Holy Cow, It's Macau!
Trip Start Jul 02, 2011
66Trip End Aug 15, 2012
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Where I stayed
Mary and I had been planning to go here for a while, and we finally got around to it during the QingMing Festival. You can click the link to Wikipedia if you want, I'm not going to go into it here besides to say it's kind of an honoring the ancestors type of festival.
Because the festival actually fell on Wednesday, April 4, we worked the Saturday and Sunday before it and had Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off (though the core subject teachers like Math, Science, Chinese and English along with the head or homeroom teachers had to come in Wednesday night along with the students with classes starting at about 4pm on Wednesday).
So Sunday night, April 1, Mary and I took off on a bus with our friend Connie to catch the train to Shenzhen. We would travel with Connie to Shenzhen, and in Shenzhen we would split: her to her boyfriends place, and us to Macau. We decided to go through Shenzhen because we figured taking the bus around the bay (through Guangzhou to Zhuhai, then crossing the land border to Macau) would be time consuming because of the heavy holiday road traffic. Getting off the train in Shenzhen, we hopped the subway to take us the approximately 80 minute trip to Shekou Harbor, where we would hop a ferry to cross the pond to Macau. Fortunately, we met a Chinese lady on the bus we told us we could take the ferry to Zhuhai (next door to Macau) for about 50% of the price, and cross the land border there. That happened to work pretty nice! Once we crossed the Zhuhai-Macau border, we exchanged some money (both Hong Kong Dollars [HKD or HK$] and Macau Patacas [MOP] are used in Macau, but we had been advised to get HKD instead of MOP) and hopped one of the convenient casino shuttles to the Grand Lisboa. The Grand Lisboa hotel/casino was about a block and a half from our hostel named Auguster's Lodge, which made it a really convenient transportation hub for the free casino shuttles and for taxi drivers.
I should mention that since Macau was Portuguese territory for about 400 years until 1999 (just like Hong Kong was for a few hundred years for the UK until 1997), almost all signs/menus/etc. are written in Portuguese and Traditional Chinese. Traditional Chinese is used in Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan, while Simplified Chinese is used in the Mainland, so it is more difficult but not impossible to recognize the few characters (words) we know. Also, most people here speak Cantonese, most know a bit of Mandarin as it's taught in schools now, much less know English, and couple know Portuguese. The majority of English speakers seem to be from the Philippines, which is cool. Filipinos seem pretty cool, but that might be just because I can talk to them more, haha.
Auguster's charged us about 100RMB a night per bed to stay there, compared to the probably thousands of RMB we would have spent in the casino hotels. As far as we could find there are apparently only 3 hostels in Macau, so it's slim pickings. But, Auguster's was a good place to pick. The staff was friendly (it's run by a Pakistani guy and his wife, a Filipina), and they only have one other staff person, another Filipina woman. One of them is in the hostel 24/7, so that must get rough with only the three of them. I didn't photograph the bedroom, but it's just 3 bunkbeds thrown into two rooms, and another room that has only 2 bunkbeds in it, so they can sleep 16 people on a normal night, but they also have cots and floor space if you are interested, which was something we needed the first night because they were full up so I could only reserve one actual bed in advance. So Mary and I slept in seperate rooms the first night due to that, but after we slept in different bunks in the same room. There's just one bathroom in the hostel, but it wasn't difficult to find time to use it if you needed it.
We made friends with a pair of Chinese girls while we were there, they were from Chengdu in Sichuan province, which is a place I want to visit. So, now I know two people in that city if I ever go there!
We arrived at Auguster's at about 10:30PM, and it is three stories up in an apartment style building. Every reservation is issued a key, so the hostel is always locked down which is nice. After we settled in and had a nice chat with the Pakistani owner, Richard, Mary and I went out for a late supper as we hadn't eaten anything since lunch.
We walked around for a bit until we spotted a restaurant. The streets seemed pretty deserted for such a populated city at 11pm, but we eventually found this South-East Asian place (maybe Thai? I think it was Thai). Mary ordered some noodle dish if I remember right, while ordered the resident middle-class white American dish: beef, rice, peas and tomatoes wrapped in an omelet. I'm so unadventurous sometimes. Check it out.
Monday morning we woke up nice and moderately late/early, leaving the hostel at about 9:30AM, after saying hello and goodbye to both Richard and the Portuguese couple who were in the same room as Mary. We had a plan to walk down the street NW towards a square that was supposed to have Portuguese style architecture. This is the point where we started to realize just how small Macau is compared to even Hong Kong; it took us just 3 minutes to walk to the square. "Wow, that was fast!" will be a recurring theme on this trip. In fact, I should...you know what, hold on a minute, I'm gonna...
Yeah, here it is. Okay, I made photos of Google (US cities)/Baidu (PRC cities) maps at 5 kilometer scale for Macau, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Beijing, New York City and Minneapolis-St. Paul so you can see the size and population comparison for these places. Cause I'm weird like that.
Anyway, we arrived at this square, stepped into the local tourism information office to grab some info on touristy crap, and started snapping photos of the architecture in the square while we slowly made our way towards the Ruin of St. Paul's. Also, Mary grabbed one of Macau's famous 'pork sandwiches' because we didn't have breakfast.
Rudimentary Spanish and Chemistry/Biology (for the Latin) definitely helps a bit when there isn't any English written on signs, but surprisingly there was quite a bit of English at the tourist stuff. Similar to the Rosetta Stone the French found in Egypt, all of the important cool tourist things seem to be written in Traditional Chinese, Portuguese, and English. Rock on.
So, we made it to the Ruins of St. Paul's which is a pretty cool place. I mean, well, it's cool to look at for like 10 minutes, and it has cultural and religious significance. So, we did our due diligence, but enjoyed it nonetheless. It was pretty cool that only the stone facade was left of this place after the fire. In one of the bottom photos you'll see a view from behind the facade through a window towards the Grand Lisboa building. It looks pretty far away but it's about a 10 minute walk.
Beside the ruins was a place called the Mount Fort. It's an old Portuguese military fort with cannons facing the sea to stop a sea attack. It seems like the guns were only fired once, to test them when it seemed like the Dutch were going to invade.
The fort was pretty cool, there were a lot of guns to look at, and it's one of the few places in China were you can actually have a good view of the surrounding from the top of the structure! They even had a big pair of binoculars that you could look through for HK$1 or 1 MOP, which I didn't.
One of those pictures shows me laying on the innermost wall of the fort (there are two layers of walls). About 3 seconds after that photo a Filipino guard came over and politely asked me to get off the wall so I don't die and he doesn't lose his job. My words, not his.
The Museum of Macau happened to be closed only on Mondays, the day we visited. It is located on the top of the Fort, so it would have been extremely convenient if it wasn't a Monday.
In my guidebook I had spotted that there was an art museum or display at a place called the Camoes Gardens, which were about a 5 minute walk from the Ruins and Fort. I didn't know exactly where it was, but it was said it was the best collection of classical and modern art in Macau. Unfortunately, we never found it. But we had a nice walk in the garden, saw some mosaics (this type of art is all over Macau, even the sidewalks are made with this technique in many places), spoke with some students, spotted another famous Christian statue, and generally had a nice mid-morning walk.
After Camoes, we hopped a bus in Macau for the first time, because we wanted to get to the bottom of the peninsula quickly because we were hungry. The bus took us to the A-Ma Temple, which is very near to the Southern tip of the peninsula. It was a straight shot on one road for about 5 minutes from where we were in the west-center of the peninsula at Camoes.
One thing you don't think about (or, I assume you don't think about) is transportation in a foreign country, and how strange it is. In order to take the bus or taxi in China, unless I have the name of a place memorized or have the bus route memorized, I need to have the name of the place or the address written down and hope I don't screw up. When I'm in a new place, especially a place that uses a different writing system (Traditional Chinese and Portugues, rather than Simplified Chinese and/or English) it amplifies the difficulty. Luckily, like I said, it was a straight shot and the bus stops in Macau have fairly straightforward and logical (in my view) guides, unlike many places in China.
The A-Ma Temple, along with the Ruins of St. Paul, the Mount Fort, and many other places we visited this day, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, along with being normal touristy spots. Compared to many of the other places we visited this day which were Portuguese built historical spots, the A-Ma Temple is a Chinese remnant, and it showed in the number of people there. You could definitely tell that the Chinese people were more inclined to visit the Chinese historical site compared to foreign. I couldn't say whether it was the same for foreigners or not, as we really only met one other pair of foreigners later on in our day who were also sightseeing.
Anyway, the A-Ma Temple was a little boring for my tastes. Generally, Chinese style temples aren't laid out in the way that Westerners (Jewish, Muslim, or Christian) tend to expect. Our temples, churches and mosques are for mass group worship, whereas the Eastern/Chinese temples seem to be used one person at a time, for just a minute. And monetary donation feels...more important here. Between you and the relics or statues in the temple is a big donatoin box. I don't know, it just seems more visually intrusive when people worship and there is a big box of money between you and the object of your worship.
Anyway, the place was pretty crowded, but we got some good photos. There was an ice cream cart nearby (and I literally mean cart, like a wooden cart you might see a donkey in front of, if you can picture it) but I wanted to get lunch first. But before that we wanted to see one more place that was very near.
The Moorish Barracks. Apparently for some reason it is listed at a UNESCO World Heritage site also. I mean, I know it's historical, but there's really no reason to go there because you can see it in photos if you're really interested. It's still a working office for some or other maritime authority, so you can't go inside the building, just walk outside in the parking lot and go on the patio facing the road. So, all in all...it was a building.
But right after we looked at the Barracks, it was time for lunch! Can you believe we did all of this before lunch?! On the menu of this nice little cafe I saw a ham & cheese sandwich, with optional egg! Wow. You don't see sandwich meat in China, or real cheese. So I ordered that up and stuffed it down. Delish. I ordered a second one with scrambled egg on it.
After lunch, again within walking distance, was another church!
Nearby St. Lawrence's was what appeared to be the central government building of Macau (armed guards with guns were outside), along with the Dom Pedro V Theatre (closed for renovation) and St. Augustine's Church.
One more block down was one cool building and a seminary. St. Joseph's Seminary had a nice statue of the Virgin Mary outside, and was kitty corner from the Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, which was a beautiful library inside of an old building, but the back was a modern remodeled garden for reading; it was really amazing, and we stayed to read some English magazines for maybe half an hour.
After our tour of the historical sites, we made our way towards Macau Tower. On the way we ran into a bunch of Filipino dudes working out near the boardwalk. They must've been military or ex-military, they were pretty hardcore. We talked to them a little as they ran past, haha.
The Macau Tower is...a tower. It has a shopping mall of sorts at the base, and a two viewing platforms on the 58th and 61st floors of I remember right. It cost a pretty penny to get up there, and unfortunately the view was a bit hazy due to the..haze. But it was still a pretty view! There was also a steady stream of bungee jumpers to watch dive to their deaths if you're interested in that sort of thing.
There was one part of the floor that was made of glass so you could look between your toes and see the spot where you might meet your maker. We were both a bit scared to stand on it!
After night began to fall, we grabbed a bus back to our home base, cleaned up a bit, and hopped another shuttle to The Venetian! I was told The Venetian is the biggest casino in the world. It was pretty cool, we spent most of our time in the bar. There was an American band (mostly USA, I think one girl was from Cuba) there that was pretty cool. I also was able to get real liquor here, instead of just Chinese beer and Chinese rice wine... My favorite drink is called 'California Cocaine', and after I wrote down the recipe the bartender made quite a number of them for me. Good guy.
Tuesday morning we set out late, after I finished nursing a minor hangover. I ran out of minutes on my phone, so I stopped and bought a small Macau SIM along with some minutes. Turns out Mainland phone companies don't have retail operations in Macau, so I couldn't recharge my minutes on my Mainland SIM.
After breakfast we grabbed a bus to a location Mary had picked out, which was on the southernmost tip of the southernmost island of Macau. There were two places we wanted to check out: one was a black sand public beach, and the other a small resort with a beach.
The black sand beach, it turns out, was currently mostly being used as a construction site, and was inaccessible. We were relieved to see that a bunch of Chinese people were also surprised by this, so we weren't alone.
We got back on the bus and backtracked one or two bus stops to a cliff overlooking the resort. We didn't know how to get there, but there appeared to be two paths from our current location: one was a cement stairway leading downwards through a forest, the other was a tar road leading along a ridge. I chose the stairway and Mary chose the road, so we decided to use the road first.
Now, the stairway started about 10 feet above the road, and there was a grassy hill in between the two. I decided to just run down the hill to Mary, she told me to walk, but I'm a dude so screw that. On my second step I tripped on a vine and started to tumble. Luckily I hit the tar with one leg, then another...then began to roll, hitting my hip hard on the tar, and rolling across to the other curb. Luckily, again, there were no cars on the road at that point. I tried to play it cool by using the roll to stand up right away, but, man that hurt and Mary knew it, and lorded the 'running vs. walking down the hill' over me for...well, she still hasn't stopped talking about it. But I was right about the sidewalk!
After walking up the road to a small village on another cliff overlooking the resort, we went back and tried the sidewalk/staircase. It led straight to the resort.
The resort was a bit rundown...but still functioning! And the fact that it was a little rundown seemed to keep away droves of people. It was nice and isolated, but still a great beach with a nice little Italian restaurant overlooking the beach. It had changing rooms and everything!
We had a nice time playing around on the beach, among the rocks, in the lifeguard house (which was really poorly positioned to be of any use), and eventually made our lunch at the Italian restaurant, ordering up a nice pizza and pasta.
After lunch we rested at the hostel for a bit, and then headed out to the casinos again. We made our first stop at the Galaxy. Go ahead, try and guess if the pretty girl in the dress is real or a doll.
We went to the Venetian again, ate supper in the giant food court again, and walked around some of the shops while trying to find a different bar. Mary knows I like maps, so she figured we had to take a photo of the map briefs in a store window...I believe they cost over US$100.
Eventually we went back to the bar, where the same band was playing again. We had a good time with them again. The night before we seemed to be the only people really enjoying them, but this time there were a few others (along with some prostitutes who were willing to play along), so Mary got up and started dancing, I joined her, and soon there were quite a number of people up there with us! Both nights members of the band came down to talk with us (I think because we were the only Americans there), and this night the trumpet player came down and talked with me for awhile. Apparently they've been here for a few months on a 1 year contract, staying in the hotel for free and performing 6 nights a week, making money. Sounded like a nice job, though I'm sure it gets tough if no one in the audience is into it night after night.
Wednesday morning we hit the road, going overland through customs to Zhuhai, on a ferry to Shenzhen, then back up the train and bus to Qiaotou. We stopped in Shenzhen for lunch at The Village which you might remember from my last trip to Shenzhen. Also in Shenzhen, in the train station we met another American who is living in Guangzhou named David. He seems pretty cool, and has visited China a few times. He speaks pretty good Chinese.
I hope you enjoyed Macau! It's a pretty neat place!