Ten for the future

Translation By: 
João Pedro Lau
Photos by Eduardo Martins
Celebrating our 10th anniversary, we meet 10 young local talents making their mark in the city

To say that Macau has changed a lot in the past 10 years is really a bit of an understatement.  Anyone who has spent any time in the city over the past decade can certainly attest to the staggering development that they can see all around, from massive building projects to the huge variety of restaurants and shops, the rise in income levels and lifestyle, and the overall internationalization of the place.

In February 2007, Macau CLOSER published its very first issue, featuring on the cover, the man who has played a central role in creating the identity of Macau, Mr Stanley Ho. 

“It gives me great pride to see Macau turning from a fishing village into a modern city. I look forward to joining efforts with the Macau people in building a new Macau,” he said during that interview with Macau CLOSER’s founder and publisher, Mr Ricardo Pinto.

A decade later, in this Closer Look, we speak with 10 talented young local people who are making their mark across 10 different fields, to ask them about their impressions of the changes that have occurred in the past 10 years, their views on where they are today personally, and their hopes and visions for the “new Macau” in the coming 10 years. 

 

 
Florence Lou - Marketing Manager
 

When I graduated, I really wanted to work in the hotel industry but at that time there were only a two or three truly international hotel brands.  Working for an international brand you have a lot of opportunities to work or even just do training in other countries. You get different experiences, get to meet interesting people and learn from them.  That’s what attracted me to work in this industry, it’s a place that makes things happen, and offers lots of opportunities.

I feel thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had in my career. After graduating from the Institute for Tourism Studies, in the last five years I have been able to serve guests at the Grand Hyatt Macau in the Front Office; operate a revenue unit in Spa operations; serve VIPs as a Grand Club Manager; enhance guest experiences as a Guest Experience Manager and, now, I’m able to communicate the brand to the public via Marketing Communications.

These past 10 years have transformed me as a person as I was able to understand the core value in the hospitality industry: Care. And that word has shaped me as well.

As with other industries, technology is definitely something that has completely changed the landscape of the hospitality industry. It has happened over the last 10 years and I guess it will continue. Compared to a decade ago, for instance, companies like Airbnb or Uber didn’t exist.  They are young in the industry but their impact has been groundbreaking. These technology driven services are growing so rapidly that they are competing with hotel chains and changing the landscape of the industry.

With the development of the HK-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge, I believe that there will be huge opportunities for Macau’s hospitality industry, creating new travel patterns for the nearby cities within the region.

Regardless of the ups and downs of society, economics or politics, people from all over the world will always have a perennial impulse to travel, to know, to feel and to interact.

The companies who understand their guests the best -  how they think, what they expect  - will be the ones to thrive. How companies can differentiate themselves within the market will remain the challenge, because guests are tired of standardization and expect personalization.

I guess in the coming 10 years, Macau people have to catch up and improve their own competitiveness in terms of skills, know-how and experience. The compensation and benefits here are actually really good, and the government policies favour locals. 

For me, after five or six years in the industry I’ve also started to think about what’s next, so that’s the big question: stay in the industry or try to transfer my skills to another field?

As a young professional here, I also expect to see how the government can diversify the economy and create more opportunities for people to develop. In addition, I hope the government can launch thorough plans for a more eco-friendly city.

Macau is a small place and can set an example in terms transportation and waste management. Electric shuttle buses, a bicycle-friendly city and recycling are obvious solutions to take into consideration and that can have a huge impact on the next generations. As a local, I hope adequate policies are put in place in order to achieve a balanced development of the tourism industry and the living quality of the Macau people.

For young people who are considering this industry, be passionate and caring. Care about your work, your people, your work environment and your city. Only by doing these from your heart, will you enjoy working in the hospitality industry.

 

Joe Liu - Entrepreneur

Ten years ago I’d just graduated from university in London.  And there was hardly anything here in Macau, it was still the beginning of the Cotai times. Macau was very much more inward looking so the demand for marketing wasn’t great. If I had started up my business 10 years ago, I don’t think I would have survived. 

Fast forward to now, and I believe it is the right time in Asia to be doing what MOME is doing, bridging the divide between traditional media and online media.

The last 18 months has been tough, but I’m still bullish about the future. I think the market correction is a good thing.  At a time when a lot of people are struggling, this is when we see an opportunity to get even more aggressive.

We opened three new offices last year, in Hengqin, Guangzhou and Bangkok; our team has expanded a lot.  We try to be optimistic about the future and I believe the demand will be here, as we target mostly the mass market, not VIP.

The challenge for Macau is the transition from the old ways to the new, and from VIP to the mass market, so Macau is at a cross roads now. We all know that we want Macau to be more diversified, but it’s not yet. The government is trying to push it in that direction, all the firms and locals want it.  I believe we have the right ingredients and it’s definitely possible.

Macau has a huge opportunity being so close to China, with so many people supporting what could be done, so if the transformation to mass market is done well, and then this transitions to diversification, with the benefits really trickling down to society, I believe Macau has a strong future.

I don’t think I’m at a stage where I can say I’m really proud of my work, because the business has only been running for two and a half years, which is still a really short time, but I’d say we have made the right first steps, to help prepare Macau to be more international, with tourists from all over the world; to give people more choices, more accessible ways to get information and entertainment and of course to know more about the city.

We want to try to feed information to everyone via their mobile phones, give people instant access to whatever they need and then special offers and maybe even payment offers - this is the way society is evolving in the digital space, it’s a lot more integrated. 

In Hong Kong and the first tier cities of China, everything is integrated with their phones, so if Macau is serving a majority of visitors from Mainland China and these guys already have the capability to do this, why don’t we cater for it?

And in turn we can bring in the mainland culture, modify it in a way to make it suitable for Macau, and grow the space here.

In 10 year’s time, I hope our company will not simply be serving the people of Macau. I hope we can use Macau as a showcase, to help us expand to other countries.  As a marketing company specialising in Chinese visitors, we can in theory grow internationally – that’s my vision.

As for the city, I hope there will still be some water in between Taipa and Macau!  And I hope there will be more public transportation, and it could potentially be a cleaner place with the right use of technology and the right policies.

For young entrepreneurs, when starting a business, make extra preparations and don’t rush into decisions.  You need to do the foundational work and consider what could go wrong. Don’t underestimate the amount of work required before you start up.  And think about future trends, not where the market is today but where it is going to be in the future. 

 

Un Sio San - Poet

A decade ago, I decided to stay overseas to study and become a scholar because I felt desperate about Macau. But I did come back to Macau eventually, to help change this place.

The literary scene of Macau is like a river delta that is transformed and affected by trends coming from all directions. This gives Macau the opportunity to learn from our neighbours. In the past decade, members of the local literary circle have become more proactive.

The norm for writers and poets in the past was to apply for sponsorship from the government in order to publish their works and distribute their works for free. Another option has been to ally with local organizations so that they will publish the work for them. However, there are now more writers and poets trying to publish their works by themselves or look for publishers outside the territory.

But at the same time, I have also noticed that the association of writers has become more complicated. Making friends through literature is happening less nowadays. Things now are not that simple. In the past, the literary circle was like an association or a club for those with the same interests. People just wanted to chat or have a meal together. But a lot of people nowadays are striving to create projects or develop into multimedia fields. People are trying to boost each other’s fame and at the same time gain fame themselves.

This is not necessarily bad. However, writers should let their work speak for themselves. Promotion is important, but should not be heavily depended on.

Regarding my future direction, I want to put more focus on creation and inventing and exploring more.  Moreover, I still long for the day when poetry is in revival.  This era of fragmentation allows poetry to survive because people no longer want to read lengthy articles. Although fictional stories are basically monopolizing the literary world, I still believe that poems can reach into a realm that no other literary styles can.

As for the next decade of the Macau literary scene, I believe writers will definitely struggle between ‘internationality’ and ‘locality’.  What you see now is an increasing number of writers intentionally putting local landmarks and nostalgic emotion into their works. But we have to be cautious about this phenomenon. If you make your work like a box of almond cookies, with all of them related to the Ruins of St Paul’s, then it will look like government promotional material. I believe literature is more than that.

The last thing I want is that my works are appreciated only because I am from Macau. This place is just like an accent to me, a character that I can never get rid of. I just want it to be there naturally, not being highlighted.

I hope Macau’s literary scene can maintain a proactive attitude and curiosity, and be more willing to accept different ideas. The best literary scene, I believe, is one that is diversified and inclusive.

No matter what you are doing now or your direction, the  most important thing is to always keep in mind your original intentions.

 

Lai Sio Kit - Artist

Ten years ago, I had just received my Bachelor’s degree from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, and was working on my Master’s degree. It was very clear to me that I did not want to cease my pursuit of becoming a full-time professional artist.

What I think has changed in me in the past decade is that I have become more confident. Although I had been telling myself to stick to the path, a sense of insecurity still lingered. I was not confident in myself, because I really could not see the way out. There were people who succeeded, but I just could not figure out how. The only thing I could do was to keep working on my art.

I used to have a sense of uncertainty regarding my life. Even when I was thinking, I would feel like I was lost, asking myself why I still had no idea what I wanted to.

As for the art scene in Macau, there was actually a gap some years ago where there were only very few new artists emerging. But the situation has started to change in the recent years.

Regarding the opportunities artists have in Macau, to put it a bit dramatically, I think it is the territory’s ‘nothingness’, which means there is huge room to develop.

In Mainland China, the environment is already very mature regarding art and art works. From the handling of exhibitions by museums, to the technique of artists, and the interconnectivity between different sectors in the artistic world - all of these are highly developed and closely linked together. In Macau, however, we don’t seem to have much else other than artists’ art works. We don’t even have a lot of audience.

This ‘nothingness’, I believe, is probably due to society focusing on money, while the value of art works are not recognized. That means people are only willing to purchase art works that are lower in price. The pace of Macau is getting quicker. When people don’t even have time to sit down, how can they spend time appreciating art pieces?

To be a full time artist, one has to sustain their life with their creations. I hope that, in the future, all artists in society can survive this way. To achieve this goal, more people have to treat art as an essential part of their life.

If someone wants to be part of the local art scene, my advice is to be persistent and focus on creating the best art works. The art world is like a pyramid - while the peak attracts a lot of attention, only a few can reach there. What artists can do is to hold fast to their course of art creation.

 

Maggie Mak - Sommelier

Since the time I graduated from the Institute for Tourism Studies, there have been a lot of changes, lots of new hotels in Cotai where there was nothing before, and the level of service quality has also risen tremendously, with a lot of expertise and well-known people from overseas coming to work here; managers who have worked in world famous hotels and restaurants.

Before there were no real sommeliers, there were just people who had worked in this industry for a long time, people who drank nice wine and knew particular labels and went to restaurants to make recommendations, buying and sourcing. In terms of service, in the past people would just open the bottle and pour the wine, and say this wine is nice and that was all. 

Now we really need to have well trained sommeliers, who really know how to serve the wines: at what temperature, what type of glass, checking the condition of the wine.  People are focused on more details: do you really know about a certain wine in particular? Are you well trained and qualified? 

The clientele is growing up in their knowledge too, even local clientele, so you really need to have the proper knowledge to guide them and offer a selection that is to their tastes.

The thing I’m most proud of is becoming a head sommelier at a luxury property like Wynn Palace.  To have this opportunity to take care of one outlet, the wine cellar at SW, it’s a real challenge - all the things I have done in my learning and development have helped me to reach this place now. But of course I still have a way to go.  I’m young, and still have to improve and develop.

I still feel like I’m learning. At the head sommelier level, it is a management position, so it’s not only about your own service. You have to work with a team and different people, train people, and manage the wine cellar and inventory.

Living in this city generally is very good. Everyone has a good job and good pay, but I’d love to see more diversification and activities going on. It would be good to nurture local talent in different areas too, not just casinos. 

Human resources are a big challenge in the industry here in Macau.  We see a lot of people interested in F&B training, but not so much in wine.  Many come as trainees, but after a few months they leave one by one because they think it’s too hard.  In the beginning you have to do all the hard, dirty work, and then working on shift is difficult too.  Even to become a sommelier is a lot of hard work.

However, to work in F&B is a fantastic job - people who love food and wine are interesting people - but you need to be willing to do the tough jobs and overcome the difficulties.  If you really love it, it is a fun field, and if you can overcome the challenges, you will succeed. Especially in Macau, there are not many locals working in F&B professionally, and with F&B skills, this can really help you to work overseas and internationally, which is fun.

It’s always good to go outside Macau to get experience, so my advice is, although Macau needs talent, go out, get experience and knowledge and then come back to help build up the industry in Macau, because it’s still new and young.

 

Joe Chan - Environmentalist

Macau should be a place where environmental policies can be effectively executed because it has an enormous amount of economic power and talent, and it’s a compact space. However, I believe that what the city invests in environmental protection is disproportionally smaller than the resources it has.

In fact, the laws of Macau regarding environmental protection have been very advanced compared to our neighbours. For example, the city passed the Legal Framework of Environment before the  Handover.  There are also laws that protect old and valuable trees, as well as policies regarding recycling. So we cannot say nothing has been done on environmental issues. But these laws and policies cannot keep up with the rapidly developing economy, and a long-term plan is also lacking. Even with the “Environmental Protection Planning of Macau (2010-2020)”, many of the targets set have not yet been reached.

The result is that environmental protection in Macau has failed in the previous decade.

Meanwhile, the government seldom communicates with local environmental protection organizations; many of them do not think that they can influence the policies of the government either.

But in recent controversies regarding land usage and the destruction of hillsides, we have seen some organizations coming out and voicing their concerns, hoping to sway the administration’s decisions. And their efforts have been effective. Therefore, more residents are starting to realize that, in order to protect the environment, they have to come out and voice their concerns.

What I am most proud of in the previous decade is in fact people’s increasing awareness, with residents actively approaching me and the media to express their concerns regarding environmental protection.

In the coming 10 years, I see a glimmer of hope regarding environmental protection in Macau. The government is pushing ahead with some environmental protection projects, and discussing more policies regarding this issue. I think there will be more progress in the future.

Moreover, the transformation of global tourism culture means tourists are increasingly interested in the natural environment of the places they visit. This provides more incentive for the Macau government to protect the natural environment of the territory.

For those who want to join us in preserving the nature of Macau, I hope they can realize how much they love the environment surrounding them. Environmental protection is a struggle. The environment cannot defend itself. So if you really want to join this campaign, you must be willing to sacrifice for the environment.

There are a lot of people in Macau who possess the knowledge vital to environmental protection efforts here, and many of them are working in the government. Some of these people studied overseas and brought their knowledge into public departments, however, they may not be able to put their skills to good use and could eventually lose their passion.

I hope they can hold on to their love for nature. One day, when the current senior officials are gone, if these people can still maintain their passion, they will probably be the key figures who can change the future.

 

Tracy Choi - Filmmaker

I graduated from high school about 10 years ago and went to Taiwan to study film, but at that time nobody really thought about studying film because there was no support for that type of industry in Macau, and no one thought that you could be a filmmaker in Macau.  So for me it was just for fun. I thought I’d try it even if I couldn’t do it when I came back.

But now so many things are different.  There are a lot more people doing freelance on the production side and commercial work, so if you want to shoot something here in Macau, it’s much easier than 10 years before.

Also the government is more supportive nowadays. With the casino development, the government has earned a lot of revenue so they can support creative industries more.  I think there will be more opportunities in the future because the government is still supporting us.  So for new local directors it’s a good start because you can use that money to try to encourage other people to support you.  If you are a brand new director with no money, it’s very hard for people to trust you, but with some money it will be a little bit easier - not easy, but at least a little bit easier.

The opportunity is to discover how to cooperate more with Hong Kong and China.  It’s almost impossible for Macau films to get back investment just from local audiences. We need to gain money from other places like Hong Kong and China.  Only with local support is very hard.  Besides the government support, the casinos and hotels are not really interested in investing in films unless you have a big famous star, so it’s very hard for films to be supported on their own.

Distribution is also difficult.  If you don’t know how to do it, the movie will only be screened once or twice and then it’s over.  But coming up with a script is not so difficult, because the industry is quite new so there are a lot of stories that haven’t been told yet.

My film Sisterhood was about my memories from the 90’s and my feelings about the past of Macau, compared to today, but in the next film I’d like to tell stories about nowadays in Macau and the people here working in the casinos.  There are lot of movies about casinos, but they’re not focused on the employees. I actually think working in casinos changes people, because working on shifts, you really don’t have a life, just working and sleeping, no time for living, so maybe my next film will focus on a different side of casinos, a more human story.

I hope in the future if people have stories to tell, they can more easily get in contact with investors, so they can choose to work with local, Hong Kong and Chinese and even European investors.  It’s already happening, so I hope it can be more.

My most proud achievement is probably this latest feature film project (Empire Hotel) that I am working on as the assistant director. It’s kind of a dream come true because it’s a feature film that will be screened in Macau and Hong Kong. 

I’ve worked on other short films and documentaries, but not fictional feature films.

If you are an aspiring filmmaker, it’s always good to go outside Macau, not necessarily to study film, but just to see the world. And when you miss your hometown, then you can see it more clearly when you come back; what’s good and what’s not good. You can be more sensitive to your hometown, and see it from a different perspective.  Experiencing different cultures is good for your creative process.

 

Ng Kuok Kun - Boxer

I started playing combative sports when I was 13. At that time, there wasn’t a clear distinction between different types of combative sports like boxing or Muay Thai. It was only that people would go to local sports clubs and practice, then join some matches organized by clubs or companies. Overall, sports clubs are just places for people to relax and play, just like a soccer field. Nobody was expected to achieve any distinct results.

Macau’s combative sports sector has not made much progress in the past decade. Our education methods and facilities are lagging behind our neighbours. Also, people in Macau do not need combative sports to survive, so many of them only treat boxing as a recreational activity. Since participants do not have to make a large financial investment to do the sport, it is easy for them to give up if they lose interest.

Moreover, most of the coaches are actually working part-time, and only teaching students after they finish their full-time jobs.

On the other hand, the sports sector of Macau is in fact constantly making progress.  In the previous decade, Macau has hosted many large-scale sporting events. In order to select the athletes to represent Macau, there are more inter-club and open matches. Some casino-hotels are also sponsoring commercial events like boxing matches and marathons. This has resulted in more people being willing to invest and pay attention to sport, as well as to become athletes.

However, the number of professional athletes in Macau is still low. This is because of the lack of commercial sponsorship.  To become a professional athlete, there has to be commercial opportunities for advertising and becoming brand representatives. But for some companies, they may think that to hire a B-grade celebrity for advertising is more effective than using a local athlete.

Nevertheless, we still see more talented people emerging in the local sports sector, with the quality rising and training becoming increasingly systematic and professional.

I hope that local residents will be more willing to play sport and spend money on exercising. They should also understand how sport can improve their health and eradicate some minor health issues.

For those who want to be an athlete in Macau, if you are not very ambitious, then you just need to spend a few hours on training every day. But if you have some goals to achieve, then you must be able to withstand loneliness and isolation from your friends and hobbies. You need to be emotionally tough and most importantly, persistent.

As for my own goal, I want to be the Asian champion of one of the four major boxing organizations in the world. Maybe this doesn’t sound like a big deal for some, but for me or for any person from Macau, this has never been achieved. To be honest, it is pretty difficult, but is something I know I am capable of doing.

 

Jenny Mok - Performance Artist

The performance art scene of Macau has also gone through a period of drastic changes.  In the last 10 years, what has changed the most in Macau’s performance art scene is that people have wanted to become more professional. Even though performance art is not yet an industry here, many are already developing in their professions and pursuing more knowledge through studying overseas.

But one thing hasn’t changed, which is the size of the audience. In other words, although the numbers of groups and performances have increased, more has to be done to expand the audience pool.

Also, the majority of the performances in Macau are still text-based, which is more mainstream, while I would like to see more varieties.

Moreover, Macau lacks the culture of watching performances. In Macau, to watch a performance is seen as something special, something that only happens for some particular reason. However, this is the opposite in other countries, where families often go out and watch different types of performance on weekends.

In fact, I only came back to Macau two and a half years ago after spending two years in the International School of Theatre, and I was the only Asian student at that period. I can say that successfully finishing that course is what I am most proud of in the previous decade. It is because the course was conducted in French, which means that there were some difficulties in communication and collaboration. But I was still able to finish it and saw it as a fruitful experience.

As for the next 10 years, I hope that all artists in Macau can sustain their living by themselves. Living, I can say, is a challenge in our field. In Macau, the performance art scene, to a great extent, relies on the support of the government. Artists also have to earn their living by finding more non-artistic related works. But this situation is universal.

At the same time, we have many who went out and studied some professional courses, and decided to return after. How can these people and Macau support and benefit each other? That will be an issue to be explored and contemplate. But my hope is that there will be more artists who are true to themselves and dare to create.

Furthermore, artistic education in Macau is in fact a void. I remember there were only craft and music classes that were art-related when I was at school. I didn’t find them interesting at all. They might even give people the impression that art is dull.

But education should actually help the next generation to realize that art is a fun thing and is not-at-all an elitist pursuit. This will bring students closer to the Arts and directly influence the development of the performance art scene.

As for me, I hope that my body and mind will continue to belong to me in the upcoming decade, so that I can create some genuine works and communicate with the audience.

I would tell those who want to be a performance artist that they should not fear failure. Once they choose art, they should not be concerned with others’ opinions, and should bravely express their opinions; never stop trying, overturning, enquiring and executing. 

 

Isabella Choi - Fashion Designer

I had a dream of opening a shop to sell my clothes since I was very young and began to draw clothes. But it was only after I went to the UK when fashion design became my interest. During my highschool years, we had a subject called textile design, which was about clothes and design. Later when I had to pick my subject at university, I chose fashion design.

Design is, for me, a process of never-ending struggle. I have to fight with myself over the choice of material, design concept and cutting. But it is only after this that will there be a fruitful result.

When I came back to Macau, I actually had to find a job while freelancing. At that time, the focus of many experienced designers in Macau was on formal clothes and ceremonial dresses. There were also more amateur designers.

In recent years, there are more local brands, some of which are already pretty successful and have their own shops. More people are willing to join the industry, with the number of people going overseas to study this profession increasing.

In fact, The University of Saint Joseph and the Macau Productivity and Technology Transfer Centre are offering bachelor’s degree programs and courses for fashion design.

What I am most proud of in the past 10 years is the opening of my second shop in April last year. This marked the point when fashion design official became my career, instead of just something I was trying out.

In the beginning, my shop did sell some clothes from overseas. Some customers would question the origin of my products, or suspected that some of my designs were actually not by me. We had to do some explaining. But then I added more and more of my own designs to my shop, and customers would come to me and ask when I was going to release my new collections, as well as recommending me to their friends. This really give me a sense of satisfaction.

In the coming 10 years, I believe more people will join the Macau fashion design industry and add more individual brands to it, which will diversify the market and give it brands with different styles. If we only have very few famous designers, nobody will come here for fashion. We need a lot of people joining together to make Macau more fashionable so that tourists will look for our designers when they visit us.

Macau’s fashion industry does face difficulties though. It is not hard to create a collection, but the sales and marketing is actually very difficult, especially in overseas markets. If we want the designs of Macau to appear at one of those famous fashion shows, then local brands will have to participate in tradeshows all over the world for buyers to see our products. And this can be very expensive to do.

For those who want to join the industry, my advice is for them to look for a job first. I really benefited from my work experience when I first came back, because that really helped me in my business. It allowed me to understand the reality and learn the operational skills from big companies, which has been essential for my career.