Apparently Macau is not an island. I deduced this by arriving there by car without having gone over a bridge.
Apart from elementary geography, I also learned that it’s yet another place that has the changes ripping through China emblazoned across it’s innards like a stick of rock. I arrived at the border at 8.30am on Saturday, having set off from Guangzhou at 6.30am. Anywhere that’s this close to Guangzhou’s thirteen million people is going to be busy every day. At this time of day there were about forty gates open at the border crossing, each with several dozen people in the line. Coming back at 11pm it was even busier.
People go to Macau for a mixture of shopping and gambling, mostly. It should shock people in the west that many people in China now like to go abroad to shop somewhere CHEAPER than China, where the stuff is made, but it’s true. If you’re expecting me to explain that one for you, than ask someone else and tell me the answer, because I don’t have it. Neither do any of the locals. I’ve asked.
My impression of the place was that it was pretty nice, but felt strangely small compared with Guangzhou, and I’ll never enjoy seeing casinos everywhere. And whenever I see rich people buying Chanel’s shiny junk or massive gold jewellery, or sundry other expensive beads and baubles, I think variously of native americans trading their valuables for glass beads, or just that I could never have enough spare money to buy a humongous, fifteen thousand quid golden necklace shaped like cartoon pigs. I could always think of something better to do with money than that sort of tat.
I read somewhere recently that there’s more money gambled in Macau than in Vegas, and that’s one thing that I can explain: Chinese people love gambling and it’s illegal on the mainland. It still goes on on a small scale with the odd majong game, and probably at private clubs, but there are no casinos where a real estate billionaire can fly in by helicopter, get escorted to a VIP room and piss a million USD all over a green velvet table. These casinos are so big that they have their own bus stations to ferry people in (for free) to lose money and make the place look super busy for the minority who keep the place in profit. This one must have had thirty or forty buses and I estimate about 2-300 security cameras in the ceiling of the main room. This just gives you some idea of the scale and money involved. It’s big.
Macau used to be Portuguese owned, and you can see that everywhere. There are latin style churches, old houses and shops. There’s even an Irish pub that sells Kilkenny for 8 quid a pint. I can buy a bottle of leffe in the supermarket here for 2 quid, so why would I do a silly thing like that? The symbol of the town is an old church façade that you’ll have seen before, which is more impressive if you’ve never seen the churches in Europe that haven’t burned down. They also have pork sandwiches (fresh bread, strangely dry meat), egg tarts (nice, but nothing new), an 80 year old recipe of mango pudding (that dates from before good desserts were invented) and tasty almond ‘cookies’ made with compressed something-flour that may or may not have been cooked. As well as misusing the courtesy bus from the border to the central casinos, you can also go in the casinos and get free snacks and drinks, and the shops selling touristy foods do free tasters. It’s pretty funny getting full up just on free tasters.
One other interesting thing was that I could’ve sworn I heard Chinese people there speaking portuguese (I followed them to make sure), and wearing sunglasses I honestly couldn’t tell the Portuguese from the Chinese. Same languages, same dress, same skin tone. It was interesting. In a 7-11 I heard one conversation with Mandarin, Cantonese and Portuguese and I have no idea what the guy’s origin was, except that his mandarin was a bit rough. It’s pretty normal around here to hear multiple dialects, but that was still novel.
What else was new? Well, the local food was pretty good. The little skewers that are boiled in soup were the same as in Guangzhou, but better quality, and the cheddar filled dumpling was awesome. The restaurant I went to had fried rice in a pineapple (not bad), squid with cheese (mediocre), fish chowder soup inside a hollowed out bread with a raw egg to stir into it (addictive) and a chickeny eggy potato thing that was okay. That meal wasn’t especially cheap.
You’ll see from the weird angled photo through a bus window that the apartment blocks are tall and the sky is clear, but if you want to see the sky in quite the same way you’ll either have to be a little forgiving or borrow my camera’s new polarising filter and walk around with it in your eye like a monocle. It darkens the sky and lightens the clouds a little, but it was nice to begin with. On a scale of one to ten I give Macau a B+. Thank you for reading.