So what is this piece of land that Portugal wanted to throw back at China so desperately?
From a rotting rats’ hole to today’s megalomania of malls and big cashflows, Macau loves the American ideal of bigger and better, only bigger and (maybe) better. The Southern Island of Cotai features the new Strip. All of Vegas’ favorites look exactly like their brothers and sisters in Nevada and battle for your attention and money here. Free shuttles herd busloads of cattle/tourists to the halls of shiny marble and polished walls to make sure they drop their coins into the right casino. You’re welcome to spend your money in our honored halls. The currency here is the Pataca, a mysterious currency few people ever get to see. The rest of us plebs just use the Hongkong dollar. Consumption is the big theme here, and Chinese mainlanders love consuming. Good for Macau.
We like the society of consumption a bit less and only buy one dish at the mall that everyone goes for: a sizzling pot of self-cooking beef with rice. To share. Other than that, we are content to look and wonder at all the grandeur and ostentatiousness. All the fashion world biggies (say Prada, Gucci, Kenzo and the whole lot) offer their newest collection: the Chinese New Year’s collection. Smart. A big chicken on your jacket or shoes will be so last year next year.
We poor virtuous consumers and gamblers take a free shuttle to the old town of Macau, courtesy of City of Dreams. Portuguese architecture mixed with Chinese highrises and the occasional glam-skyscrapers. Macau is supposedly more Portuguese than Hongkong is British.
The streets are narrow and the tourists are many. Chinese people (from mainland) everywhere. Like Monaco or any place with limited space and an abundance of people, every square is built up and houses are stuffed into every corner of the alleys. The colorful shabbiness, however, is reminiscent of Lisbon. The main touristy street has two things for sale: jerky and almond cookies. No need to buy anything, sellers slap free samples in our faces as we slowly make our way up to the ruin’s of St. Paul. A full belly’s worth of cookies and jerky.
Oh, we consume again: the infamous Portuguese style egg tart. Not to be confused with the Chinese/Cantonese egg tart. Flambéed like crème brûlée, it is a bit more on the darker side. Quite good, very rich, very eggy.
The rest of our time is spent walking around, enjoying the quieter streets further away from the touristic heart of Macau. A Portuguese wall here, a Chinese front there, all squeezed into one rectangular picture.
Some hidden gems on our stroll: a plaza with a group of musicians jamming beats of Bairro Alto next to a yellow building painted brighter than the sun, surrounded by palm trees and colorful chairs. Instant relaxation. Or a cemetery so quiet and peaceful, gravestones marked with names of European and North American soldiers. Beautiful flowers and a pretty stone wall. A cat sunbathing in front of a small gallery full of weird modern art.
A long, eventful day. We are glad to embark on the ferry back to Hongkong. On board are hundreds of other travellers, each equipped with gazillions of shopping bags, cookies and jerky, maybe some clothes. The water gets a little rough, a passenger loses his stomach contents into the barf bag. Poor guy.
January 24th 2017