Sunday, 19 August 2012

Holy Macau!

It was off to Macau yesterday to get a look at the former Portuguese colony that is now Asia's answer to Las Vegas.

Macau, like Hong Kong, is a special administrative region of China with its own currency, postal service and nominally independent government. It is located about an hour south of HK across the water.

Purchasing trip tickets at train stations or ferry terminals in HK is different than it is in the U.S. Dozens of travel agencies have offices set up in these locations and all of them can sell you transportation tickets, and so can the official transportation outlet's agents. Not wanting to worry about which one to use, I headed straight for a ticket machine promising direct purchase. I took out my credit card, punched in the necessary information and found that I had no choice in the matter: I was booked into the select service (1st class) section of the Turbo Jet boat. Oops. Good thing the difference in price wasn't exorbitant.

The trip turned out to be quite pleasant. I love being on the water, even when I'm hemmed indoors, and I was lucky enough to have a window seat. I ended up sitting with a young man from South Africa who is working for Prudential (that Jersey connection again!) in London and was in HK on business. We had a lively chat and the time passed quickly.

At customs, I've discovered a bit of good news: my work visa allows me to stand in the line with Hong Kong nationals, and it's usually a much quicker line. In Macau, I ending up standing with some young medical students who had all lived in Canada at some time in their lives, so another lively chat ensued. They were off to enjoy some gambling, as young men are wont to do, they informed me -- although they had set limits, since it was an outing for fun, not profit.

As for me, I was more interested in the Portuguese architecture and history than the gambling, so I caught a bus to a square downtown and followed a walking tour set out by my trusty Lonely Planet guide (Wow, do these folks know their territory!). The Portuguese buildings are lovely: low-rise stucco with balconies and porticoes, all painted in pastel colours. In many areas, street signs are imbedded into the corner buildings in blue and white tile. The city's downtown layout also reflects its Portuguese past, with circles and squares for stopping and sitting in the shade of large trees and enjoying landscaped flower beds.

My walk led me to one of the old forts overlooking Macau -- what a climb in the heat and humidity -- and at the top, I could see the city spread out in all directions. Dominating the skyline nearby is the huge, floral-shaped Casino Lisboa, all gleaming golden glass.

The fort is home to the Macau Museum, so I learned more about the city's history and culture. Among typical jobs in Macau centuries ago: a pillow seller who hawked cane pillows and a frog catcher who sold his wares to cooks of all kinds. Afterward, it was off to see the ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral, an island icon. Only the facade of the old church still stands after it was ravaged by fire 150 years ago.

Crowds on a summer Saturday -- wow! As I walked away from the church ruins, I looked downhill and saw a huge wave of people walking to and from the site. It reminded me of the mobs of tourists gathered in Venice's Piazza San Marco last summer, and whenever I saw them, I fled in another direction. Unfortunately, dodging this crowd wasn't as easy, but I did manage to find an alternate route.

I finally turned my feet in the direction of Casino Lisboa -- after all, no visit to Vegas East would be complete without a glimpse. OMG. I'd forgotten how ostentatious these places can be, and this one was all gold and light. Crystals dripped from chandeliers and golden walls added richness to the effect. Placed throughout the lobby were large-scale pieces of beautiful Asian art: vases, ivory carving, brush painting ... Wow!

Once I stepped onto the gaming floor, however, I could have been in any casino anywhere. Slot machines blinked and whirred and beeped; bettors surrounded dealers and shouts of joy or mumbles of rose above the click of tokens. I decided that gambling would have to wait for another day and headed towards the ferry terminal.

However, I'm sure it will be worth a look during another visit. Big casinos abound and the names of many are familiar from Vegas: The Sands, Wynn, MGM ... So, penny slots, brace yourselves.

I managed to get a window seat again for the ride home and darkness settled as we travelled toward HK, allowing me a lovely view of Kowloon's lighted skyline as we approached. I whizzed through customs, jumped on the subway and was in my apartment in no time at all, savoring my delightful day.

1 comment:

  1. Hey there!

    Again, you do a great job of giving us a virtual, sensory treat. (The top of this Macau post is hard too read because it's too light. Or my eyes are that bad ).