Rosetta plays roulette

Macao believes in gods and in luck.

It’s full of stuccoed Catholic churches where the red votive candles flicker; of small, brightly-coloured Taoist temples packed with offerings: sweets and oranges and roast pigs and waxy lotuses, coils of incense filling the air with smoky sweetness, piles of paper money burning, burning burning up in smoke. It’s full of giant, brilliantly-lit casinos where to the click of the dice, ping of the bell, spin of the wheel, snap of the cards, the money figuratively burns, burns, burns.

It’s luck or it’s fate or it’s the hand of the gods.

“Of course I play roulette, I have to, it’s my name,” Rosetta tells me. Most Chinese people choose their English names themselves. I wonder which came first for Rosetta, the name or the game.

“Of course there’s a system,” she tells me in-between winning some, losing some. “Are you trying to tell me there’s no system in the universe? You’re English, from the same country as Newton. Newton had insight, he understood the order in the universe.”

I wonder if Newton was a gambler.

“I never found order in life,” Rosetta tells me, scribbling down numbers on pieces of paper. “But I found it in the casino.”

I wonder how much money she’ll take away at the end of the night – or day, or tomorrow night, because there’s no night or day here, no today or tomorrow. The croupiers change over every forty minutes or so but otherwise it’s all the same: the lighting, the music, the smoke-disguising smell, the free drinks, the smiling, sharp-eyed security guards, the cleaners picking up specks of lint from the thick thick carpets.

In Macao museum, I look at tombs for crickets. Miniaturely grand stone edifices for the erstwhile champions of Macao’s gambling obsession. Crowds used to turn out in their thousands to watch prize fights; to attend the funerals of heroes.

Cricket fighting’s out of fashion now. From micro, Macao has gone macro – casinos the size of villages, marooned in a vast building site where even bigger casinos are going up, looming like baroque battleships behind the glittering Venetian, the City of Dreams.

It’s luck or it’s fate or it’s the hand of the gods.

In the protestant graveyard are grey tombs of the people who lost. Who caught tropical fevers, who fell into the ship’s hold, who were shot by cannon, who gave up. They are so lonely, these graves. They’ve been put up by shipmates or office colleagues or succeeding consuls who don’t even know how old the dead man was (they are nearly all men). They’ve been carved by people who can’t even spell. The dead are defined by their jobs – soldier, sailor, company agent – and while there are some ‘esteemed’, some ‘regreted’ (sic), there are no Beloved Husbands, no Dearly Loved sons, no Deeply Missed.

I wonder why these colleagues and shipmates felt the need to state in stone who erected the grave. To show there was someone who cared about the decencies, about the deceased? In the hope that someone would do the same for them when they were swept away by fever or a fall, so far from home.

I stay a cheap night in a former brothel on Rua da Felicidade, the street of happiness (I didn’t win at roulette – so much for Newtonian insight). Partitioned rooms not much bigger than protestant graves and a lot more flimsy.  It’s full of Philippino workers chasing luck and employment, calling their families back home on mobile phones, being deeply missed and dearly loved.

In the morning the whole street smells of almond biscuits, and I’ve dreamed about a regreted, long dead ship’s boy called The Peunington.

1 Response to “Rosetta plays roulette”

  1. 1 Kailah March 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Somehow just am reading this now. Beautifully written, the feeling of this post. I especially enjoyed the dichotomy between the micro and macro, and the weaving of the theme of luck throughout.

    I went to Macau 2x, once with my mom where we watched Cirque du Soleil at the Venetian and wandered neighborhoods and less-touristed beaches and pathways, and the 2nd for a visa run from HK where I went to some areas I hadn’t been to before, but ultimately bailed on my couchsurfing host in favor of hoping to get back into HK and back to my own apartment. Even so, I never quite liked Macau, somehow.


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