts, and that’s true. Then the students came more often to my desk, and it disturbed the teachers who sat close to me. Someday the principal noticed and offered me an office, so I could communicate with the students without annoying the other teachers. Also, the principal told the students that they could only speak English when they talked to me. It was a good opportunity to communicate and learn for both the students and me," Catherine says. For a teacher, trust from students is essential, and that became a very remarkable and touching factor for me.
The life of a working mom with three children can be exhausting, Catherine’s husband is a fashion editor who works at home, so he’s able to take care of the homework. During their days off, the couple usually go shopping and watching movies. The kids love to go to Cheoc Van Beach. That’s their favourite place in Macau. “In Cheoc Van, I feel like I’m somewhere else," she says. Going to parks is also a perfect activity to keep the kids happy all day.
Our house in Belgium had a small garden so that the neighbourhood kids can play together in it. “In Belgium, we’re very close with our neighbours; kids ran between each others’ houses, played together. We had some other neighbours over for a meal. When the adults needed to go out, we took care of each others’ kids," she continues. “My first neighbour I met when I moved to Macau was a teacher; when I’m working as a teacher as well, we talked a lot and let the kids play together with the door opened. I like living in a close-knit community; it reminds me of Typhoon Hato, I saw people distributing bottled water on the streets, and some organisers also went door-to-door to hand out water to the elders and families with kids. I was moved to tears; her voice becomes sentimental. Catherine thinks that people can always have a closer relationship in a small city like Macau.
She knows the importance of communicating and the value in respecting the different cultures and languages when moving to a new country. Catherine has lived in Macau for only six years, yet she can understand and answer my questions in Cantonese; her words are sobering. The European woman who’s sitting in front of me is someone who fully assimilated into Macau’s culture, and she also loves it.