Macau’s Street Altars: Blessings Everywhere

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Tourists hardly notice them. They’re easy to miss. However, they’re an integral part of life in Macau (and Hong Kong, too).

Street altars and shrines are carefully placed throughout the city. We spotted them next to homes, stores and in alleyways—anywhere a person might want to pause and say a prayer.

It was the aroma that we noticed first. Sticks of incense were lit by the living to communicate with the other world. The combination of the sight and smell of the pungent smoke must help those beyond this dimension receive the fervent prayers.

Though we never saw two altars or shrines that were alike, they shared similarities. All featured a container that held either a few sticks of incense or fistfuls. A red rectangular plaque with Chinese characters typically hung on the wall directly behind the vessel. Cups of tea, various fresh fruit and even bottles of alcohol were frequently placed next to the shrines. We could only guess that the spirits appreciated some offerings more than others.

If you enjoyed this story in our series, you may also enjoy one that looks at Macau beyond the casinos, another about the city’s elaborate mosaics, as well as our travel book, The Unguidebook Hong Kong & Macau.