The first time I visited Macau was to find a smuggler. Nothing as exciting as opium, gold or indentured coolies, three Macau exports before it became a gambling emporium, of course. No, my flat mate in Hong Kong wanted to bring his treasured Burmese cats into Hong Kong and he could not abide being separated from them for the six-month quarantine then in effect in the British colony.

With the help of some of his friends in the then Portuguese enclave (not a “colony”, Chinese territory under Portuguese administration) we found the animal smuggler in a shop off of the main street, Avenida de Almeida Ribeira. For a sum he was quite willing to accept the cats and smuggle them into Hong Kong on a junk.

That was the beginning of a 20-year fascination with Hong Kong’s smaller neighbor across the Pearl River Delta. Looking back I am amazed at how much Macau has changed in that time. When I first went to Macau to look for an animal smuggler, the Senate Square, the heart of old Macau, looked decidedly run down. Not today. Cars have been banned and the square has been lovingly restored. Portuguese craftsmen were brought in to make a wavy white pavement out of limestone and basalt that gives it a definite Mediterranean look.

Todd Crowell finds some changes in Macau after an absence of six years. Read on at his blog, Asia Cable. Todd’s guidebook Explore Macau will appear at the end of the year.