0 comments 22 September 2008

On the 15th of September, I took the ferry to Macao, an island in front of the coast of China where the Portuguese in the 15th century first went on shore: Vasco de Gama visited the peninsula in 1497. My visit 511 years later felt as a ‘must,’ considering the rich history of the island and the fact that the island was an early ‘contact zone’ for east and west. Of course Macao has changed a lot since Matteo Ricci and Francis Xavier walked around, yet the churches, missionary buildings, and crucifixes reminds of its Christian and Portuguese past. Ironically though, Macao has now turned into the Las Vegas of the east, because it’s one of the few places where gambling is not forbidden. Huge casino’s light up at night; dramatically overdone, but surely gives a nice view from the 68th floor in the Macao tower.

(Ruins of St Paul Church)

To talk about an other museum: the Macao Museum in the centre is most definitely worth a visit, because it’s shows a historical and comparative story of China and Europe, under the title of “Continuous Convergence.” I have yet to find a more suitable application of our master programme in a museum. You walk through an alley, and on your left you see the history of Europe and on your right the Chinese. You could choose just to see the one or the other, but you’re invited to make the comparison yourself. First, examples of the Egyptian, Persian, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin scripts are compared with the evolutionary development of the Chinese script. Second, the Roman empire and Qin empire (first emperor Qin Shihuang and his terracotta army) are shown with their accomplishments. Further comparisons concern schools of thought (Greek philosophers and Confucius), religions (Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism), science and technology, and it keeps on going; as long as it fits in the idea of east and west convergence.

In the museum, the number of houses were rebuild to give an impression of a Macao street through time. The first house is typical Chinese, the last typical Portuguese, and the houses in between combinations of the two. A map of the world show the Portuguese trade routs over the oceans as well as the famous Silk Road through Central Asia towards the west. This comparison technique is practised on practically everything: Chinese and Christian marriage rituals, eastern and western medicine, a Chinese and a Portuguese living-room, which contained a picture of a Portuguese-Chinese couple and their children. The story is at times a bit too romantic, yet very entertaining and interesting.

I couldn’t thus detect any clashes between the Chinese and Portuguese. One violent confrontation is mentioned, which only gave the Macao and the Portuguese a common enemy: the Dutch! It turns out that the Dutch tried to take over control over Macao, and although initially successful, they were defeated by Portuguese soldiers and Macao civilians. Since 1999, Macao passed to China, but is considered a Special Administrative Region so I have an extra stamp in my passport!

[Pictures soon]

1 comments 18 September 2008

On the first day in Hong Kong, I went to the Hong Kong Museum of History. This museum instantly became one of my favourite museums (others being for example the Tate Modern in London). I did not exactly know what to expect, but I have learned that that is usually the best. Sometimes I go visit a museum with big expectations, or just the wrong expectations, and then your experience will usually be a disappointment. But in the case of the Museum of History, everything added up to a great museum experience.

The museum had done a great job in combining all kinds of history into one. It started with the geological features and history of the Hong Kong area. How the different layers in the earth came to be, what effect the ice age had, how the different islands and mountains came to be; everything complemented with the estimated years when it occurred, usually going into the millions of years ago. Of course I don’t know anything about geology, but the fact that the rock we’re sitting on hides an enormous history under its surface is of course amazing to a simple history student.

Anyway, after the geological history of rocks, the next hall in the museum was dedicated to natural history! Suddenly you walk in a small jungle with animals and plants, typical for the region through time. I was just too happy and walked around without reading all the info signs; maybe next time. With the third room you finally enter human history, but it’s still pre-history so no written records. There are mannequins of how the humans a few tens of thousands of years ago probably looked like. The museum explains the discipline of archaeology, a history of archaeological excavations in Hong Kong, and the donor collections of (amateur) archaeologists.

Now we race through the dynasties from Han to Qing and the place of Hong Kong in this history. So only in fourth section did the museum enter my field of study, namely history based on written works. But after the geological, natural, archaeological, and ‘ordinary’ history, it still continues! Now it is time for the people itself: anthropology. It turns out that we can distinguish four kinds of people in Hong Kong. The Boat Dwellers who fish, the rich Punti, the Hoklo who cultivate rice, and the […]. Other cultural riches are shown, such as Chinese opera, theatre, rituals for marriage and birth, etc. Next floor: Opium war, English rule, grow of the city, Japanese occupation, modernisation, and it all finishes with the return to China. All accompanied by pictures, posters, movies, buildings with period rooms, etc. Wow…

So, everyone who visits Hong Kong, go to the Museum of History! But if you plan to visit multiple museums in Hong Kong, go to this one last, to keep your expectations for the other museums low. This museum reaches a high level, making the other museums look, well, less impressive.

1 comments 13 September 2008

As you may know, we've all taken off to explore the world outside Utrecht. Klaas-Pieter is taking classes in Amsterdam, Koen will take philosophy courses in Leeds, Dirk goes to Aberdeen in Scotland and I will go to Xiamen (China). And apparently, there is Aberdeen in Hong Kong too! (see picture). By the way, the Hong Kong Museum of History is a MUST for everyone visiting this great busy city, it's one of my favourite museums now!