Another day and another country today as after yesterdays cancellation I was given the choice of a refund, or taking a different trip. I chose the latter and that his how I found myself on a fast ferry heading for Macau.
My party today consisted of myself and four other people. Two Germans who spoke no English; and two Chinese who were evidently friends with the Germans as they were chatting to them in German, and they also spoke no English.
I introduced myself, and said guttentarg and offered my hand. All four just stared at me, and then closed back into a circle resuming their conversation. I then heard the German man something followed by ‘Union Jack’ before they all burst into laughter.
I had a little difficulty in immigration as I did not have a landing card. The officer insisted that I would have been given one onboard the boat, but I hadn’t been. No matter, I was eventually given one which I filled out and went through to find the group. When I found them the guide asked why I’d been delayed. I explained about customs, and she in turn translated it to Cantonese, when was then translated to German. The German woman then reaches into her pocket and pulls out a blank card. She had been sat on the end of our row of seat on the boat, and the steward handed her the cards. She had passed on one to her husband and then kept the other two instead of passing one on to me.
I was beginning to get a bit fed up of the Germans at this point.
We hopped onto our bus and our guide introduced herself to us. Her name was Maggie, and spotting her as we were out and about was going to be simple as everything she wore or carried was coloured in various shades of pink.
Our first stop was the Kun Iam statue. I wish I could tell you about this, but I can’t because the area had been cordoned off by the police in preparation for a celebration that night. We stood near the barrier as Maggie tried to tell us about the significance of the statue, but she was interrupted by a policeman carrying an automatic weapon, and so we thought it best to move on.
We arrived at a museum dedicated to the history of Macau. This was actually pretty fascinating and managed to hold my attention even if I wanted to be out exploring. The best part of the museum was its grounds. They incorporated some of the original city walls, and this afforded great views of the surrounding city. The city itself is a strange mix. The houses look fairly dilapidated but this is because they are the original colonial buildings. These however are surrounded by ugly concrete tower blocks of the kind that seem to blight every city in the world. Finally then we have the casinos. I imagine they are intended to project an image of wealth and glamour. Maybe in the evening when they are all illuminated they may look enticing, but under the midday sun they were monstrous monuments to greed. A real life example of the pursuit of easy money ruining all it touches.
From the museum we walked to the ruins of St. Pauls. The area was awash with tourists pushing and shoving each other on the steps of the ruins as they attempted to get photos of themselves in front of the church. Whilst the ruins are an impressive sight, I slipped away from the group and the crowds, heading down the steps into the square. Here I bought a drink and found a place to sit and watch the people go by.
It was nice to have these few moments of contemplation, and I really should do it more often when I’m travelling. Generally I’m so caught up with trying to get the best picture or trying to see everything that I don’t take in as much as I should. Its only when I get back to my room, or sometimes once I get homeand look at the photos I’ve taken that I realise – ‘hey, you’re on the other side of the world’. So this time, I sipped my drink and watched as the people hugged and kissed on the steps, as families pretended to hold up the ruins and as what seemed like a million teenage girls threw gang signs to the cameras.
Of course as the crowds thinned a little, (little being a relative term in this part of the world) I took a few photos of my own.
I met back up with the others and we moved on the A-Ma temple. This is one of the oldest Taoist temples in Macau. Here the air was filled with incense which filled the nostrils and caused my eyes to water. I watched as monks tended to the incense sticks, replacing those which had burned down with fresh sticks and spirals. Worshipers would arrive and kneel at the alter offering prayers and blessing. Others would simply write out their wishes onto tags which would then be attached to the relevant sized incense stick dependent upon the size of that wish, and of course the monetary contribution made.
The temple was a pleasant place, but I was relived to get back into the fresh air away from the incense which I found overpowered all other senses.
Our bus then collected us and deposited the group at one of the casinos where we were to have lunch. This was frankly excruciating, as the tables sat four people, meaning that I was sat at a table by myself in a large empty room, as the table beside me conversed in German. Halfway through this I was already bored to tears, when an absolutely huge tour party of Chinese tourists came in and filled the rest of the room. Being the only person with a table to myself and not a single person to speak to felt so much worse when it was a full room and not a nearly empty one.
Thankfully we eventually moved on and headed to the Macau Tower. This is a 338 meter tower that dominates the skyline. We headed up to the observation deck and emerged from the lift just in time to see a body plummeting past the window! Thankfully this wasn’t someone committing suicide, but a bungee jumper.
The group split up to explore the towerand I got chatting to Maggie. We chatted about travel and the places we’d been. She wanted to know all about my home, whereas I was more interested in hers. It’s funny how you don’t think of your own home as fascinating to other people because you are so used to it. She then asked where I was going to watch the celebrations that night and I had to confess to being totally clueless about this. As it turned out today was National Day in China, marking the founding of the PRC. This is was it was so busy today, and why the square surrounding the statue earlier had been cordoned off.That night there would also be huge fireworks displays throughout China, including Macau and Hong Kong. Upon hearing this I just hoped that I’d be back in Hong Kong before the fireworks began. Maggie told me that she had a ticket to a party here in the tower. She was going to get a great view.
We chatted for a good hour before we had to head back and gather the rest of the group. Maggie said she was sorry for taking all my time in the tower, but I didn’t care at all. As great as the view was, getting to hear her stories and thoughts about Macau was far better then staring out the window for another hour!
Our final stop of the day was in one of the casinos. Inside it was ridiculous. The area surrounding the casino floor was an indoor canal, complete with gondolas and singing gondoliers. The roof had projections of clouds rolling across it, and the walls and shops were all fashioned in the Venetian style. Maybe I’m just a total curmudgeon, but whilst everyone else stood slack-jawed in amazement, I couldn’t get over how fake and tasteless it was.
The casino floor itself was an eye-opener. When viewed from above it seemed open planned, but once in their it turned into a genuine labyrinth. Fruit machines would make corridors, which would then come to an abrupt end. Mirror would make it appear as though there were corners where none existed. You’d then find yourself with a seemingly straight route to the exit between two blackjack tables, only to find that the route was actually closed off by immaculately clean and non-reflective glass walls. So effective was this maze that it took about half an hour to clear a straight 100 meters. At one point I was genuinely fearful of missing my bus!
But I made it out and eventually made it to the meeting point. I was five minutes late and no-one else was there. Thinking they’d left without me I started to look the contact number they’d given me, when another of the group looking very flustered came storming up the corridor, then another, then another. We’d all managed to get lost in the maze of the floor. I knew casinos were designed for maximum client retention, but I didn’t realise it meant literally!
Onboard the bus for the last time, Maggie and I exchanged e-mail addresses and she made me promise to send her some photos of Guernsey, but also to make sure I watched the fireworks that night. We said our farewells at the harbour and once aboard the boat settled in for the ride home. I must have been exhausted as I just seemed to close my eyes and then suddenly found that we were docking in Hong Kong.
At my hotel I asked the receptionist where I would be able to see the fireworks display, and what time it started. She told me that the display would be in the harbour, so I could go down to the piers at the waterfront. If I left now I’d probably just make it. Then with a big smile she said that I’d actually have a great view of it from the top of the hotel, or if I had a harbour facing room I’d have the perfect view as we had direct line of sight to the launch platform.
Not for the first time since I arrived I was thankful for that room upgrade.
I had just enough time to pop to the grocery store and get a couple of beers and some noodles. Then I headed back to my room and took my place on the windowsill, sipping my beautifully cold beer just as the display started.
I say display. This was more like a war. Rockets, flashes, huge building shaking booms erupted. The rockets went so high that they left even the tallest buildings in their wake. The show built gradually for 15minutes before the finale – a constant barrage of explosions that lasted a full 5 minutes with not a seconds silence in between. Such was the constant violence of the explosions that I could feel the window starting to pulse. Even here in the air away from the epicentre, I could feel the pressure. This was a truly breathtaking performance in the truest possible sense.