Day 5 (20 Dec 2009): Viva Macau [Guangzhou – Macau – Guangzhou]

For your convenience, please refer to The Journey for the itinerary and the latest updates.

Weather: Not too bad; warmer than the previous day

Distance travelled: Guangzhou – Zhuhai – Macau – Zhuhai – Guangzhou (296km)

Alan, Daniel and I went to Macau on the 10th anniversary of the handover from Portugal to China; a fact that I only realized on our way back to Guangzhou. Miha, their Slovenian friend, came with us as well.

Despite sleeping late, we were all awake and ready to go by 6 am in the morning. Grabbed a Sausage McMuffin before getting into a cab to the bus station.

Our bus left on the dot for Zhuhai and all of us almost immediately went back into sleep. On the few occasions where I woke up, farmlands were right beside the expressway. Within an hour and a half, we were already near SYSU Zhuhai Campus located on the outskirts of city. My impression of Zhuhai from my bus seat was pretty pleasant; it was a cleaner and more orderly city compared to Guangzhou.

We reached Gongbei, Zhuhai’s border with Macau, at around half past nine. Despite being part of China, one has to go through immigration on both sides of the border (Similar to HK). There were many people doing the crossings despite (or because) it was a Sunday.

Giant Lotus celebrating 10th anniversary of Macau's handover

We were finally through to the Macau side at almost 11 and soon we were on the free shuttle service to Casino Grand Lisboa.

Portas do Cerco - Macau's border with Mainland China

Free ride to Grand Lisboa

Why Grand Lisboa? Because it was walking distance to Senado Square, our first destination of the day. Almost all the casinos in Macau run free shuttle services between their casinos and Macau’s points of entry (Border gate, ferry terminal and airport). In fact one is able to go around Macau by simply using the different free shuttle services.

We decided to make use of the clean washrooms at Grand Lisboa before starting our adventures. While waiting for the rest, I snapped some pictures to showcase the casino’s opulence.

Sculpture plated with gold

Giant chandelier

Jade sculpture

We went to grab some HKD from the ATM and made our way to Senado Square.

Street view along the way

Merry Christmas

Dan and I with our new friends

Post Office

St Dominic's Church

The street leading from Senado Square to St Paul’s Ruin was lined with shops selling almond cookies and bak kwa. While we already ate a pork chop bun each along the way, the free trial still enticed us to make a few more stops than planned. Miha ate his first piece of bak kwa as well.

Sifu making almond cookies

Finally we reached St Paul’s ruin, Macau’s most famous landmark. It used to be a cathedral but was since burnt down and all that was left was the facade. If one were able to get out of the casinos in Macau, this will be the place to visit.

Obligatory visit

We hiked up the fort besides the ruins and were treated to a good view of the city.

View from the fort

Cannon aiming at Grand Lisboa

Portuguese warning sign

It was a lucky day for us as the museum was open to visitors free of charge. We went in and took a look. Miha was rather intrigued by Asian tourists who liked to have their pictures taken besides the exhibits.

Some of the exhibits include:

Chinese puppet

Macanese spread

Western painting

Any readers who has seen the pictures can easily tell that Macau is swarmed with tourists. Make no mistake; it really is! It’s almost impossible to get a good portrait.

For instance, this auntie refused to get out of the picture.

No longer profile picture worthy

We sought to escape from the crowd to Macau Tower. It was less crowded there but the prices was kinda on the high side.

Macau Tower

Since we were not doing extreme activities, we didn’t linger long and went to take a walk along Fisherman’s Wharf instead. It is a touristy place full of gimmicky re-creations of other famous places.

Coliseum

Chinese fort

Dan in front of Potala Palace

With our time in Macau running out, we proceeded to our last stop: the Venetian.

Gondoliers singing

Empty Gondola

Miha was saying that Venetian is better than real Venice because it doesn’t have birds’ poo.

Casino floor

Dancers performing at the casino floor

Alan and I tried out the slot machines; neither of us had much luck and lost 30 SGD each. Well I just treat it as payment for the shuttles. The place was so huge that we almost got lost while trying to find our way back to the shuttle pick-up point. We caught the shuttle which left the Venetian at around 7.15pm; it left us plenty of time to pass through the immigrations and catch the 9pm bus back to Guangzhou.

So long Macau

On the way back the bus actually passed by Alan’s apartment and the driver kindly dropped us off. A few RMB cab fare saved and we were back by 10.40pm. Hooray!

I like Macau. Looking beyond the casinos, Macau is a charming place full of character. Hundreds of years under the Portuguese rule have made it an unique place unlike Hong Kong or any part of China. It’s where East meets West and Old meets New. I will say that it’s not a bad place to spend a couple of days (I won’t recommend casinos though; the odds are always more favorable to the house.)

I had watched a documentary about the effects of casinos on Macau. While the gaming industry in huge revenues, many locals leave school early to become croupiers (jobs reserved only for local Macanese residents) and forgo the chance of tertiary education. The residents had gone on the streets to protest against the rising costs brought about by the tourists as well as the foreign workers in the service industry (mainly Filipinos). I wonder whether Macau’s success is sustainable without inflicting a huge social cost on the local society in the long run. Likewise, Singapore should also monitor the social cost which the casinos bring to the society.

Macau’s fortune is also increasingly dependent on tourism and gaming which makes it vulnerable to Beijing’s decisions. Mainland Chinese tourists made up the biggest proportion of punters in Macau and the central authority in Beijing has considered limiting its citizens’ ease of access to Macau. Furthermore there will be more competition in the region. It exists namely in the form of Singapore’s IRs but that will be another story some other time.

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