. The people around me weren’t so friendly although there was a fat jolly man (unusual sight in China) who kept talking to me in Chinese. I kept smiling and nodding and making the universal ‘Ahaw’ sound.
We pulled into Shenzhen pretty much bang on time on time and I disembarked to follow the flow of people to the stations main area. I had no interest the industrial town (Hong Kong’s manufacturing base) of Shenzhen so I went looking for the best way to get to Macau Island. The lady at the tourist desk said ‘oh, you should go upstairs to Hong Kong and take a ferry from there’. I had no idea that Hong Kong was just up stairs. On my way there I bumped into my good friend ‘Seamus O’ Flaherty’ from Yangshou. It took a good hour to cross the boarder and I let out a sigh of relief as I exited China and entered Hong Kong. It appeared I would have to take a train all the way across the city state to catch the ferry. I wondered if this was in fact the easiest way of getting to Macau. Before continuing on my way I stopped for a spot of lunch in Starbucks… another traditional snack of a bun and a coffee which set me back a whopping 60 Hong Kong dollars (6 Euro). I lugged by backpack through the packed metro station and onto the train where a guy practically dived in front of me to steal the last free seat…. I could have made a scene but I just stepped aside
. I emerged into the mid afternoon heat at the final stop on the metro line and it took me over an hour to navigate the 1.5km way to the pier for the Macau ferry. It was inside one of the megamalls, without a sign to be seen, so wasn’t the easiest thing to find. I was never so happy when I saw that they had a checked luggage facility and I was happy to pay 5 Euro to dump the backpack with them for the journey.
It was a uneventful, but comfortable, 90 minute journey on the hydrofoil to Macau. When I emerged after another 30minutes or so in a boarder control checkpoint, into the heat and humidity, I was similarly confused. There were a long row of free shuttle busses each eager to take me to their resort. Without a good knowledge of the island I thought it was best to set out on foot, at least I could only get gradually lost. Even getting out of the ferry terminal was confusing, after taking a wrong turn I found myself in the pit lane of the Macau Formula 3 grand prix, quite cool I thought. Eventually I found the right overpass the get me on the right side of the busy highway and navigated the 1.5km to the only hostel in Macau. I was a sweaty mess by the time I arrived there and after hauling myself up three floors found the place to be full. The Bangladeshi owner did invite me in to rest a little bit before continuing my search for a bed. He said his was overflowing already that night (cramming 3 extra people on fold out beds in the office)
. He suggested I go to the casino where I could use the free coffee and pure oxygen air to stay awake for the night and return tomorrow. Instead I found a hoteleria (a what? your guess is as good as mine) about another sweaty kilometer away. This place was down there with the most basic places I have stayed, and costing me a whopping 20 Euro for the night. After freshening up I set out in search of some dinner… I really wanted to have something local but after wandering around for over an hour and finding only high end shark fin places or street food with a range of organs (and disgusting smells) I ended up falling back on the trusty yellow M for a 2 Euro big mac meal. After the meal I headed towards the inner harbour, expecting to find a pleasant evening stroll but found only dodgy alleys and an industrial pier. I picked up a micro bottle of red wine and some lint chocolate and ended up spending the night alone watching a movie on the laptop. It was something of a shame to be paying so much to stay in this shitty room and wasting the night in this way but I was too tired after my long day to care.
My first mission of the morning was to get out of this over priced hole and check into the only hostel in Macau. Again they were full but I managed to get myself a place in the overflow office area on a fold out bed (for 6 Euro) and a place in the dorm the following night for 12 Euro the following night
. The Filipino lady there was very helpful in suggesting what I should do for the day. I strolled around the old town which had a nice Portuguese vibe with narrow cobbled streets, lanterns, squares, fountains and distinct Porto style catholic churches. I went into one such church and it gave me a wonderful feeling of familiarity. I felt comfortable like I understood everything around me, although I might not agree and believe it all, it still gave me a feeling of belonging. Leaving the church I stepped back into Asia and joined the hordes of Chinese tourists pouring through the old town center. The next stop was the ruins of St Paul’s Church, another typical Porto style, and the first built on the island. It was the main tourist spot and totally packed with tourists. While there I had a brief chat with a Portuguese security lady… and bit of a bitch about the Chinese being so juvenile and having a distinct lack of respect for where they were. After wandering the area around the church, and a small park, I headed into the Macau museum… mainly to escape the heat and bathe in the glorious AC inside. Inside however, I found a most wonderful museum. It started showing the parallel development of east/west culture with a remarkable synchronization up until the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th
century. It went through the history of Macau up until the present day. Again I noticed the Chinese tourists who seemed in no way interested in learning anything from the museum but instead just wanted to take a range of stupid looking photos with the exhibits
. I exited the third floor to find myself on top of the Macau fort with a great panoramic view of the city. After doing a lazy sketch of the Grand Lisboa Casino, a landmark of the Macau skyline, I headed onward. I found a marching band playing classic western songs (like the A-team music and the Rocky theme) so spent a half hour listening to them. I continued to stroll around the back streets and see a little of the real Macau (the one of dried fish (and shark fin) shops, preserved ham and fat shirtless smoking gambling men. I had a look and the unimpressive A-Ma temple before walking around the harbor to catch the skyline. The 450m Macau tower dominated the skyline and I took a moment to sit and watch the people bungee off it (supposedly the largest commercial bungee in the world). After going home for a shower I wanted to check out the Casinos in the area… Macau is considered the Las Vegas of the east, and it in fact has an even greater income than its American counterpart. I knew there was a dress code in the Casinos so I put on my best rags (i.e. a long pants and a clean t-shirt) and asked the Bangladeshi hostel owner if I was appropriately dressed. He said ‘you look like farmer boy, but you’ve covered your sexy toes, sexy knees, and sexy shoulders so in theory they cant stop you’ I took a free shuttle bus to the City of Dreams resort and after a quick wander around the megamall I strolled onto the Casino floor. It is a crazy place which I’m sure is carefully designed to instill confusion in the common man like me
. In the center there was table after table of people betting, and losing no doubt. The fringes had hundreds of slot machines mostly attended by frustrated looking ladies. The card games were all strange ones which I didn’t know or understand… baccarat, So Oic, Caribbean stud to name a few. There was a roulette wheel too, but after watching it land on 0 twice in a row I lost confidence in that too. To my amazement ‘my’ game of Texas hold’em poker was nowhere to be found. I was willing to put down 50 Euro for an hour of hold’em, but I wasn’t going to bet on these games I didn’t know or understand. After City of Dreams I checked out the world famous Venetian resort. I had watched a show on discovery about the construction of this place which made visiting it all the more exciting. It is actually the worlds biggest casino and the second biggest building in the world. They have reconstructed Venice with meticulous detail. Walking around the exterior you could genuinely be convinced you were strolling around Piazza San Marco. They even had ubiquitous outdoor classical music to add to the ambience. Going inside I was expecting to be stopped in my tracks in my ‘farmer’ clothing, but nothing of the sort happened. I glided inside to the lobby, a shiny marble wonderland. Of course after just a few meters I found myself in the middle of the casino floor. This was vast… gaming tables and slot machines as far as the eye could see in every direction
. I realized I was starving and thought I would have to cough up a huge sum for some dinner. However I found a food court, full of common people eating cheap food. I grabbed a Porto-Chinese fusion dish. After dinner I got lost walking around the vast Grand Canal shopping area. Inside too they had recreated the streets of Venice with canals, bridges and beautiful street side façades. It thought it would be a huge shame not to gamble even a little bit, but again here the tables were all games I did not understand and the stakes were over my head (mostly 50 Euro minimum bet). I played the slot machines for a while, being a bit skeptical knowing that an electronic machine cannot be truly random, actually made a fairly big win 80-1 I think. Even the slots were confusing and I was not obvious how to cash in my winnings. I figured it out eventually and continued playing until I had broke even. After taking the free shuttle back to the hostel I met with two Malay guys there. We strolled around a few of the central casinos, but it really is a case of once you’ve seen one you have seen them all. The guys understood the Asian card games so as they explained everything I began to understand. As I suspected it was all total chance, not a grain of thought or strategy. In one place there was some excitement around one baccarat table so we went for a look. People were betting 1000 Euro on a single hand and we saw some lose and other double up. After an hours or so we headed back, I was a little disappointed at the glamour, or lack thereof
. I was left wondering if Vegas is a boring as this…
On my third day in Macau I jumped on a bus and headed about 45 minutes south to the small village of Colonge on the south end of Tapia Island. I stepped on a bus in a manic metropolis and stepped off in the loveliest quaint and sleepy village. If it wasn’t for the vest wearing old Chinese men I really could have been fooled that I was in the south of Portugal. I strolled around the village, which was almost completely void of tourists, and felt the stress of the city melt away. I checked out a small temple which was quite nice actually and a beautiful little Portuguese style church; it must have been designed for about a 50 person congregation. Continuing down the waterfront and passing little cafes under red and white striped canopies and simple lanterns. I was overjoyed to find a little can of imported pilsner beer in a tiny shop and added an egg pastry from Lord Stow’s café (apparently famous all around China). Sitting by the waters edge munching and sipping, watching a quirky girl walking up and down her crazy little dog and a newly wed couple doing a photo shoot along the leafy coast, I found myself as happy as I had been since entering the People’s Republic. But I reminded myself that technically I was not currently in the ‘Republic’. Admittedly the ambience was somewhat spoilt by the 21 cranes I counted across the water
. Whipping out my map I quickly realized this was in fact China I was looking at, it really epitomized my feeling towards the Red Giant. I strolled along the coast and found myself in what looked like an ancient dockyard. The buildings looked at least 100 years old and in the process of slowly collapsing. As I ventured further I found a big park, touristy crap I veered away from to avail of the free shuttle bus to the peak of the island. There was a statue of A-Ma, goddess founder of the island and a huge temple surrounded by a cultural village. Although it felt like the temple had just been constructed it was probably the most beautiful, inside and out, that I had seen in China. From the peak I noticed a beach on the other side of the island so I followed a trail through dense jungle towards it. The beach was ok, a gritty sand of yellow and black patches presumably from the pollution… obviously it didn’t hold a candle to the beaches of Thailand. There were a few clothed locals playing in the water and after my sweaty day of sightseeing I thought I might as well join them. Polluted or not I was not going to miss out on my only chance to add the South China Sea to the list of my trip dips. From the second I jumped in I was regretting it. Beneath the surface there was a foot deep of (what I hope was) mud. It was disgusting and after ticking the box I immediately retreated back onto the shore. Back on the bus to the city and when I arrived to the hostel I met with two lads… one American and an Italian. We headed to Fisherman’s Wharf, a place which is referred to as Macau nightlife reinvented. It was ok, but a little dead being a Monday night. It was still early on the way back so we checked out a club (three people in it), and strolled the reservoir waterfront. There was what looked like a normal bar, but when we went inside discovered was a karaoke bar. It was our last option for a beer but when we went to sit down were told we’d have to spend like 30 Euro. We couldn’t believe anyone would pay that as the place was tacky as and the singing diabolical. Instead we sipped our beers on the waterfront taking in the night sky before heading home… it was very romantic.
The departure from Guilin train station was surprisingly well organized, lucky enough as there must have been at least 1000 people taking the same train. After passing through three levels of airport type security I found myself in a huge waiting area. There were maybe 50 western tourists among the crowd which was the most I had seen in one place since Bangkok. The 20 carriage train arrived almost on time and I boarded to find the my 'hard sleeper' class ticket provided quite a luxurious accommodation for the night, close to the three tier AC class on an Indian train. Of course it lacked all the character of the Indian trian, but I was happy to have somewhere nice to rest my head for the night. There was a family with a small girl staying beside me. The girl was super cute, and every time I looked out the corner of my eye I noticed her staring at me. I would look back and try to smile and even wave but she would instantly look away and pretend she was not looking at me…. Why I wondered, is it not ok to exchange a smile and a wave? I slept well all the way until 9am the following morning, when I woke and munched my half pack of biscuits for a not so traditional Chinese breakfast