MACAU

The one-day trip from Hong Kong to Macau is a "must-do" for tourists, and I am no exception. Macau has a very interesting history and its mix of latin-European (former Portuguese colony) and Chinese cultures is unique.

You reach Macau from Hong Kong by motorboat. There is heavy traffic between these 2 towns: motorboats holding ~1000 passengers leave every 20 minutes and most of them are full. But wait! How can all this traffic be caused by tourists? Is it really possible that so many people living in Hong Kong[1] go to Macau?
It is possible, but it's not for tourism; Macau is for Asia what Las Vagas is for the US: the capital of gambling. Chinese people love gambling, I am told, but in all the other parts of China (Mainland China) gambling is strictly forbidden, whereas in Macau it is allowed.

I am staying in Macau for a few hours only so, in an attempt to "live" the town as much as possible, I am going to walk from the dock to the centre and to the other interesting places, and then back again to the dock on foot.

The city centre is on a peninsula, linked to the Taipa and Coloane islands by causeways which remind me of Miami:

Out of the pier I am "greeted" by a screaming crowd of representatives whose job is to bring visitors to their casino. They have buses, minivans and they try to take as many people as possible on board. It's a tough competition and they nearly go as far as holding your arm or barring your way in order to achieve their goal. The road from the pier to the centre is sided by casinos (casinos are ubiquitous in Macau, but on this street you ONLY find casinos). The purpose is clear: to "catch" the visitors as soon as they arrive, thus preceding competitors.

I see helicopters landing on the rooftop of those skyscrapers-casinos: i guess they are VIP gamblers coming from Hong Kong without mixing up with the "others" who travel by boat.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that gambling here is a blooming business, greatly benefiting from the booming Chinese economy. There are new and enormous casinos like the Sands:

and others which are still under construction, like the Grand Lisboa:

Architecture is here to astonish, like in this building which Monica, a dear friend of mine, renamed "Tetris":

Gambling is not only nowadays business in Macau, it is also part of its history, with traditional casinos like the Lisboa:

I am more interested in the narrow alleys and the European colonial architecture of the Macau centre:

There are also ancient and valuable Christian churches, something you would not see in other parts of China. One of them is the Ruinas de São Paulo (remains of St Paul's Cathedral):

Every visitor who is interested in understanding Macau should pay a visit to the beautiful Macau Museum. All the town history is on display here, from the pre-colonial period to nowadays, with outstanding dioramas and clothes. The museum exit is directly on Monte Fort, Macau's fortress. Here you can see the old weapons which defended the fortress. I don't know whether this picture expresses a hidden wish , here it is without any comment:

»Macau is well-known for its cuisine, a mix of Cantonese cuisine and Portuguese cuisine. However, I have just arrived in China so I am cautious (well, too cautious) with food, since in the past I had problems with exotic cuisine (turkish food, for instance). So I miss the great opportunity to eat bacalhau (stockfish) in Macau and I resort to some fruits and cakes sold in very nice shops near Rua da Felicidade (Street of Happiness):

I realize that Macau is not only casinos and money on the way from Monte Fort to Guia Fort, going through the Lou Lim Ioc garden. Iron gratings on windows and even on balconies (which make them look, to my eyes, like animal cages) are very common here on all the floors of the buildings. I haven't seen anything like that in Hong Kong, and obviously this makes me think that crime is not unknown here. Sharp contrasts, which are to become an integral part of my travel experience in China, begin to bubble up.
One last thing: directions for pedestrians are old-fashioned in both Chinese and Portuguese and they are one of the landmarks of Macau. Here you can see one of them at Guia Fort:

  1. ^You can tell because immigration works differently for Honk Kong residents and non-residents.