March 10-11, 2013
(Posted by Xavier, edited by Kristin)
Our Chinese language fears were realized the moment we stepped off the ferry in Macau and tried to explain to our taxi driver where we wanted to go. No sooner did we get into the car and try to communicate, when he shook his head no and quickly asked us to leave his car. Great, now what? So we stood on the curb with our backpacks on the ground. Kristin decided to run back into the ferry station to look for help. As I stood by our stuff, a taxi service person came up to me and told me he had a driver who could help us. When Kristin got back from the information desk with a note in hand, we got in and with hand signals and the note, we were finally on our way. Kristin and I agreed we would have to be more prepared with directions and names, in Chinese, if we were to survive in China.
We passed several large Las Vegas type casinos and hotels before arriving at our destination in the old historic part of Macau. We checked into our very nice hotel, Ole Tai Sam Un Hotel, our first hotel (vs. hostel or guesthouse) room on our trip (there are not a lot of budget options in Macau). We dropped our bags and decided to go out sightseeing. At the front desk we found out we were right in the middle of things to see.
First and foremost we set off to see the ruins of St. Paul — all that remains is the façade of this once grand cathedral. Since we were in the historic part of town, the streets were narrow and paved with beautiful black and white cobblestones.
Many of the streets were closed to traffic, and jam-packed with pedestrians — so jam-packed that we were initially taken aback by the crush of people.
We found our way to the ruins by following the excellent tourist signs — or I should say we just let the current of people take us along.
As we turned one corner, we could see the ruins up on a hill in the distance. What a sight!
When you first see them, and if you are like me in not knowing what to expect, your first reaction is “are you kidding me?” We made a beeline for the façade, as did most of the crowd, climbed the steps, taking pictures all along the way, and reached the hilltop where the ruins lay.
Wow, not only were they amazing to see but the view from the hill was great too.
We then made our way to Senado Square, the old city square, delightful and charming with its old European-style buildings. The cobblestone work was nothing short of visually stunning.
That evening we decided to splurge a little, and dine at a Portuguese restaurant in the old city.
Why Portuguese? Because Macau, like Hong Kong, had been a colony — but a Portuguese colony, which explains why we were surrounded by Portuguese street signs, building names, and architecture in the old city.
Old Macau is full of pastry shops and dried jerky-like meat shops that were handing out free samples everywhere. And who are we to turn down free samples of goodies?
Our appetites were whetted as we discovered several new favorite sweets that evening, almond delights, sesame seed bars, but the best one by far was this delicious and famous Portuguese egg tart. They were selling them in many shops around town, but we found the best ones at a shop just outside our hotel’s front door. The ladies in the shop quickly recognized us as we would enter their shop and try in vain to communicate with them. We made a point of stopping in there several times the next two days and became their best customers. But back to the tart. A light flaky crust with a egg custard, crème brûlée type burnt topping filling. Major YUMMMY! One more thing to add to our list of favorite foods.
First night done, we returned to our comfy and well appointed hotel room.
Our next day was jam-packed with sightseeing. A-Ma temple,
the large fantastic hilltop Mount Fortress,
Leal Senado Building Library,
Tucked into the now overbuilt old city, sits the nondescript entrance to one of the most wonderfully simple, but absolutely gorgeous mansions I’ve ever seen.
There are many times when one goes to see a mansion to be overwhelmed by ornate design and even unnecessary display of wealth. This mansion was a lesson in subdued elegance that left me at times at the point of tears in its simple but detailed craftsmanship.
Built over several years starting sometime before 1869, it was the residential compound home of prominent Chinese literary figure Zheng Guanying, known for writing “Words of Warning in Times of Prosperity”. Seems like it could be a best seller now. It fell into ruin over the years, even being used as apartments for hundreds of families, until it was restored by the Macau government in early 2000. This remarkable but traditional Chinese residential compound home is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage collection. What a joy it was to walk around that space and share looks of admiration with fellow travelers.
Even though Macau is recognized as a world-class gambling city we never made it to any of the mega casinos — we had other things to see in the short time there. We did, however, capture one especially tall casino in several shots. Kristin called it “ugly as sin”; I’ll hold my tongue and let you judge.
As we ended our last night in Macau walking around the narrow tiled walkways and streets in our hotel’s neighborhood, we passed a storefront where I stopped to try and figure out what the sign said (hospedaje?). I had found this unusual and fun to do around Macau because of so much Portuguese is incorporated into the city. I stood there trying to see what kind of business it was, and as far as I could tell it was some kind of hospice. Huh? A hospice, here? What’s a hospice doing here? I motioned Kristin over to confirm my thoughts as I looked up the staircase going up to the second floor. And as I leaned in to look up the staircase, up on the landing of the second floor stood a group of seductively clothed ladies waving me up the stairs. Kristin took a peek too and we both said, “Oooh! I guess it’s not a hospice!” We laugh as we walked back to our hotel, but I thought if it really was a hospice, what a way to go!
Our stay in Macau was short but sweet (very sweet!), and as we contemplated our jump into mainland China we dove in headlong. We needed to get from Macau to Guangzhou to catch an overnight train to Xiamen, and according to the all-knowing internet, we could catch us a bus to Guangzhou from a company right near our hotel.
We got to the bus ticket office and tried to communicate with the ticket lady (she spoke no English and of course we spoke “nada” of Chinese). Through a series of hand gestures and scribbles on a map, we understood that we would have to take one bus to the border, cross the border on foot, then find the bus on the other side to take us into Guangzhou. We had done a similar thing crossing the border from Malaysia into Singapore, so no problem. Oh, and the bus would drop us off a few kilometers from the train station in Guangzhou, so we would have to take a taxi once there. Adventures ahead!
We looked at the clock and saw that it was close to the scheduled departure time. We thought we were catching the bus there in front of the bus ticket office, but soon found out we were wrong. We were visibly confused (a look we were to perfect in China) so the ticket lady motioned us to wait outside. We were amazed what she did next: she locked up the ticket office and motioned us to follow her quickly. We followed her for several blocks to the entrance of a casino (so I guess we did go to a casino) where she escorted us right to where a casino bus was loading up for a border run. Ah, so we take a free casino bus to the border, then catch the company bus on the other side. Makes sense (how come not one single person on the internet mentioned this detail?!?). Amazed, we turned around to try and thank her, but she was gone. So for every cabbie that throws you out of his taxi, it seems there is a kind person who will go out of their way to make sure you get where you are going.
We took a leap of faith and loaded onto the bus and off we went to the biggest unknown yet on our trek, mainland China, but a least we had our yummy egg tarts to keep us happy on this travel day.