Stephen JB Kelly – China’s Sin City
“In 1999, Macau, the first and the last European settlement on the China coast, reverted back to Chinese sovereignty after 450 years of Portuguese rule. Shortly after the handover, this once tranquil fishing enclave became engulfed in a multi-billion-dollar casino boom that has taken the region by storm.
Situated on the western side of the Pearl River Delta, this semi-autonomous region of China is the sole territory within the People’s Republic of China that permits gambling. In 2009, gambling revenue from Macau’s thirty four casinos reached more than US$15 billion doubling that of Las Vegas.
Macau’s unbelievable growth in recent years would not have been possible without a heavy reliance on imported workers, needed to meet the astounding demand of the casino industry. The majority of the 98,000 foreign workers have come from mainland China, although a growing number of immigrants have been drawn to the city from South Asian countries, including India. They generally work in menial jobs such as security guards and cleaners; hoping to earn better wages to support their families back home but they are often abused and neglected by their casino managers.
Macau is the most densely populated region in the world, with a population of 18,428 persons per square kilometer. Vastly overcrowded neighbour hoods surround the border gate with the city of Zhuhai, the gateway into mainland China. Despite the huge economic growth over recent years, there is a striking contrast between the newly acquired wealth of the casinos and the dilapidated northern districts of Macau which house the city’s poorest residents.
I have aimed to document the diverse effects of this immense casino boom and hope to reflect how it has affected and changed this once sleepy and quaint corner of the People’s Republic of China.”
“Before I came here I was told that we would earn so much that we wouldn’t be able to count it. We thought this was an advanced country with opportunities but it’s like we are living in slum conditions. Before workers used to come from the villages and just put up with the conditions and adjust. Now they have worked in other countries and know what good living standards are. Workers are from a mixture of backgrounds and some are educated. I am a science graduate but they think they can put us all into one category. If conditions do not improve, I hope I will be able to return home.”
Laxmi, an Indian migrant worker.
“I grew up in a small village and after finishing school I came to the big city, Hyderabad. I got a job in an internet cafe where I met my friend’s cousin and he told me about an opportunity that had arisen to work in Hong Kong. Instead though I ended up here in Macau. I feel that I don’t want to stay here but my Mother told me that I need to work for
one more year at least for us to pay back loans for my family. But I want to go home because this place is very bad,
it’s sin city.”
Mouli, an Indian migrant worker.
“I was an administrative clerk back in India before arriving in Macau two years ago. To come here I took out a loan of HK$26,000 to pay a government agency in Andhra Pradesh. I feel that the atmosphere is very demoralizing and we are all very low. We feel like prisoners.”
Uday, an Indian migrant worker.