Sunday, February 8, 2009

Macau

Since my visa only allows me to stay in China for 60 days at a time, I figured it would be a good idea to exit and re-enter China during this trip. In the past I had mostly just gone to Hong Kong, but this time I decided to go to Macau. Macau was once a Portuguese colony the same way the Hong Kong was a British colony. Today they are both part of China, but are Special Administrative Regions (SARs) and are allowed to do their own thing. Most people know Macau today for the casinos and gambling. Relatively recently, foreign casino companies were allowed to start casinos in Macau, so a lot of the big Vegas casinos have started moving into Macau. To get to Macau from Xiamen I first took a night bus from Xiamen to Shenzhen. I had never taken a night bus before and after this time I don't think I'll ever take one again. Basically, there are three rows in the bus with bunk beds, a top and bottom. I was in the middle row on the top bunk, so basically I had potential to fall off on either side. There were two bars on the side and you could strap yourself in like a mental patient, but it was pretty uncomfortable. The beds were also extremely short, basically just long enough for me to fit. I can't imagine trying someone 6 foot or taller fitting in one of them. Combine all those things with the bumpy nature of riding in buses in China and you have a very poor night of sleep. In the future I'll always take night trains, even if it's a bit longer, because at least the trains are smooth and you can sleep well.
Night Bus
When I arrived in Shenzhen, I was in a bad mood after a poor night of sleep and tired of the crowds in Gulang Yu. Fortunately, when I was taking the ferry from Shenzhen to Macau I was able to catch a little nap for about an hour and after that I was much better. One good part about Macau is that even though it's part of China, it's not really that Chinese in nature. Even with big crowds there is relative order, nobody is staring, cutting in line, etc. so it was a good place to refresh. Compared to Hong Kong, Macau is pretty small and there are a lot fewer foreigners. I think most of the people who go to Macau are people from Hong Kong or other parts of China and Asia looking to enjoy a weekend of gambling. They have most their signs in Portuguese and Cantonese, neither of which I speak, but it's easy to get around with English. Cantonese is kind of funny to hear after mostly hearing Mandarin and it was nice not to have to speak Chinese for a little while. In some ways, Macau is similar to Gulang Yu. It is an island with a European flavor, has beautiful views, nice squares, churches, narrow walking streets, and things like that. However, Macau is much cleaner, nicer, and better in most ways, except being more expensive of course. The food in Macau is delicious, with Portuguese, Cantonese, Hong Kong, and Chinese types of food all mixed together. There were bakeries and street food everywhere, especially on the walking streets. Right next to my hotel was a bakery and every time I walked out the smells would hit me and I was forced to buy something. My favorite were this little custard pies. They also had these thin slices of compressed meat that were basically meat fruit roll-ups.
Custard Pie
Meat Slices
Pedestrian Street Near Hotel
Another good thing about Macau is that all the main tourist sites are free. I guess they figure that everyone spends enough money at the casinos, so they don't need to charge to see all the churches and squares. I have to say that the tourist map you can get for free in Macau is probably the best I have come across. It has all the information you really need, with a map showing the tourist sites, hotels, casinos, etc. There are 25 buildings in Macau that have been designated historic landmarks and there's a nice walking tour you can do in half a day or so to see all but one or two. It's really like walking around a European city with the architecture style and churches everywhere. One of the sites that is not one of the 25 historical sites is this church on a hill. It's worth walking to the top because you can see a good view of the city from the top.
Church on the Hill
Casino Strip
The Needle
Some other cool sites were the Buddhist temples. There were a few on the island and they have unique incense burning. All Buddhist temples in China have incense burning, but in Macau instead of sticks, they have coils. Since it was the New Year, they were setting off huge strings of fireworks at the temples, ostensibly to scare away evil spirits.
Buddhist Temple
Incense Coils
Fireworks String
The best of all the sites are some ruins. It really looks like something you could see in Rome or elsewhere. Finally, are the casinos. Now I know a lot of people are starting to call Macau the Vegas of the east, but I think that in its current state, you can't really compare the two. Macau is much, much smaller and the casinos are definitely not as opulent as those in Vegas. Although I know they've built a replica of the Venetian, which one of the best casinos in Vegas, the main strip of casinos is not too daunting in Macau. In the casinos everyone was playing baccarat, which I don't even know how to play. I couldn't see any craps tables and found only a few blackjack tables. I guess in Macau they have almost even odds for baccarat, so everyone likes to play it. I had some good luck at the blackjack table and won about $100, which pretty much paid for my trip to Macau, so that was great.
Grand Lisbon, the Marquee Casino of Macau
Wynn and MGM Grand
Main Strip
While in the beginning I was a little skeptical about Macau because, as I mentioned, I don't like seeing Europe in China, I actually really enjoyed my time there. I only had 1.5 days there and wished I had a bit more. I didn't have enough time to check out the two smaller islands that Macau is connected to, so there is definitely more to see. While the casinos are good, Macau has a lot else to offer with the good food and interesting sites to see. I think it was good to have a break in more of a western atmosphere to reboot myself mentally for the rest of my trip. Time for another edition of Chinese people. People in China often have shirts with nonsensical English on them. This is a good example:
This Guy's Shirt Says, "For Instance Several Sunglasses Models"
For more pictures of Macau, check out: http://picasaweb.google.com/wallred10/Macau

2 comments:

Master said...

Beacuse we chinese like the shape of english letter, it's just like foreinger prefer to make the chinese font tatto on their skin.

Phil Dawsey said...

That seems like a real cool little place. That night bus is insane. I don't know if those exist anywhere else?! Come to Oktoberfest man!