Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Other Sin City

Macau (a Special Administrative Region of China, like Hong Kong) is perhaps often known as a tackier version of Vegas (as if that is even possible)...and I'll be the first to tell you how true parts of the city live up to that reputation, and I won't spend much time talking about it in this post. However, great architectural treasures and a rich European heritage often blended with Chinese culture await you if you venture off the well beaten track of the Cotai strip.

We board a ferry from Hong Kong's Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan (one of my favorite neighborhoods in HK by the way) and travel just 35 miles to the island of Macau. Casino vans eagerly await our arrival and all deeply wish for us to spend a night or two (and our money) at their hotel and casino, dangling tempting offers and promotions in front of us. The struggling global economy has hurt the casino industry showing that perhaps the house doesn't always win.

We had already booked a room at Stanley Ho's classic Hotel Lisboa (one of the first casinos in Macau). Completely decked out with floor-to-ceiling sparkle and gaudiness, (think Donald Trump's living room x10), Lisboa was actually quite stunning with all it's 70's-style mosaics and grand antique Chinese dragons.

We had some fun at the casino but wanted to see a softer, more classier taste of Macau which has been rumored by a few and were pleasantly surprised by what we found. We lug our weary traveling legs, exhausted-from-nearly-a-year-of-nomadic-living, and escape the strip, wandering far away through a maze of some of the most charming local streets.

We admire beautifully maintained colonial baroque architecture and lanes that were remarkable uncrowded.

.............................................(I wish I could take credit but Otto de Voogd shot this one)

The small old village squares and cozy incensed Buddhist temples on the side streets were a breath of fresh air from the noise of the casinos. We enjoy a quick nibble of meat and other weird things on sticks from one of the many little stalls which seem about as common on every street corner here as Starbucks in Seattle.

As the sun sets over the facade of St. Paul's Cathedral (built in the 1500s, the rest of it burned down in the mid-1830's due to a major typhoon), we make our way over to the authentic Restaurante Litoral, one of the many Portugese restaurants here in Macau. We feast on mouthwatering Portugese sausages and African Chicken. We decide to walk off some of the food we just inhaled and ended up getting a bit lost in the maze of low-rise buildings of the local village streets. We pucker our faces on some "wah mui's" (yummy sour dried plum) from a little old lady from a little old shop.

It's a balmy evening. Mists roll off the water and snake their way through the rotting-fish-scented dark streets...not necessarily some of the safest streets mind you; I half-expected some bearded Kung Fu ninja masters with manga super powers to jump out from the damp drippy shadows armed with Nunchaku (or numchucks).

Imagine this but a whole lot darker.

I discretely shove my wedding ring deep into my pocket...just in case. We enjoy a bit of a thrill getting slightly lost in the claustrophobic valley of dirty grey-hued buildings. As our pace quickens, our footsteps echo in sync with various sounds coming from daily life in the thousands of apartments above's clanging pots, muffled television and sporadic choirs of Mandarin chatter spiced up with the occasional laugh.

We eventually stumble upon a road of mansions and private villas, some in traditional Portuguese style and others in Chinese style as well as a giant Taoist temple complex situated serenely on the coast. We pause to observe the romantically shifting moonlight reflecting off the sea and then drawing mystical shadows around us. From a distance we watch the gentle mists arrive off the waves and envelope a lone priest and follow him as he roams the ornate temple grounds. Hints of burning incense come our way. I take it all in. from here

After several hours of all this walking we reflect how nice twas to get lost in the jungle of Macau, but it's very late now we're ready to go back - my back hurts and Mahesh's knee hurts. We've somehow wandered to this very remote area and it's taking so long to get a "Taxi?!"

1 comment:

indian yarn said...

wow ! what a journey..