An Island of Gambling

Apologies for the delay in recent blogs. I have been a tad busy. And also I didn’t want to blog anything new that would get lost amidst the 2014-15 blogs.

Golden Week in October is sorted for 2019. Eleanor and I have tickets to go with my parents to see Japan v Ireland in the Rugby World Cup in Japan!!!

2018 Golden Week in October was spent in Macau. As Eleanor liked to tell everyone, we were taking her to a gambling den. And as we told everyone, we weren’t there to gamble.

We flew into Macau from Wuxi. An early morning flight had been booked so that we could make the most of our Tuesday- Friday stay. We felt that we didn’t need more than that. We also did our usual – travel to a place with no local currency. Apart from the time 2 years ago in Kota Kinabalu airport when that backfired on me, it has never been a problem…

On arrival, we got off the plane, we hadn’t even gone through immigration and we saw an ATM. Martin puts his card in. But he is asked for his Chinese ID. We try putting the passport on the area indicated. But no such luck. We go through immigration, notch up another stamp in our passports and go to another cash point. Still the same message.

As we were staying at the Holiday Inn in Cotai, Taipa, which was attached to a casino. The hotels on “the strip” offered a free shuttle bus service. The journey between airport and hotel was about 10-15 minutes.

We checked in, went in search of another cash point and lunch. We found a cashpoint in the shopping mall attached to our hotel and Martin put in all the cards he had brought with him. All his Chinese bank cards. Each card declined to give him the money, each time requesting CHINESE ID. An ID he didn’t have. I pulled out my trusty UlsterBank Visa debit card, entered the pin and was rewarded with Macanese Pataca. The reason was simple. Taking out money from a Chinese bank account needed Chinese ID because of money laundering. There had been a large number of currency exchangers in the airport all advertising good rates for RMB. Now we understood why.

Thankfully we now had cash and our union pay cards worked in shops. But our alipay and wechat pay didn’t work because again we didn’t have Chinese ID and we weren’t on the mainland. We had McDonalds for lunch and then we went out to explore.

Casino after casino and shopping mall after shopping mall, once you saw one shopping mall you had seen them all.

We had dinner in an Italian restaurant at the Sheraton as a family. The reason I mention that is that we were one of the only mother and daughter pairs joined by husband/father. It was clear that the women and children were left to their own expensive habits while the men went to the casinos. We didn’t step into a casino once.

The next day we went sightseeing to see old Macau. The shuttle bus dropped us off and we followed the hordes of people up to see the Ruins of St Paul’s.

A 17th Century Cathedral built between 1602-1640. It stands on a hill overlooked by Mount Fortress, now a museum. Neither Martin nor Eleanor are keen on throngs of people all jostling for position in the heat so I took photographs and we then disappeared into the coolness of the museum. It charted the differences in Eastern and Western cultures, the similar discoveries and the timelines together with explaining Macau’s culture, history and architecture.

Of course we had come on a national holiday which explained the bustling old town, but these were tourists with suitcases going up and down the cobbled streets. The mainlanders had come to shop tax free.

Cathedral and museum done, we walked back, via an award winning ice cream shop. A welcome break where green ice cream was mint and deliciously cooling.

We had had a big big breakfast in the hotel restaurant and so skipped lunch or rather we replaced it with ice cream. We walked back to where the bus had dropped us. A long line of people met us. And while we wanted to take advantage of a free shuttle bus we also wanted to get back to the swimming pool and our planned evening entertainment. So we took a taxi.

That evening we had been recommended by friends to see The House of the Dancing Water. We had pre-booked tickets in and even then when booking it in August I had trouble paying with any of my Chinese cards, also in August there was limited availability for the three of us to sit together.

Nevertheless the show was breathtaking. A mix of Cirque du Soleil and water. It was a story involving a traveller, the movement of the dancers and acrobats was fluid which matched a pool of water that constantly changed according to need. Either deep enough for acrobats to dive into, or shallow for people to walk across it.

Then people danced among fountains set to music. It was absolutely enthralling.

And then it stopped. And the music was broken by the motorcycles. No acrobatic show it appears it complete without tricks from motorcycles which involved jumping from ramp to ramp while performing death defying 360 degree turns, jumping though hoops of fire and culminating in 7 or 8 motorcycles in a spherical cage.

It is always heart-stopping to watch this spectacle and it was incongruous to the relaxing show which we had been watching. But there is clearly an unwritten rule that motorcycles have to appear!

The next day Martin had a deadline to meet so Eleanor and I decided to do the next recommended thing on our list… sit beside a rooftop pool with the largest rooftop wave pool and lazy river in the world. (I think)

We hopped on another free shuttle bus at 10am and got to the hotel, a much larger, grander hotel which had busloads of Chinese arriving at the same time we were. In my naivety I thought that they were all heading for the pool. These buses are shuttle buses from the border and are day trippers – shopping and gambling. They were never going to swim. It was October and cold to them. For Eleanor and I it was a perfect temperature. And I got sunburnt.

After our girly beach and pool day, we met Martin at The Venetian, had dinner at another Italian restaurant then off we went in search of some famous egg tarts that another colleague had recommended.

The egg tarts used to be made by a husband and wife couple, but they divorced and so now it appears the husband’s has the better reputation. Lord Stow’s Bakery and Cafe for future reference.

This was actually my first ever egg tart and it was light, not too sweet, just the right amount of pastry to filling. The one I had a breakfast the next day, did not compare.

Macau was a short break, there is clearly more to the island than just casinos, and shopping malls. There is history here, it felt like a quaint European town and had we felt so inclined we could have explored more of the fishing villages and seen more to this side of the Special Administrative Region of China. But we didn’t. The goal was to relax. It was always going to be a busy first six weeks of term. Goal Achieved.