Gambling on Love in Macau
by Victoria Brooks, Editor of GreatestEscapes.com
You promised me that if I could identify the place of your dreams, you would whisk me away to that magic land. Together we would turn your fantasy into reality.
Though I hardly knew you then, you called me on your way to work, your voice edgy with excitement. I could picture you immaculate in a pinstriped banker's suit, a teasing smile diffused across your face. You said you had dreamed you were spinning a roulette wheel in an Asian-style Vegas, on a peninsula on the southeast coast of China. The shores were lapped by the South China Sea's once pirate infested waters. Your fellow punters were Chinese but the place had a languorous Mediterranean chic. You promised me that if I could identify the place of your dreams, you would whisk me away to that magic land. Together we would turn your fantasy into reality.
I pinpointed the locale of your dreams instantly. Indulging in wanderlust, I had spun fantasies about Macau before you did. You were impressed when I told you it was a Portuguese enclave famous for gambling and only 40 kilometers over the water from Hong Kong. I told you that in December 1999, it was handed back to China after more than a 100 years of Portuguese rule. You were silent for a split second then laughed hilariously when I compared Macau to an old, but beautiful and cunning woman enticing you and your money.
When I asked you what we would do in Macau you said, "Whatever you desire." I answered quickly. "We can go to the famous floating casino. You will teach me how to play 'fan tan' and keep my pockets full of change to feed the 'hungry tigers'. When I am bored with that, we will watch greyhound racing or catch a Vegas-style show." You suggested we could shop for antiques and old treasures in the cobblestone lanes around the Rua das Estalagens near St. Paul's Ruins.
And after, we'd lunch on a Portuguese verandah overlooking the sea. We'd drink ice-cold green wine from Portugal that tasted like heaven and eat Macanese African Chicken with our fingers. We'd rent bicycles, ride in a tricycle carriage, hire a Moped and drive around with the wind in our hair. Then we'd take a day trip to Zuhai, in old China.
Everything went well during the flight. When I looked deep into your eyes, that old Joni Mitchell song and the lyrics "Help me I think I'm falling in love again" started playing on the CD player I carry with me in my brain. I was finding you utterly fascinating.
We were beginning our descent into Hong Kong's new Chek Lap Kok Airport when I looked out the airplane's window. I saw a giant glittering Buddha, clothed in gold and sunlight, regal atop a green mountain backed only by the South China Sea. You said that the magical sight of the golden Buddha would be our personal symbol for luck at Macau's casinos. At that moment I steeled my heart. I knew too well that both life and love are gambles. I wanted to be more important to you than the sound of the dice in the croupier's box.
I must have worn my apprehension on my face, because you assured me that I would come first on our trip to Macau and we would both find that hot-blooded Portuguese dame a fascinating place to start our relationship.
After we landed, you wisely changed some money into Hong Kong dollars and put us in a taxi for the Macau ferry terminal. We could have flown into the Macau International Airport, or taken a helicopter, but we'd settled on a relaxing ferry ride.
Our Cantonese taxi driver snaked slowly through the traffic but we didn't mind. Hong Kong is a city of contrasts. We saw world-class architecture rubbing shoulders with tiny Chinese lanes and dilapidated high-rise buildings. The Chinese inhabitants flew their laundry like the colorful flags of many nations out the open windows of their tiny apartments. You told me Kowloon, across the way, with its 160,000 people per square-kilometer, was the most densely populated place on earth. In the back seat of the cab, your knee brushed mine.
Together we boarded the hydrofoil for the hour trip to Macau. Although evening was approaching, the Hong Kong Harbor was buzzing with freighters, ferries, yachts and junks. I'd never seen so many boats and so much water traffic. We watched in silence as the hills above Hong Kong shone like green emeralds behind their jewel box of glass and steel skyscrapers, then receded from view. Hong Kong's many neon lights glittered like faux baubles, then faded.
You seemed so pleased when I clutched your knee in fear as a wave from a passing ferry splashed over the windows of our small hydrofoil. I was excited - and scared! The Chinese children with their round eyes and blunt-cut shiny hair, who sat in front of us, gasped at the exact same moment I did. You looked at me indulgently, pulled me close and smiled. I put my head on your shoulder, closed my eyes - and drifted into Macau in your arms.
When You Go:
ABOUT MACAU: In December 1999, Macau was handed back to China and is now a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. This once sleepy-eyed Portuguese lady still puts on her finery during the Grand Prix and on weekends to entertain wealthy Chinese punters. The rest of the time she wears business suits. She's working hand-in-hand with the People's Republic to make herself a business megalopolis.
Land has been reclaimed from the sea for infrastructure projects that will link Macau to the mainland of China. Although much of its historic Portuguese flavor has been lost to progress, and construction has turned part of Macau into a moonscape, there is still much to do and see.
Eat Macanese cuisine, gamble, take in the Grand Prix (late November), drink fabulous and inexpensive Portuguese wine, shop for Chinese antiques and gold, or pop across the border for some Cantonese food and a peek at the real China.
GAMBLING: Macau is said to have the widest range of casino games in the world. Give baccarat, blackjack, roulette, boule, "big and small", or fan-tan a flutter; or feed your coins to what the locals call "hungry tigers" (slot machines).
Spread your chips between the three-story casino at the Lisboa Tourist Complex, the two decks of casino on the floating Macau Palace, the Casino Jai-Alai, Hyatt Regency Macau and the Oriental Casino.
Casinos operate 24 hours a day (except the Victory Casino in the Trotting Club). Players are not obliged to tip croupiers and any request for a tip by a casino employee may be ignored. Rules are standard in all gaming halls. The casinos and hotels are jam-packed on weekends. If possible make the trip during weekdays.
47th MACAU GRAND PRIX: This yearly premier road racing event follows a 3.8 mile circuit with hairpin bends and climbing curves. Drivers from different countries compete on motorcycles, saloon cars, and Formula Pacific cars. Past winners include Alan Jones, Ricardo Patrese, Van Schuppern, Geoff Lees, Andy Wallace and Ayrton Senna. The races and celebrations take place in November. Tickets for single-day grandstand seats are approximately US$50. Cheaper seats and packages are also available.
Information and tickets from Macau Government Tourist Office in Macau. Tel: (853) 315566 or Fax: (853) 510104, or visit http://www.macau.tourism.gov.mo.
Contact your travel agent for information on air travel
to Hong Kong, then take a pleasant one-hour ferry ride to Macau.
Posada Santiago: Tel: 853 378 111 (Macau)
copyright Victoria Brooks
Books by Victoria Brooks