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ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, WRITING AND AGING GRACEFULLY
I am going to do something I am not supposed to do. I'm going to put Macau, Hong Kong and Beijing in the same post. Before you start yelling, I totally know that these are very separate administrations, languages and cultures, but I am just too behind to write the three separate posts that these amazing locations deserve. But the one thing in common? We had an amazing time in each.
We endured another 17 hour travel day to drag our sorry selves from Australia to Hong Kong. Despite our late arrival time, my cousin Carol insisted on taking the bus an hour from her village in the New Territories to meet us at the airport. For the record, I really did try to keep her at home, but she showed up anyway and frankly, she was a sight for sorry eyes. Carol and her brother Charles are a good 10 years my junior, which means that while she was still swinging on a playset, I was long in NYC, being the world's biggest college nerd. By the time I'd returned to Chicago, she had lived in as disparate places as Guinea, Africa, Southern Illinois, and most recently, Hong Kong. She was, as long as I could remember, the little sister I'd always wanted.
But in Hong Kong, she was the big boss and she, her husband Shannon and her two kids kicked off the trip by touring us around the school where Shannon taught. About the school, Isoo (a.k.a., world's pickiest child) said it most succinctly: If I had three wishes in the world, I would use one wish to ask that I go to this school. Of course he only went to one class - gym, which lasted for 72 minutes and during which time they played soccer. The students were incredibly well-behaved and welcoming, the staff friendly, the amenities great. Oh and Isoo made, a super cool new buddy Ben so what isn't there to love about this school?
After school we met up with my other cousin Sylvia, who took the ferry over from Macau to take us to fancy drinks over a fancy view and a terrific dinner that we tried very valiantly not to sleep through (darn jet lag!). If Carol is my cool little cousin, that Sylv is my cool older cousin. You know - the one that always disappears during family events to go to some crazy party. The cousin that's been everywhere and knows people with boats and the perfect place to hang out and oh yeah, can hook you up with a ridiculously plush room at the Banyan Tree Resort. Despite being in the throes of an intense work schedule, she carted us to all over Macau, introducing us to really some great people, treated us to so many fantastic meals and spoiled the kids rotten, complete with huge American breakfasts of JOHNSONVILLE SAUSAGES, AMERICAN BACON, and french toast with MAPLE SYRUP. After months of adapting to rashers, various cold breads and noodles for breakfast, the kids were so excited to see their beloved American products. Honestly, after what was a fun, but "rugged" tour of NZ, it was such a treat to be well-cared for and pampered. It came at just the perfect time and was more recuperative, fun and generous than we deserve.
As for Macau, I found it much more interesting than expected. As a special administrative region of China, it had been under Portugal's rule from the 16th century till its handover in 1999. Now it's Asia's, gambling mecca grossing $45 billion annually (7 times that of Vegas' earning). Sylv always referred to it as Jersey to Hong Kong's New York (more like Atlantic City, I say), but after having been to Portugal and learning about its history of exploration and discovery, I found it fascinating to see its art, architecture, culture and food echoed and adapted to Chinese tastes. There's a great canvas tile at the foot Padrao dos Descobrimentos that charts all of the land conquered during the Age of Discovery. It's amazing to think that at one point, Portugal controlled much of the world (for about a minute). While it's lost much of its influence and economic power and is in recent years, struggling for solvency, it's pretty cool to see its historical significance playing out in Macau. It was a great lesson in showing the kids how interconnected the world is, and why history, even 100 years later, still matters. It was also a little weird to see Chinese people walking around what looked like little Lisbon, with a big fat does of Las Vegas, I mean.
Before we embarked on the hour long ferry ride from HK to Macau, Sylv took us to the IFC building for fancy drinks on the rooftop terrace. Think young folks with hip clothes and hair cuts hanging out with a view of glimmering high rises and old-fashioned junks. No wonder HK is referred to as the Chinese Manhattan.
Sylv introduced us to her good friends Miguel and Cristina, their adorable kids and her other buddy, Eddie, at Fernando's, a famous Portuguese restaurant near the seaside in the charming Cologane Village. The food and company could not be beat. We gorged ourselves on fresh seafood while Miguel and Cristina, expat Portuguese, told us what it's like to be Portuguese in Macau. They, as well the rest of the world, are curious as to what will happen once the 50 year "one country, two systems" amendment expires and Macau's government officially reverts to Chinese law. Until then, its business as usual.
After Miguel and Cristina so generously treated us to lunch, we strolled Hac Sa beach and hiked along the water's rock formations. Hac Sa, as its name implies, is technically a black sand beach, but after recent erosion, the shoreline was supplimented by yellow sand, giving the beach an interesting striation of colors.
Oona and Maria became fast friends because, you know, these two girls are so shy. Walking the rocky coastline.
All smiles with Sylv.
Macau consists of the Macau peninsula and the two islands of Taipa and Coloane, which were connected by a landfill to create Cotai, We hopped a cab from Sylv's modern high-rise in Taipa to hit the sights in Macau Peninsula. Walking the windy streets near St. Paul's is a trip: colonial era European architecture mixed with more recent Macau low-rises. Signs in both Portuguese and Cantonese. Shops selling Pastel de Nata and Chinese beef jerky.
Largo do Senado, where dragon dancers lounge among classic Portuguese tile work.
The Ruins of St. Paul. Commissioned by the Portuguese, designed by an Italian, built by Chinese and Japanese craftsmen, and placed on a hill on the Macau Peninsula. The facade includes a fascinating blend of Asian and Western images - Jesus, doves, lotus blossoms, dragons and Mary crushing a seven headed hydra.
St. Paul's Ruins are Macau's most famous sight, but not its most popular attraction. That would have to be the casinos. Casino Lisboa is an oldie, built in the 60s.
Before checking into our digs at the Banyan Tree, we walked through the Venetian and took the kids to Carnevale. Oona especially, loved the glitz and glamour.
And we were spoiled by too much great food. With the exception of the chicken feet, the dim sum here is outrageous. Some dining tips from Sylv and Shannon: Raise your hand for service, bring your own napkins/tissues and reserve the specially colored chopsticks for serving. Since the SARS outbreak in 2002 that resulted in nearly 800 deaths, empty rice bowls arrive in a larger bowl of boiled water to indicate that all utensils and eating vessels have been properly sanitized.
When I say our hotel room was sweet, I mean it. Here is one of two relaxation pools in our room (the other is a Japanese soaking tub). THANK YOU AGAIN, SYLVIA!!!! We are not worthy!
Or if you prefer, you can get wet outside in the wave pool.
After Sylv went back to work (boo!), Carol, Shannon and their kids joined us in Macau for an afternoon of sightseeing. We went back to the ruins.
Counted the cannons at the top of Macau Fortress Hill.
And tromped around the Mandarin's House.
Thanks for an awesome time, Sylvia. And to the cousins, you should definitely plan a visit!