Copyright © 1998-2015 Randall J. van der Woning; all rights reserved

How Now, Macau?

Portuguese colonialThis is a pictorial tale; a virtual tour of two days trekking about Macau. Most links are 400x300 images that open in the same window. There are also several 800x600 images that open in separate windows. There are over 100 images. Enjoy!

October 1st marked my third year of living in Hong Kong. It was also Mabel's 4th year of being back home.

To celebrate, we went to Macau. We booked a room at a five-star hotel and took the jetfoil to the tiny enclave for two days of exploration.

"... we wouldn't be tripping over other people."

Macau was a former Portuguese colony, since returned to control of the People's Republic of China. It boasts a population of 438,000, 96% of whom are Chinese. The rest are Portuguese or other Europeans. We chose to go there because we wanted to visit a place where we wouldn't be tripping over other people.

We boarded a TurboJet jetfoil for the 9.00am sailing. As soon as the craft hit the center of Victoria Harbour the engines were pushed full throttle and hull lifted out of the water. We were cruising through the waves on three fins at 45 knots.

Once underway, Cantopop videos and nature films played on the entertainment screens, which didn't amuse me as much as when the cabin attendants started hustling scratch and win tickets. Gambling begins early on the way to Macau.

When we reached Macau, we could see the bridges connecting the peninsula to the island. Then we entered the harbour where the famous floating casino is located, along with the ferry terminal. Once we cleared immigration, we caught the shuttle to our hotel. It was located near Taipa Village on the island. We checked in and change as it was too hot for long sleeves and pants, despite the risk of contracting dengue fever. The hotel staff told us the recent outbreak was over, and we had repellent; we weren't concerned.

Consulting our map, we made our first stop at Monte Fort. We jumped into one of the ubiquitous taxis and in short order arrived at the main entrance. We walked around the interior of the outer walls, surveying the cannons and taking in the view. I got Mabel to sit on a cannon.

I love historical sites for the antiquities that speak to us from the past. We skirted the museum built in the center of the fort, electing instead to look at the views and at older structures. From there, we walked down a park path outside the fort toward the famous ruins of St. Paul's Church. Only the main facade still stands. The rest of the church was levelled to the foundations by fire during a typhoon.

We climbed a scaffold behind the facade for an incredible view down Rua de Santo Paulo. As the site is a religious and holy relic, people threw coins onto the base of the arches for the blessings the act would bestow upon them. At the rear of the church we found a crypt which displayed the actual bones of martyrs from the 16th century that had been unearthed during excavations of the ruins. Out of respect for the dead I chose not to photograph them.

AWe headed down the long staircase in front of the church, pausing long enough to look at a school and one of many Portuguese colonial buildings. At the base of the steps was a bronze statue of a woman in a rather sultry pose. I couldn't help but snuggle up next to her. Mabel was embarrassed, and everyone was looking at me, but I had to.

We moved over cobblestone streets of Rua de Santo Paulo; both sides of the street were lined with Chinese antique furniture stores. At the end of the street I spotted this poorly-named clothing store. Around the corner, a space was being renovated, and this old brick wall caught my eye. We explored on the way to our next destination, passing more colonial buildings, as well as the Consulate of Portugal, which was closed for the public holiday.

It seemed each street or area was devoted to stores carrying the same types of goods. Mabel spotted a clothing shop at which she felt compelled to stop. There she found several nice outfits that we bought. What was I going to say: no?

We made our way to Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial House, which at one time was his home. He was hailed by the Chinese as the Father of Modern China. Exploring the large manor, we saw numerous photographs and items of his life. Even his dining room table was preserved. In the garden, Mabel emulated the statue of Dr. Sun Yat Sen. I told her she would be the Mother of Hong Kong.

· ƒ ·

Casino and hotel By that point we had sore feet. Everywhere we looked, we saw little 50cc Honda scooters; I vowed next trip we'd rent one and save our legs. We hailed a cab and took a much needed rest on our way to the Southwest corner of Macau. We wanted to break for lunch before resuming our explorations.

Our next stop was the Temple of A-Ma. It's from this place that Macau gets its name. Formerly known as A-Ma-Gao, it was shortened by the Portuguese to Macau. The temple dates from the early 16th century. According to legend, A-Ma was a poor girl looking for passage to Canton, but was refused by wealthy junk owners. A fisherman agreed to take her aboard. When a storm appeared, it destroyed everything but the boat carrying A-Ma. In Macau she disappeared, only to reappear as a goddess. On that spot, fishermen built her temple.

Cut into a hillside thick with boulders, the temple has prayer halls and pavilions connected by paths that wind their way upward. Some of the boulders have huge Chinese characters carved into their faces and painted bright red, the colour of good fortune.

These large incense coils reminded me of mosquito coils. What would a temple be without a money plant? Who says money doesn't grow on trees?

"Scoring a head-shot was supposed to be even luckier ..."

I wasn't amused about the turtles. People queued up to drop money onto them in the hope of bringing themselves good luck. The poor turtles weren't lucky; they sat in the cage, getting bopped on the head by large metal coins all day long. Scoring a head-shot was supposed to be even luckier, but it looks like animal abuse to me.

Outside the temple we saw one of many giant lanterns for the festival. I got a neat shot of the top of Macau tower poking above the hillside. As we milled about, a pedicab driver asked us if we wanted to take a ride. My aching feet screamed: Yes! We hopped in and took a nice, relaxing ride to the Hotel Lisboa.

As we cruised along, we stopped for pictures of Macau Tower, which was under construction. It's 338 meters high (over 1,000 feet) and is being built to boost tourism. The views from there are said to be spectacular, and you'd be able to see Hong Kong from the viewing terrace. I wouldn't want to be up there during a typhoon, though.

This private residence attracted my attention, with its beautiful blue mosaic. All along the road were buildings like this, most of them Portuguese style. I felt as though I'd stepped into Europe.

Once we reached the hotel, we wanted to peek at the casino, but we had backpacks and security wouldn't allow them, nor my camera. They pointed out the lockers around the corner, but I wasn't about to trust my gear to a coin-operated locker. I might as well hang a note around my neck saying: Steal My Stuff.

Attached to the Hotel Lisboa was a small mall that sat between it and the casino. Sauntering up and down the halls were Asian women in form-fitting dresses who stared at me, appraised me and sized me up. They were prostitutes, but Mabel, sweet innocent woman that she is, was oblivious until I pointed it out. She became uncomfortable, so I suggested we head to the area where we'd planned to eat dinner.

We took a taxi to the General Post Office, next to Leal Senado Square. More lanterns were strung between the historic buildings, over the famous cobblestone street. Macau is a place where east meets west.

We goofed around a bit, then walked to a famous street where one can buy Chinese baked goods as gifts. Too bad the sign makers didn't proofread. Along the way I found a beautiful Mont Blanc wallet to replace my aging one. I wanted to get a photo of the vendor, but he was camera shy. He must have thought I was a cop.

From there, we walked down the block to what was supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Macau, the Restaurante Vela Latina. I had the African Spicy Chicken, which wasn't spicy, and took so long to receive I was certain they'd gone to Africa to get the chicken. Mabel, had snail soup and grilled sardines. I told her I wouldn't kiss her until she brushed her teeth.

By the time we'd finished dinner, it was dark. We caught a taxi back to Hotel Lisboa to get to a suitable spot to watch the fireworks at 9.00pm. In the center of a roundabout between the hotel and the Bank of China, we found a small park decorated for the lantern festival. We selected a spot at the edge of roundabout where we could sit, and settled back to watch the fireworks.

There were subsequent shows, part of a fireworks competition, but we were burned out. Traffic was a nightmare; we had to walk down Avenida de Lisboa behind the hotel to find a taxi. Around the corner we ran into a gaggle of none-too-attractive Caucasian hookers. These women must have been imports from Russia I've read about. Mabel was a bit nervous, but I grabbed her hand and plowed through the streets until I snagged a cab.

When we returned to our room, we showered and flopped back on the ultra-soft trampoline bed and propped up our weary feet. We watched a movie, and around 1.00am we passed out.

· ƒ ·

The next morning looked to be another scorcher. No way would I go out without my hat after having fried my melon and brains the day before. After checking out and leaving our bags with the bell-captain, we had breakfast at the hotel buffet. The dining room was nice and the food great.

Our first stop was at Coloane Village on the South end of the island. We came to St. Francis Xavier Church moments before a wedding party arrived. We walked down the back lanes of the old village before winding up at the Tin Hau Temple.

On the way back we spotted what's known as a moke. It looked cool; instead of renting a scooter we might rent one of these. Coloane is a small fishing village, and with the holiday nothing was open, not with the festivities of the previous night, so we went to the city.

Our second stop was Guia Fort and Lighthouse. We walked uphill to the park where this array was sitting. We moved along the paths along the lower walls of the fort until we found the entrance, the walked up to see the views from the top. The church dates to the 16th century and is now a relic, the evidence of its age showing. The fort was small; we left to have a look at the big cemetery I'd spotted from the lighthouse. Every street had some kind of colonial building on it, along with those little scooters lined up.

St. Michael's Cemetery was amazing. It was jammed full, yet it was also filled with trees, plants, and flowers. It was beautiful; I would have loved to spend more time to take photos, it was that nice. Mabel, despite her denials, was spooked, so we left.

We went by taxi to the same area we'd had dinner to have lunch. We wanted to see a couple more places before we left for Hong Kong. After lunch we stopped at the provisional municipal council building, then wandered through Leal Senado Square, pausing to photograph a couple more structures. From there we took a cab to Luís de Camões Grotto and Garden, which was full of elderly folks who gathered to chew the fat and to bring their birds back to nature.

Our final stop was back at Taipa Village on the island, close to our hotel. We scoped a street known for its plethora of eating establishments, making mental notes for the next visit. As we meandered toward the edge of the island, we found a small square with a library and Our Lady of Carmo church. Down a set of stairs sat the Taipa Village Museum, along a small lane of similar buildings known as Avenida de Praia Residences. Dusk was fast approaching, so we looped around the buildings up to another entrance to the Carmo Garden, which led back to the now-lit Our Lady of Carmo church.

"Now that's a joint with staying power!"

As we cruised back through restaurant row, we saw a place that Mabel remembered from her visit to Macau when she was a child. Now that's a joint with staying power!

Back at the hotel, we gathered our bags and waited for the shuttle to take us back to the ferry. The Hyatt Regency was fine, but they made one mistake. Their policy, and I use that word loosely, was they wouldn't change our remaining 200 patacas back into Hong Kong dollars, which was stupid since everyone else in Macau was trading it at par. That alone pissed me off to the point that I won't be giving them my business again. Call me petty, but that's bad business. They did, however have some cool guardian warrior statues out front, and a nice-looking ceramic pots display by the drive.

The shuttle took us back to the terminal and we hopped the jetfoil back to Hong Kong. It was a great trip, though exhausting; we'd walked more than 18 miles. Now that we know our way around, our next trip will be more relaxing. We have another public holiday coming up, so we might make a day trip to see what else we can discover.

The question is: How now, Macau?

October 6, 2001

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