Thursday, 19 February 2009

The first day in Macau

I have a slight history in China of getting into cabs driven by complete maniacs. It seems that this extends all the way to Macau. Getting from Macau’s the ferry port to our guesthouse, the taxi driver obviously saw an opportunity to milk a foreigner, as he drove us round in circles pretending not to know where our guesthouse was, and then was surprised when we refuse to pay the whole fare.

I was still feeling stressed from that encounter when I went to check us in the Sanva Guesthouse. Even though I could clearly see my reservation written down in their book, it took ten or fifteen minutes of arguing until the owner, who spoke no English at all, agreed to connect the name written in the passport I was showing her with the same name written down in her book.

Then we saw the rooms. We had chosen Sanva mainly on the recommendation of Lonely Planet, which describes it as “the most charismatic lodging in town”. A piece of advice, if LP uses the term “charismatic” about a play to stay, go somewhere else. The ‘rooms’ were in fact cubicles, portioned by thin plywood ‘walls’ that stopped a good few feet shy of the ceiling: meaning that you could hear everything, no matter how intimate, that might be going on in the other ‘rooms’. The couple that owned the place weren’t very friendly either, and there was a bit of a scene when someone took an orange from a bowl in reception, that was apparently part of a shrine. This was an honest mistake: none of us had seen the whole bowl of oranges as religious offering thing before and thought they were for guests.

Our friends, K and W, came from Hong Kong to spend a day in Macau and met us at the guesthouse. They work in the same school as me and A, but had been travelling separately for a couple of weeks, so it was fun to catch up and swap stories. After a well deserved relaxing lunch, we went out to explore Macau. We started with the ruins of the church of St Paul, a seventh century church that, except for the frontage, was razed by fire in 1835. You can climb up to an observation deck behind the windows, and, like others, I threw a coin onto the lintel of the main window and made a wish.

Sunset climbing up Monte Fort
Then we strolled up to Monte Fort, enjoying the views of the sunset on the way. Owing to pollution and tower blocks, we’re rather starved of sunsets in Shijiazhuang, and getting to see them again was one of the highlights of the holiday. After an amble around the fort, we wandered around the many little side streets in the area, mainly trying out different types of beef jerky and biscuits that were on sale. Quite by accident we stumbled across a small shop down an alley selling absolutely delicious spring rolls and other snacks.

A typical Macanese side street

All this meandering gave me ample time to appreciate what makes Macau unique: the quite exceptional blend of East and West. In some places, like at the church ruins, it would be easy to think that you were in southern Europe, yet just a few metres away will be a quintessentially Chinese alley. Perhaps the best example of this was the main square, Largo de Senado, with its typical European architecture and surprisingly funky striped square, which was dominated by very Chinese New Year decorations.
largo do senado
Macau, is of course, known as China’s Las Vegas, so that evening we visited a random casino. First of all though, we celebrated the Year of the Ox by taking a clambering over the decorative Ox they had outside and getting shouted at by a security guard.

I’m not a massive fan of gambling, so I spent 10 Hong Kong dollars (just under one pound) on a slot machine game that I couldn’t understand to be able to say I’ve gambled in a casino in Macau. We all spent the majority of our time there sitting at the bar, making friends with/terrorising the bar staff, throwing large amounts of complimentary peanuts down our neck and watching the hilarious and terrible dancing of three rather unfit and unhealthy looking scantily clad Caucasian girls that was the sum of the casino’s entertainment.

Macanese biscuits. These were a bit too dry for my taste.

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