No Wins at the Wynn
Trip Start Aug 30, 2006
36Trip End Feb 03, 2008
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We don't think so.
Even before arriving in China, we had heard much about the storied casinos of Macao, how large, Western casino owners were building bigger and better hotel-shopping-casino complexes rivaling those in Las Vegas. Our first trip to Macao we were feeling a little too poor to try it out, but this time we thought it was time to bet our lucky patacas.
We visited five casinos along the main strip of Macao's gambling district looking for something fairly simple: a place to have a drink and dunk money into a slot machine or two.
Overall, we found the casinos big on style and short on fun.
The first one we tried was the Wynn. It seemed like a good bet. A rumor in Foshan had mojitos at the Wynn bar at 20 patacas (about $2.50 US) and since there's a Wynn casino in Vegas, too, we figured we couldn't go wrong.
Entering, we were impressed. A large fountain gives a performance every 15 minutes outside, and inside are all the white-lit, spotless international boutique stores a casino-goer could use to while away recently won millions.
But it was so quiet!
Some Kenny-G-esque recording played softly in the back ground while card dealers and roulette spinners silently dealt the hand of fate to hundreds of similarly quiet gamblers. Were they winning or losing? Or did anyone care?
Not even the slot machines beeped or made cha-ching sounds. The flashing lights were dimmed by the bright overhead chandeliers. This place was trying for class and nixing the fun factor.
We wandered for five or ten minutes looking at the types of games and sizing up the luckiest slot machines. What we really were, was thirsty. No cocktail waitresses. No obvious signs pointing to a bar.
"Wait!" we said. "There, in the corner! That's a.....Starbucks."
Finally, we asked an attendant. She pointed us to the "lounge." Out of our price range if we still wanted to have money to gamble.
We wandered back onto the floor and found the twenty-cent slot machines. Let's warm up there, we thought. Oops, no change. We tried to break some 100-pataca notes for tens.
"Sorry, sir," the cashier told Dan. "Slot machines take Hong Kong dollars, not Macanese patacas."
"Right," we said, backing off and putting our money away.
We spied a cocktail waitress wheeling a cart amongst the baccarat tables and pouring cups for bored-looking business men. She had two drinks: Water, and green tea. We took a bottle of water and tried to leave.
After five minutes of people trying to show us the back way out of the casino, we found the strip again, and repeated the same process no less than four more times, at the President Casino, at the Casino Lisboa, and at two others we don't care to remember. Some were as luxurious as the Wynn, some heading toward tacky. We spent two hours looking for a drink and a pull at the slot machines and went back to our hotel without accomplishing either.
No wonder the Portuguese gave it back.
* * *
No matter our disappointment with the night life, day time in Macao is always fun.
On Monday we went back to Taipa island, just ten minutes on a bus from Macao's center. We wandered the narrow, sleepy streets past small temples and paint-peeling houses till we got to the old waterfront area, where trading vessels would have landed with cargoes of silk and strange goods. A rose garden makes an interesting contrast there with the native vegetation and the colonial architecture is an odd backdrop for the construction worker crews who walked by on their way home from building beach side resorts.
Tuesday we took a self-guided walking tour of the southern peninsula from the center (Largo do Senado) up into the leafy hills where the Portuguese kept their important buildings and lookouts. Now pricey hotels and exclusive residences, these old structures really exude the feeling of Portugal, not of China.
So it was a sunny walk through the history of these islands as we went from the seat of the Portuguese government up to the Bishop's residence and chapel then down to the waterfront again along to a 17th century fort (now a hotel, of course!) and to A-Ma, an old Buddhist temple built into the rocky hillside.
They say Macao takes its name from A-Ma, a deity. Speakers of the local dialect would have told the Portuguese that it was A-Ma's Bay, or A-Ma Gao. Said together, it sounds something like "Macao."
The temple, which has several altars on the hillside, is the nicest we've seen so far in China. It's not as large as the one with the big Buddha in Hong Kong, or as impressive as the one lost in the forest at Dinghu Shan, but it is charming and its small altars to the various Buddha seem somehow more sincere.
Our other interesting note for January is our trip to Da Qi Tou, a deserted village in the Foshan district, but out of the city proper.
It's not very far away, but we couldn't figure out a direct route to get there. First we went to San Shui, another town nearby that we'd like to check out in more detail some time, from there we took a local bus past vegetable gardens and duck farms to Le Ping, and then we both hopped on the back of a motorcycle taxi to take us to Da Qi Tou.
The village is a collection of the traditional, wok-handle-roof-style buildings, which were built sometime in the last 150 years, as far as we can tell. They are built very close together along narrow concrete-tiled lanes, and seem to have been designed for wealthy families.
It looked like the whole place was deserted except for a few extremely elderly women hawking dried vegetables and herbs in the front and a dried-up old man who charged us 5 yuan each to take pictures of the old houses.
Most of the houses are in disrepair, their gaping doors full of weeds and broken crockery. Burned down incense sticks and the red paper left over from fire crackers are outside every doorway. This seems to show that locals, the descendants of people who lived there perhaps, regularly stop by to drive off evil spirits. Some of the doorways are capped by the red paper scrolls put up at Chinese New Year for the same purpose.
A few of the houses are obviously un-lived-in but still nicely kept. These usually had an altar in the main room with pictures of the family's ancestors and offerings left to them.
And one or two houses seem to have tenants-their doors were closed and locked and it seemed that working power meters led inside. What would it be like to live in a village that other people clearly thought was occupied by the spirits of their ancestors?
And where did those ancestors go? Were they purged during the Revolution? Was there some sickness in the village? We've been asking, but so far no one in Foshan has been able to tell us.
Da Qi Tou was a number of firsts for us-our first trip within Foshan but not in the city, our first motorcycle taxi ride and our first sighting of a real water buffalo. An eerie, but satisfying trip.
Thanks for reading!