Fast boat, fast bike, fast women and fast bucks
Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
149Trip End Ongoing
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So, I was in Hong Kong, as you might have gathered from Facebook or whatever. And this morning, with an equal mix of sadness and relief, I left. Life was altogether too easy, dossing in the lovely flat of one of Yolana's schoolfriends and sampling the wide variety of food Hong Kong has to offer. When I arrived in the city a little over a month ago I was almost skinny, but a month of Philippino breakfasts and a week of sitting around have seen to that.
While I've got heavier, however, my load has shrunk considerably. By returning cold weather gear to Yolana, and sending wet weather gear home, (the equator better be as warm as people say!) I was able to remove more than two panniers worth of luggage from my bags. This made it possible to send home my front panniers, and the pannier carrier. The front mudguard broke on the way to Nanning, so that had to be thrown away, and for good measure I've binned my bell and sent home a variety of items that hadn't proved as useful as I thought they might- mini telescope, memory card reader etc. Since I shouldn't have to cook more than one or two meals in succession in the well-populated countries coming up, I've even binned most of my 'kitchen' - tuppaware containers with a ration of salt, sugar, milk powder, chicken soup (msg); I've kept the tea and coffee though. Priorities. As a result of all this I am now only carrying two rear panniers, each weighing 7kg. Less than most backpackers carry!
Getting out of Hong Kong was surprisingly easy, if not entirely atraumatic. The ferry terminal was not, as I had feared, on the island and the ferry was reasonably cheap - HKD133 + 40 for the bike. When I bought my ticket at 11am I was told the next available ferry was at midday, and that I should check my bike in at gate 7. When I got to gate 7, I jumped the long queue that was waiting for the 11.30 ferry, in order to make my presence known and receive further instructions. The stewards charged me the 40 dollars, and ushered me through the gate.
-Go that way!
-But, that's immigration, no? My ticket is for the twelve o'clock, I was going to grab a coffee...
-Go that way!
I was about to show him my ticket when I saw that by the means of a red felt-tip pen he'd changed it, moving me from the midday to the 11.30 ferry. Finally an advantage to the nuisance of taking a bike on public transport!
The ferry was astonishingly quick, bouncing over what didn't look like much swell with a lurching, rolling motion that would make the sternest stomach tremor. It was only a matter of time before someone succumbed. I had positioned myself at the very front, in order to keep an eye on the bike. It was only lashed with a bungee and moved significantly with the rolls. There was no-one sitting either side of me, so fortunately I heard the inevitable eruption, rather than saw it, but there was no escaping the smell.
Once in Macau, it was easy to find the centre of town, and not too much hassle to find a hostel, albeit a shit-hole. Hong Kong and Macau show the true stamp of civilised territories: tourist information centres. It's been a long time since I could walk into an office in the town centre and say 'please give me a map and a list of budget accomodation' and be handed exactly that. Hungary, I think. I had to get from one side of the peninsula to the other, however, and this gave me an opportunity to test whether I'd forgotten how to ride a bike. I had not. I went like jet-propelled shit off a greased-up shovel. It seems carrying less stuff means you can go faster. Who'd have thunk?
Macau is tiny. The peninsula itself is 9.3square km, which is roughly the size of a large dog. It's puniness was driven home to me when, studying my map, I concluded that I didn't have the time or energy to go and see all the churches and temples and casinos today, so that would wait for tomorrow, and instead I would just go for a wander. In the course of this wander I stumbled upon 3 churches, 1 temple, the remainder of the old city walls and a casino. Tomorrow I may lie in. I also found the red-light district, a group of 5 comely but helpful (I needed directions) young ladies in a shady corner of a street called 'Rua Da Virtudes', which I hope, for the sake of irony, means what it appears to.
I finished the evening with the obligatory visit to a casino. Gambling has come to define Macau in the last 5 years or so, and it apparently makes more money per casino than Vegas. I went to the first one I came to, and followed the signs for the 'gaming floor' with some trepidation, half worried and half hoping that I'd be stopped by one of the uniformed overseers before I'd gone 10yards. They searched my bag and made me walk through a metal detector, but made no objection to my Pakistani pyjama trousers with long-sleeve t-shirt combo and let me in. This lost them some esteem, in my eyes at least.
I've only ever been to one other casino, in Walsall. Surprisingly it was quite similar. Lots of no-armed bandits (everything is electronic these days) with mesmerised, expressionless people in front of them, feeding them coin after coin. I've never understood the slots. You put money in, and get nothing out. No excitement, no challenge, no amusement, and certainly no money. These ones didn't even have much in the way of gimmicks or flashing lights to divert. Apart from the slots, there was Baccarat, which I've never seen before, but which seems to involve one player risking their own money trying to beat the bank, which risks other players' money trying to beat him. No one wins. There was one 'watcher' to each table, and the elaborate hand movements of the croupiers suggested that being suspected of sharp practice was not worth their fingers. One girl seemed to be playing an invisible harp, as she gestured in slow, clear, graceful movements for bets, or no bets, or whatever.
One roulette wheel (automated- where's the pretty croupier I saw in that bond film?) and some dice game involving predicting how 3 dice will fall. This I can do. I've played enough backgammon lately to know that the dice will always fall in the worst possible combination. I left after about 25minutes snooping, with exactly as little money in my pocket as I had when I went in. The uniformed gremlins glared at me as I escaped. Casinos intimidate me, and I think that's probably for the best.