2011-11-07 - 6:49 p.m.
© 2011 by elaine radford
largo de senado, the old town center of macau
The continued adventures of Friday, Nov. 4, 2011
I had about an hour left in my room, so I used it to take a short nap, and then it was on to the Macau walking tour that I'd printed out from the internet.
Nobody speaks the same language around here. In Macau, I think the original languages were Mandarin and Portuguese. In Hong Kong, it's English and Cantonese. I thought Mandarin and Cantonese were like dialects of the same language or least Spanish versus Portuguese, but down here on the ground, they can't seem to understand what each other is saying. Plus there are tourists from every other part of Asia, many of whom speak "none of the above." The funniest language moment actually came at the Turbojet ferry lounge from Hong Kong Airport to Macau, where a guy came up to me and said, "I only speak Portuguese, I can't speak English, I can't figure out what's going on with this phone card and no one will help me." Well, actually he could speak extremely well, but he seemed to be one of those folks who can't hear English on the phone.
(While I sometimes wonder if I'm one of those folks myself, I read the instructions, phoned the help line, and soon found out that the whole problem was that the shopkeeper who sold him the card forgot to activate the code, so that he couldn't use the card to make any calls. I told him what to say to get either a proper code or his money back, and all's well that ends well...but it's a lucky thing he tried that call before leaving the area.)
Well, before I digressed, what I meant to say is that since nobody can understand what anybody else is saying, then Macau is actually very well signed in a multiple of languages. I had no problems finding a great many of the tourist sights within an easy stroll.
I expected the Portuguese influence. The cobblestone streets with their simple black and white mosaics, and the much more colorful buildings, were pure Lisbon. I didn't expect the Latin American influence, but the lemon-colored Igreja de S. Domingos could have been a Cathedral somewhere in Mexico or Bolivia, and I was entertained to see that it had been built in the 1500s by some priests from Acapulco, Mexico. Considering how difficult it was to travel the world in those days, I'm sure those particular priests had some wild tales to tell.
Like all the rest of the touristic hordes, I scrambled over the ruins of old St. Paul's Cathedral. As they say on the fabulous internets, the street leading to old St. Paul's is filled with vendors who ply you with free samples. What they didn't say is that most of the free samples appeared to be almond cookies (which I tried) and meats of unknown origin to me who doesn't speak whatever language a Maccanese street meat vendor might be speaking (so I didn't try). Most of the Asian tourists did sample the meat, so I'm sure it was some delicious specialty of the area, but I was too jet-lagged to get creative with my stomach.
Near St. Paul's, I took another short hike up to the ruins of the old fort. Of an age and a construction technique similar to San Juan's but of course far smaller. In the gardens there, I had Spotted Dove, Japanese White-Eye, Great Tit, Tree Sparrow. Pretty standard city birds for Asia, I suppose.
Instead of hunting up the shuttle site to return to the ferry, I simply caught a cab. The funny thing is, as soon as I stepped into the cab, I realized that the shuttle was right in front of me. Oh well. Considering that it turned out that the cab ride was all of $2 American, if that much, it wasn't worth much angst. Indeed, if I'd realized that cabs were THAT cheap in Macau, I wouldn't have invested so much time the night before running down my free hotel shuttle. You live, you learn.
There are two ferry stops in Hong Kong, so you guessed it. I took the ferry to the wrong one. Maybe there wasn't a ferry directly to the stop I wanted, or maybe my ferry had a second stop I didn't know about. Again, no harm done, as I showed the cab driver my address and got a cheap cab ride to the infamous ChungKing Mansions. Don't laugh. Well, go ahead and laugh, but I discovered that it was right around the corner from the world-famous Peninsula. So... if you want to stay on world-famous Nathan Street, stay at the ChungKing Mansions for the low, low price, or stay at the Pen for $1,000 USD a night, it won't hurt my feelings any either way.
The elevator was just as small as everyone had said, but my hostel was on the fifth floor, and the stairs were not the horror that I imagined. Don't think used condoms or rats. The worst thing I saw on the stairs was once I saw a roach -- a roach that would be laughed out of the trees by any self-respecting palmetto bug of Louisiana. There are millions of CCD cameras and entire families from every-wherever wandering around the building, and I was safer than I'd apparently been on Bourbon Street on Halloween Night, ha ha.
The hostel itself wasn't really a hostel. It was a private room, ensuite, with toiletries, towels, A/C, TV set, fridge, clock radio...pretty much anything provided that most any other mid-rate hotel room provides. I guess they call themselves a hostel so you'd know they didn't charge the usual exorbitant Hong Kong hotel rates. Oh, there was supposed to be free Wi-Fi, but I couldn't log on. I wouldn't necessarily blame the hostel for that, since I'd had the same problem in Macau at the foofy hotel that came complete with a thick fluffy robe and blue lights flashing in the whirlpool bath.
Nor were the touts all that pushy. If anything, they seemed unenthusiastic. However, considering that I was dressed way down after a day of strolling in the hot sun of Macau, I probably looked like a refugee from Hurricane Katrina and they were on the look-out for better prospects. Never have I heard a man ask, "Handbags?" in quite so dubious a tone.
No shopping for me. My souvenirs are poker winnings and photographs, tee hee. My big plan for Hong Kong was to take the Peak tram but I soon realized that I had the perfect location to do the Star Ferry instead. I strolled the scenic route past the aforementioned Pen and some other attractive sights along the way, including a group of robed graduates photographing each other in front of a huge old yellow palace which had once been the home of the "third ranked" official in Hong Kong. Makes you wonder where the "first ranked" dude lived.
I had a fortuitous misunderstanding at the Star Ferry. There was a one hour tour and a two hour tour. I thought that the low price was to go one way somewhere and the two hour price was to go out and back. So of course I bought the two hour price.
In reality, to go to Central takes 10 or 15 minutes, and the one hour tour of the harbor is just that, dropping some people off who actually have to get to Central, and then the rest of the time some lady talks without taking a breath for an entire time about the various skyscrapers that line the harbor. However, the second hour was the 8 o'clock "symphony of lights" tour, where the various buildings around the harbor crank up all their dancing lights and put on a show that can be best seen from the middle of the harbor. So we kicked off the cheapskates that bought the one hour tour and sailed back into the middle of the harbor for the show. They played music and let the buildings dance in their rainbows of colors, and it made a splashy display which was all the more impressive because the lady couldn't talk while the music played.
Oh, and there was drink/food included. The drink/food proved to be your choice of soda and coffee and a big piece of pound cake. This is certainly not the healthiest dinner I ever ate, but you couldn't argue with the price or the scenery.
I did regret bringing my small EasyShare camera instead of the big gun, because I couldn't take night photos, and I had so many night photo possibilities on this trip, from Halloween on Bourbon Street, to the lights of Greektown, to the flash and glitter of the Macau casinos, and, finally, to the amazing skyscrapers of Victoria Harbor.
After the Star Ferry, I strolled back, drifting a little here and there. I found the Airport Express bus stop and was impressed to see how close it was to ChungKing Mansions. Nothing's easier for anyone coming to/from Hong Kong Airport. The streets were packed on a Friday night, and it was a bit amusing to go from being one of the best-dressed people in Vegas to one of the worst-dressed in Hong Kong. Of course, you dress differently when you travel solo and don't want attention, but still...back at the ranch, I noticed the exchange rate posted on some of the signs and realized that I needed to change the bulk of my money here, instead of waiting to get to the airport. After making the exchange, I realized that I'd paid cash for my hostel room here, I'd paid for all of my out-of-pocket expenses such as ferry and cab and food/drink around Macau and Hong Kong, and I still had just cashed in for more money than I'd taken out. Plus I still had enough HKD to catch my bus to the airport and (as it turned out) get $70 back at the airport's less favorable rates. You can't beat it with a stick. It mattered not that I'd forgotten my Paypal PIN. I didn't do Hong Kong on $5 a day. Macau and Hong Kong paid me to visit, tee hee. Even entertainment gambling gives you a win sometimes.
Saturday, November 5, the longest birthday
I went to bed at 11 PM, thinking to get in a solid 6 hours sleep before I crawled out of bed at 5 or 5:30 AM to catch the airport express. Ha. Just ha. Hong Kong is 12 hours ahead of Detroit, which makes it 13 or 11 hours of New Orleans -- I'm still too lagged to figure out which -- and I was now entering into my effective most energetic hours of the day, the early afternoon to early evening. I didn't sleep a wink. I tossed, I turned, I switched on the light and tried to read a difficult passage in my book, The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth, about who's betraying who who thought he was betraying who else who was posing as somebody else...I tossed and turned some more. Finally, the clock radio said 4:58, and I said to myself, said I, No, you absolutely WON'T get out of this bed until 5 AM, it's too important to elevate your legs before a long flight and then it was 5 AM and I thought of a better way to pack and I re-packed and then it was down the stairs and on the road.
At the bus stop there were already two young Asian girls waiting with huge suitcases. They eyed me, dismissed me as clueless, gestured at the N21 flying down the street in the wrong direction (the last night Airport Express bus, which stops at a different stop), and otherwise gave every evidence of being worried that they were in the wrong place. I couldn't see how we could have gone wrong, so I just shrugged and waited. Sure enough, in a few minutes, suddenly a huge line of people came up, all at once. How do they know, to the minute, when the bus is going to pull up? Because that's what happened and away we went. And it's the same all over the world. Other people KNOW to the minute when to get there for the bus. Only me and the two Asian girls are left in the dark...
Happy Birthday to me!!!! On the occasion of this most ancient birthday, I won the jackpot on the flight back, which was commented upon both by row 36 and row 34, for I had row 35 all to myself. I drank two glasses of wine, had the Chinese lunch which was actually decent and included a mushroom salad that was truly delicious (or at least the mushrooms were, of a species I've never encountered) and then I stretched out to sleep for 9 hours. Considering I'd hardly caught a wink of sleep between New Orleans and this HKG-DTW flight, I'm not surprised that I finally crashed.
Finally woke up, brushed my teeth, used my last bit of mouthwash to wash up, watched The Adjustment Bureau, a movie based on a minor story by Philip K. Dick, so minor I can't place it at the moment. The familiar themes of reality is not what it seems, the powerful toying with the powerless, and so on...remade as a three hankie weepie. OK, I'm not proud. I'll admit it. I wept! I do try to have a stiff upper lip about these things, so I'll blame the jet-lag.
Another meal, not a very good one, another glass of wine and then we're in Detroit. I get picked for secondary at Customs, which happens when you're a solo traveler who mentions gambling in Macau, and the Customs kid was trying his best to maintain that line of chitchat they're supposed to maintain now. "What's the book about?" he asks about The Sot-Weed Factor. Ho boy. "My dad's family were tobacco farmers," I said. "It's about a tobacco plantation owner in the 1600s. The sot-weed is tobacco." Talk about an over- simplification, and it's already more than he wants to know.
He asks about the money belt, and I tell him where I think it is, and he finds it there, and he can tell at a glance that it's what I said or thereabouts. A contemptible amount of cash by my old standards and by Custom's standards as well. Sigh. No big catch here. Not that he really had any high hopes of this middle-aged housewife but one does what one's boss says to do, right? He waves me on, and I head back to the SkyClub for a shower where, thanks to the fact that even with the special screening, because I haven't had to wait for checked bags, I'm still number three on the list. I have a tight connection but I do manage to get in my shower just in the nick of time.
First class upgrades with pre-board cocktail and snack basket offered on both flights, DTW-MEM and MEM-MSY. I may have started with white wine on DTW-MEM but I was exhausted and decided to go low-octane for MEM-MSY, so I stuck with the Bailey's on the rocks. Finally, we roll into New Orleans, and IMOM picks me up at the airport. I think he expected me to regale him with all kinds of marvelous tales of the fabulous east but, instead, I went upstairs to stow my bags or something, and slept for 12 hours straight. I'm a horrible house pest, I know. No entertainment value to me at all.
Oh, and one more thing about my birthday. You wouldn't think that red would come to town on the birthday of a woman of my advanced age but oh well.
Sunday, November 6
Back home again. Bought some fixings for lunch, and the three of us watched the Saints game. The Saints did not crush their foe as cruelly as I would have liked, but that Colts game built up unrealistic expectations, I suppose. At least they DID crush the turkeys, although not to the point that Cookie bothered to disgorge a giggle. Later in the evening, there was a new episode of The Simpsons, which showed the Simpson's vacation in D.C. including plenty of the sights we'd just seen -- and the cute story of how Bart finally beat Lisa at the Science Fair. Cookie hasn't laughed so hard in ages.
Peachfront's Note: You have just read part five of my Detroit/Macau/Hong Kong Farewell Gambling Tour and mileage run. I've been on a travel kick lately. You may want to read part one of the Farewell Gambling Tour, New Orleans, or continue to part one, Detroit, and part two, Greektown and I take Macau to get caught up on my thrilling tale of global gambling hopping around like a crazy rabbit. Or you can just check out my October jaunts by clicking on the photos below.
photos © 2011 by elaine radford
click the photo for a quick photo tour of the yellow rail and rice festival, october 2011, do you have yellow rail on your life list, ha, thought not...so check it out
or check out our d.c. trip, including the sharp nice mlk memorial dedicated oct. 16
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