at bela vista

macau's old district ©papa osmubal

macau's old district ©papa osmubal

at bela vista

leung ping-kwan

                              translated by martha cheung

I look at the traffic on the bridge, a glass of wine in hand
Next year today, no more parties on the veranda for us
Someone remembers it used to be a refugee camp during the war
providing shelter from catastrophes. Like in a disaster film?
I turn round to look at the elegant colonnades, renovated many times
Let`s not forget the ghosts of history
Who plays the lead in this scene?
The imposing walls of the seventeenth century fortress had crumbled
at the deserted well in the courtyard servants had gathered to wash clothes
Before me now people embrace and applaud in front of a birthday-cake
As always we play walk-ons in historic scenes
Sitting at this long table tonight, we sail
as if on a luxurious liner towards the twenty-first century
Will these stairs vanish? Will the restaurant,
forsaken, sink deep into the ocean of oblivion?
I sit here drinking in silence, listening to
but not hearing any dramatic explosions
Behind the bela vista one sees are the boa vistas
everyone imagines for himself. Candlelight dinners
never match one`s imagination. Beyond the music
one hears, another music plays on
This place had seen the nights of our youth, the time we first explored
tirelessly those narrow alleys, watching people make their humble living
along the streets, and at night we checked in – a mere grotty hotel then
Local wisdom will not easily disapear
Buildings the British and the French had fought to purchase
bear witness to the rise and fall of different masters, and now
on this stretch of land newly reclaimed, pagodas and towers
may rise to attract tourists. Who plays the lead in this scene?
We try Macanese and Cantonese food, which change with time
There are no more waiters in uniforms neatly starched
only new dishes of hotchpotch stews made from old recipes
bean stew Brazilian style, squids Mozambique in coconut juice
In the end it is they that remain. Keeping them company on the table
a simple drink made from sugar cane

(Macao, February 1998)

*from an article My Poetry, Macao and the Cultures of the Sea, on food-scape website