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Down your very long way away: MacauIn our occasional column featuring far-flung places, J. Correia, in his own words, fills us in on how Macau is embracing the Internet.
Macau is a small territory on the southern coast of China, where the Portuguese and Chinese cultures have been co-existing in relative harmony since the 16th Century. It all began when the Portuguese navigators developed the land in 1557 in co-operation with the local fishermen, making it one of the busiest ports in the region at the time.
As a Portuguese colony in Asia, Macau has been, in many aspects, a bridge between the Western and Eastern cultures for more than 4,000 years. The College of St. Paul, the first western university in the far east, was founded here in 1594.
Portuguese and Chinese are the two Macau’s official languages. Of the total population of approximately 400,000, about 10 percent are able to speak both languages. Otherwise, English is widely used, especially amongst the academic community.
People generally were not interested in higher education before the University of Macau was founded in 1992. Those who did take an interest before the 1990s pursued their education elsewere, most notably in Portugal, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. This was despite the existance of the University of East Asia (UEA), a private institution with foreign owners. However, the UEA curriculum was not applicable to Macau’s economic and social situation, in addition to the fact that many students could not afford the expensive tuition.
Since the establishment of the University of Macau - a public institution representing the heir of the UEA - and its gradual adaptation of the curriculum to Macau’s needs, an increasing number of people are considering higher education. Including the Macau Polytechnic Institute, the Open University and the Army Higher Education School, Macau has a student population of more than 6,000.
Besides several documentation centres and other small academic libraries, the University of Macau Library (110,000 titles) and the Central Library (300,000 titles) are the two main units in the Territory. There are also the historical archives, which mainly hold documents about Macau history.
The InternetThe University was the first Macau institution - private or public - to be connected to the Internet. This happened during 1993; the main problem we had to resolve in the Library was related to the different cultures and languages of the Library’s users. We have Chinese users (around 80%), but also Portuguese and others from different parts of the world, from which resulted a multilingual library collection.
Four or five years ago it was not easy to find a system for library automation which could accept, in the same database, languages like Portuguese (with its special accents), Chinese and English. This situation complicated the decisions regarding acceptable accessibility to our references through remote access.
In the beginning, besides the Library, only a few departments and faculties of our University used Internet facillities. But, as everywhere in the world, the last few years have made international networking familiar to many people, especially in the academic environment.
Besides the general University homepage (http://www.umac.mo), almost all departments and schools of our University now have Web sites or pages, with links that to the two countries that for more than four centuries have inspired Macau history: Portugal and China.
But the long term peaceful relations between two completely different countries also made up an original culture, which turned out to be a mirror of Macau’s mixed social environment. Here, you can find not only mixed people (half Chinese, half Portuguese) speaking both languages and, often, praying to Catholic and Taoist gods, but also many other examples of this cultural embracement, such as cuisine or music!
If you walk on our narrow little streets, on the end of one lane you can find a small Chinese temple, whose flaming red facade is surrounded by colonial Portuguese pink houses. When you climb one of the 7 hills that adorn our picturesque city, the sight blends old churches with white lines of tiny Chinese houses…
Visiting Macau homepages is a little bit like walking inside this town. You find addresses belonging to Chinese people together with others from Portuguese cybernautics. Some are really interesting, with lots of information, like the one from “Revista Macau”; others are what you can call useful, including official texts like “The Constitutional Law of Macau”. There are more than 150 homepages in Portuguese, Chinese and English languages, which is not bad considering that 2 years ago almost only the University in Macau was on our national Internet map. Even now, only our University has a library with Telnet address (telnet://umaclib1.umac.mo).
Because much of Macau economic life revolves around tourism and gambling, there are plenty of sites from hotels and tourism departments in these areas, including the well known Hotel Lisboa. The main non-University Macau host servers are UniTEL and MacauNET
Although, as we already mentioned, the last few years have brought an increase of Internet sites, the truth is that we still have a long way to go, particulary in official sites. In fact, most of the addresses are still from private companies or persons, and even the Central Library - the only public library in the territory - does not have a homepage! The same is true of many administrative departments. Understanding that most of the future improvements depend on professional qualifications, the University of Macau has been preparing seminars and meetings for training in the use of the Internet.
Although Macau stands near the great metropolis of Hong Kong, the truth is that for a long period of time, life here was similar to a village where nothing happened. However, together with a clear economic development, the last few years carried two events which brought this place much nearer the world: the establishment of an International Airport and the connection to the Internet universe!
The FutureIn 1999 Macau will become Chinese territory again, after centuries of Portuguese administration. As you can imagine, this change brings some instabillity and uncertainty, mainly in what concerns the permanence of Macau’s very particular identity. The Chinese culture is very strong and after a short time Macau could become just another Chinese town, loosing much of its especially appealing synthesis of Western and Eastern cultures. It is imperative that this territory maintains strong contacts with Western countries, especially Portugal, so as not to be overwhelmed by Chinese cultural and social “invasion”.
There is no need to mention the advantages that accessing the international networks can bring to any country on earth, by interconnecting different people with different cultures! But for a place like Macau, where the future depends on the fidelity to its past - totally composed of an history of relations between different cultures - I am sure the Internet can fulfil a very important role, as an open door to the world.
Material on this page is copyright Ariadne/original authors. This page last updated on July 15th 1996