Breaking the Bank in Macau
An hour ferry ride from Hong Kong is the former Portuguese colony of Macau. Like Hong Kong, Macau is a special administrative zone of China. To enter Macau you need your passport. At the port we went through an immigration and passport stamp checkpoint before we could get on the ferry sailing to the Las Vegas of Asia.
Macau is a fascinating mix of European architecture blended with Chinese consumerism. In one day you can soak in some history, have authentic Portuguese and Chinese food and go spend everything but your ferry fare back (or that too) in one of the shiny casinos. To be honest, I was very confused — was I in Europe? No, but it didn’t feel like Asia either. All street names were listed in both languages. The very yellow St. Domic Church (pictured above) with the wonderful cobblestones in the Largo do Senado area are the perfect examples of Macau’s colonial past.
But then you look up and are reminded that it is the year of the dragon and that you can see China from this island.
We spent the better part of our day walking around or on the cheap public bus around the island. The ruins of St. Paul’s Church was one of my favorite spots. The steps and the facade from the 17th century are somewhat eerie because the church burnt down and this is all that remains of what was once a grand building.
A bride and groom eating corn on the cob against a yellow wall close to the ruins:
We climbed up the ruins and you get a nice view of the casinos and the surrounding area.
Next to the ruins is the old Portugese fort, Monte Forte.
Although the cannons point at the casinos (in this photo the Lisboa Casino, one of the original casinos on the island), when you walk around the perimeter of the fort you’ll notice that cannons are missing along an entire side. Why? Well because China doesn’t want any weapons, no matter how old, pointed in its direction.
Among all of the Portuguese churches and ruins are beautiful Chinese temples. I don’t remember the names of the temples we saw, but I loved the spiral incense hanging from the ceilings. The smell of the incense and the quiet atmosphere creates a lulling feeling. We also walked through a beautiful park, which again made me sign sadly about Jakarta.
We decided to go see the Portuguese cemetery. Next to it was an old mansion that was used by trading company executives. I thought the mansion looked like it belonged in a Somerset Maugham film. Today, the home is used as a museum and the sign at the entrance said Fundacao Oriente.
The Protestant cemetery had several graves of American sailors. How far away from their homes in New York and Vermont they were…
All over Hong Kong and Macau we saw bamboo being used for construction. Bamboo is undergoing a bit of a renaissance in Asia and in Indonesia people are stressing that it is not a material only for poor people, but a sturdy, natural product that should be used more.
Last on our list was a visit to the casinos. I’ve never been to Vegas. But, I have been to casinos in Reno and the Indian casinos popular in Northern California. And here on the other side of the world, I witnessed the same glazed over look as people sat in front of slot machines with buckets of coins. The only difference? Except for a handful of expats, everyone in the casinos gambling was Chinese. Macau is a huge tourist destination for mainland Chinese.
We walked through the Wynn and MGM and both were over-the-top, filled with high-end designer stores and plenty of VIP and club rooms for all of the high rollers. They were beautifully decorated for Chinese New Year in usual casino gaudiness.
And if you’re wondering, Victor tried his hand at roulette and my lucky number and a few other lucky bets won him $250USD. He paid for dinner that night and insisted that he had broken the bank.