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Christmas Holiday's in Macau

Mike came home from work a little early on the 22nd, which is when we planned on doing our Christmas gift exchange here in the apartment, before we left for Macau.  Now, I had already planned on my expensive boots as being my Christmas present, but Mike found a few other things for me that proved to be useful.  I got a 2G memory card for my camera to replace my 512 that pooped out on me last weekend (it still works, I just filled it up while we were out and couldn’t dump the pics off.  Now it’s my back-up, as if I could fill 2G’s. . . ).  I also got a cute USB apparatus you can stick your memory card into, then plug into your USB port and automatically download the pictures.  Same as getting them off the camera, just don’t have to have the camera on, and is a handy carrying case for the spare as well. . .   Also got a mini-tripod, which I’ve wanted and needed for a while and proved as a handy handle during our days in Macau. 

 

Mike got a few things from Santa as well. . . some clothes he didn’t “need” (read:  his current clothing has not fell off his body yet, so therefore he needs no new clothes),  a USB powered missile launcher, a stocking full of goodies, and something that I can’t tell you about until I give my Dad his Christmas present (OMG, they get here a week from tomorrow!)

 

We listened to some Christmas music, watched the blinking lights on the pointsettia, then grabbed our bags and ran across the street to the ferry terminal with TJ to start our three day weekend in Macau.

 

A Brief History of Macau or National Geographic for Dummies. . . heehee

 

Like Hong Kong, Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR), giving it status as part of China, but not governed under China’s Communist fist.  It is located on mainland China southwest of Hong Kong.  It has a strong European heritage from the glory days when it was “discovered” by the Portuguese as a viable and profitable trading post between Asia and Europe.  After the British took over Hong Kong in 1841, most of the European traders left Macau for Hong Kong, and it became a quiet and quaint backwater.  It is, however, home of some of the largest and most powerful of the estimated 50 Chinese Triads (similar to the Mafia, Russian or Italian). 

 

Macau received its name from when the first Portuguese captain left his boat and asked the first local he saw where he was.  The man replied A Ma Gau, which means “place of A Ma” (the goddess of Seafarers).  The local was quickly slaughtered, the land proclaimed Portuguese, and the captain said, “I think he said Macau. . . “.  Or something like that, I’m sure.

 

Anyway, it’s money is the MOP, which is one to one with the Hong Kong dollar, and we saw very little MOP while we were there.  Its main source of revenue is tourism from gambling (makes more $/year than Las Vegas), as it is the only place in China where you can legally gamble (although they gamble everywhere, just not in casinos), and it has also learned how to make more land.  Macau used to have to small islands named Taipa (Tie-Pa) and Coloane off the coast, but now it’s one big island with “reclaimed land” in between.  This new land is called Cotai (how original!) and is being developed into a Las Vegas strip.   Up until a few years ago, all the 40 plus casinos in Macau were owned by one man, Stanley Ho, but two American companies Wynn and Sands have been given license to set up shop.  Crazily enough, as much as Asians like to have a drink or ten, none of the Ho casino’s serve alcohol while you are gambling.  Also, slots are a relatively new thing, and not the preferable way for the Chinese to gamble, preferring card and dice games.  They don’t go to a casino to “have fun”, they go to make money.  It’s serious business, in all aspects.

 

They do supposedly brew their own beer here, called Macau beer, but never saw any of that either.  Asked for it off the menu somewhere along the way, but they said they didn’t have any.  Okay.   No worries, though, we saw PLENTY of beer.

 

It is truly a feast for the senses after Hong Kong.  There are Taoist Temples from the Ming Dynasty beside baroque Christian churches (seen enough of those in Rome to last a lifetime) next to hilltop 17th century forts and lighthouses, colonial palaces and Chinese courtyards.  And, of course, casinos.  And, soon to be more and more casinos. 

 

There is also a new area called Fisherman’s Wharf, and we never truly got a handle on what it exactly was, except for possibly a mini-Epcot Center.  More info at www.fishermanswharf.com for those interested, but it had a fake Volcano, a mini Roman Coliseum that we saw the first night we arrived.  We never did go back during the day, and I’m not 100% sure it’s fully operational or open yet.  We tried to go in one way, and were politely turned away in Cantonese by a policeman. . . .

It’s a lot different than Hong Kong for sure.  Most people don’t speak English, and those that do are a little harder to understand.  But, it’s also FULL of tourists from HK, mainland China and other Asian countries (I doubt we saw more than 50 other Whitey’s the whole time we were there), who all speak pretty good English and were willing to help us if we got in a jam (which we really didn’t, had the most problem getting the taxi drivers to take us where we wanted to go, either because they couldn’t understand us AND couldn’t read a map, or just didn’t want to take us where we were headed, more on that one later).

 

Like HK, you are constantly “on camera”, but the surveillance camera’s seemed to be more obvious here in Macau than in HK, and mostly focused on us.  Or maybe it was just our imagination. . . but we certainly felt like part of the “attractions” as we were gawked at so obviously it couldn’t have been our imagination.  I read a statistic saying that only about 10,000 North Americans visit Macau a year, so we were definitely on the rare sightings list.

FRIDAY NIGHT 12/22

 

We knew it was just a short hour ferry trip over to Macau, and we were told to arrive 30 minutes early.  As our boat was at 7:15, we left the house at 6:30, got to the departure gate, went through immigration, and were allowed to board the 7 PM ferry.  Arrived in Macau a little after 8, but took a considerably longer time to make it through immigration there.  Waited in line for 25 minutes for a taxi (later finding our Hotel, The Fortuna, had a free shuttle), and arrived at our hotel about 9 PM.  Seemed like a lot of rigmarole for an hour ferry ride, but whatever.  We were thirsty and hungry, and I had read in my handy Lonely Planet that there was an area on one part of the new reclaimed land (not the reclaimed land between the two islands, but actually on Macau) named NAPE which locals call the Lan Kwai Fong of Macau, so we headed down that way to start the evening.  After walking by empty bar after empty bar we finally found a restaurant with people in it advertisin g Mexican food.  Fine.  We went in, had a very delicious first meal of nachos grande, egg-filled enchilda’s, fish burrito, and Tilapia fried eggplant and potatoes with salsa.  Our waiter was Filipino and spoke perfect English, so we asked him why all the bars were empty.  He replied, “It’s still early,”.  By now it was after 10, so we asked him when they startedto fill up.  He said, “Oh, about 3 AM til 9 AM”.  Okay.  Obviously, we are going to be drinking alone. . .

 

Walked back over and did have a couple of drinks in a sparsely populated bar, then decided to walk over to the Fisherman’s Wharf area mentioned above, as we thought it might have casino’s or other drinking venues.  It was closed, but we took a stroll around it and thought, “There must be a pub somewhere between here and our hotel,” so started home.  And, there wasn’t.  We were “forced” to stop at 7-11 and stand around in the street drinking beer with the locals.  It was hilarious.  Only one area in the whole town that we ever saw a pub, and that was where we had came from.  Decided to call it a night, as we were off of the cultural walking tour tomorrow.

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Night scene near our hotel

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At dinner

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In front of the "coliseum" at Fisherman's Wharf

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Fake volcano at Fisherman's Wharf

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Gate into Fisherman's Wharf

Thanks to TJ for these night photos. . . Where was my camera???  Who knows.  Probably left it in the hotel room. . .
 
Saturday, December 23, 2006

Arose at the crack of 10 AM to get downstairs for our free breakfast.  Met TJ about 11 and headed on out the door.  The Lonely Planet walking tour of Central Macau claims to be 2.5 kilometers and take about 2 hours.  Usually I find their time estimates to be way high, but after 2 hours of walking we were only about 1/3 of the way through.  Something was amiss.  Our dog’s were barking and we’d seen a lot of stuff.  We decided the author never actually DID the walk but was actually in the casino’s all day and the nightclubs til the wee early hours of the morning. . .

 

But, we did see some cool things.  I really liked how all the sidewalks were mosaics, the Mediterranean colored buildings and balconies, the fašade of the Church of St. Paul, and the Temple of A-Ma at the end.  However, during our walk to the temple there was a small sign to the church of Penha, which after seeing six or so churches so far, we decided we could skip, and it wasn’t on the tour, only to find out later it was something we shouldn’t have missed.  DANG IT!  I hate it when that happens. 

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Follow the winding black road, follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the winding black road. . .

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One of the mosaics, there were fish, and castles, very cool

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Obviously, I'm intrigued by these sidewalks!

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Senate Square. . . cool tile pavement, but all kinds of Christmas decs and stages. . .

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Church of St. Dominic, build in early 17th century

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Plaza of the Macau Cathedral

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Consulate General of Portugal (like their Embassy here)

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Monte Fort built in 1626

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Mike and I at the fort

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First look at the famous facade of the ruins of the Church of St. Paul from atop the fort

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Typical housing from the top of the Fort

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Coming through the ruins of the College of the Mother of God

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Full front of facade. . . and tons of tourists!

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Heading down the hill toward the water. . . after 2.5 hours we are 1/3 done with our walk!

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Cool balconies

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The old church of St. Augustine. . . .under repair

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I think we are almost to the water. . . and the A-Ma Temple

By the time we finally made it to the waterfront and the Temple of A-Ma, we were tired.  Went through the temple and had a seat in the square and a drink. 

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Entrance to the Temple of A-Ma

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Lots more pics of the temple. . . .

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This Temple is quite large, goes up the hill on many levels. . .

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HUGE incense rings. . . in the temple. . .

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Ancient graffiti

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Not so ancient, and no, Mike did not do this

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And more graffiti. . .

Looking up, we could see we were pretty close to the Macau Tower (think Seattle Tower), www.macautower.com.mo for those interested.  Grabbed a cab to give our feet a break, and checked it out.  There was a $70MOP ticket, a $238MOP ticket, and a $888MOP ticket, the latter being sold out.  The $70 ticket brought you to the observation deck and the $238 was the “sky-walking”.  I asked what that was and was handed a brochure about getting all harnessed up and walking around the outside perimeter of the tower.  Uh, no thanks.  Bought the $70 tickets and proceeded to the elevator. 

 

Nice view, but not really much impressive to see except the three bridges that connect Macau to Taipa and Colanne.  I guess they are talking about building a bridge from Tai O on Lantau Island to Macau, which would be 36 kilometers long.  Now that would be impressive, and would only take about a 20 minute drive!  Walked around the top of the tower, except I had to skip a few places where the actual floor was GLASS, so you were looking straight down at the ground from 1100 feet.  I saw it coming and quickly jumped back, but TJ walked right out on it.  When Mike told him to look down he about fell over. 

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Aren't we a cute Japanese couple. . .

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Views from above

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Mike and TJ hanging out on the glass. . .

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Another view

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Close up of the facade from the tower. . .

Then we found out what the $888 ticket was.  BUNGEE JUMPING!  We watched a couple people swan dive from the top.  Again, no thanks.  TJ put my hand over his heart as we watched the first guy go, and I think bungee jumping better stay off his agenda of things to do before he dies, unless he WANTS to die.  You would have thought it was him out there on the rubber band. 

 

Had a couple beers up there to calm his nerves, and some Almond biscuits and Sesame crackers.  Took the elevator down and decided to try our luck at the Tiger Slots.  Didn’t take long for each of us to lose our money, so we decided to go back to the hotel and get cleaned up for dinner.  Actually, I decided to do that, and the boys decided to head to the bar.  I was to meet up with them afterwards.  Found them at MP3, the only people in the bar.  TJ smoking a big Cuban cigar and the two of them sucking on a beer.  Seems they were having a special, all the beer you can drink from 6-9 for $108MOP.  Oh boy, they hadn’t seen the likes of us, they were going to lose some money on this one.  About 8 PM the entertainment started.  Later in the evenings they have a floor show that involves a pole and scantily clad ladies, if you get my drift.  However, both TJ and Mike decided to take their turn around the pole on their way to the toilet.  Mike won hands down, although the girls probably could have beat him.  They weren’t on until after the drink special, much to the boy’s dismays. 

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I think Mike missed his true calling. . . he's about three feet off the floor here!

Drank our dollars worth and headed to a recommended restaurant for dinner called Plaza for Cantonese food.  Unfortunately, as it was a holiday weekend and we didn’t have reservations, we were out of luck.  Didn’t quite know what to do or where to go, but eventually fell into a Macanese (combo Macau and Portuguese) restaurant where the food was fine.  Couldn’t tell you what it was called, though. . . or probably even where it was! 

 

Off to bed, as we were off to the “Islands” tomorrow. 

 

SUNDAY, 12/24

Again, up at the crack of 10 AM for our awesome free breakfast (basic scrambled eggs, ham, toast, and OJ).  TJ showed up around 11, we grabbed a cab and headed for Taipa.  This island used to be mainly a fishing village, but the fishing side of the island is now landlocked with Coloane, so instead you have a quaint little village with no coastline.  We had no idea where to go, so we picked a sight, “the four faced Buddha Shrine” from the Lonely Planet and had the cab driver drop us there.  In a small plaza in the middle of the main road is a small shrine of sitting Buddha with four faces.  Took about three minutes to adequately photograph.  There are only about 4 tourist things mentioned in the Lonely Planet; the Buddha we just saw, the old village, a museum, and a Chinese Temple.  We decided to try the slot halls across the street from the Buddha.  I lost a little, but Mike won $1700MOP.  Let’s get out of here quick!  Down to the non-waterfront village with old colonial buildings, mansions, and Chinese Temples.  And McDonald’s.  Strolled around a bit, had a cup of coffee at the McCafe to drink out in the plaza and let the locals have a good look at us tourist attractions. 

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The amazing four faced buddha. . .

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Three of the four faces. . .

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I can't believe they got this wrong, at a McDONALD's too boot!

When I had pulled my wallet out to pay for our coffee there was a “No Photo” sticker on it.  A picture of a camera with a red circle around it and a line through it.  I had and still have no idea where this came from, but I decided to put it on me. . . I’m so cool.

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Quaint buildings throughout Taipa

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More quaintness

Enough of quaint Taipa, decided it was time to go to Coloane and head through the brown wasteland depicted on our map.  Grabbed a taxi, and the driver was a trip!  We jump in and he says, “Merry Christmas!  Hello Americans!” .  He seemed to think he spoke better English than he did and was very eager to share some local knowledge with us, but unfortunately we had a very hard time understanding him, and have no idea what he was trying to tell us.  But, he took us where we wanted to go, which was Hac Sa beach, a mile long stretch of black sand with the Westin Resort at the opposite end of where we were.  Stood around and took a few pictures, I stuck my toes in then spent the next 15 minutes trying to get black sand off my feet.  We decided it was probably some other Chinese cover-up where there was actually an oil spill, but they were going to play it off as a black sand beach.  Not really.

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Hac Sa Beach, Coloane. . . . nice!

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I think you can see my "No Photo's" sticker in this one

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Big Fish

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The hotties I was hanging with. . . .

Walking to the Westin seemed in order, not only for it’s rooftop terrace, but the boys wanted a view of it’s spectacular $300 US/round golf course.  As we meandered down the beach we could see some posts in the water with a small boat running around between them.  Tried to figure out what exactly he was doing, fishing or checking traps, but couldn’t really get a handle on it. 

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Ship wreck on the way down to the Westin. . .

When we arrived at the Westin we were denied access to the clubhouse, as it was for members only.  Bummer.  Took the elevator to the roof and had a couple expensive (relatively to Macau) beers and enjoyed the sunshine, the view and the day.  We heard a lot of golf clubs hitting golf balls, though, and in quick succession.  Didn’t appear to be that many people of the course, so couldn’t quite figure out where that very familiar and lovely sound was coming from.  It would have been a great day to be out there, around 70 F, nice breeze off the ocean. . . too bad we’re not rich, and even better that we don’t have a handicap card, or we might have spent the money regardless of our current resources.  As we were sitting there, Mike, our trusty navigator, was looking at a map of Coloane and saw a HUGE temple complex at the peak and asked why it wasn’t on our “tour”.  I hadn’t even noticed it, beside the A-Ma statue at the top of the peak, it wasn’t really mentioned in the guide book, and we could see the statue from the Westin and from the beach.  So, we decided we had seen enough quaint waterfront buildings and decided to head to the peak.  Congratulations to Mike for being such a good tourist. 

Headed out front of the Westin to get a cab (figured this could not be a problem, being a five star resort).  A very helpful Westin employee told the cab driver where we wanted to go, and asked if he would wait for us (as we were told there would not be any taxi’s up there), and even offered to pay him double for his waiting time, but he outright REFUSED (all of this is taking place in Cantonese).  The hotel dude doesn’t know why the guy won’t go, so he asks the next taxi in line, and gets the same response. . .  Something is amiss in Smallville, and we don’t know what it is.  Upon closer examination of the LP, we find that if we can get someone to drop us at the bottom, there’s a FREE bus that takes you to the top every 15 minutes.  Unfortunately, the two taxi’s that had refused us had fled the Westin, without FARES, apparently afraid they would have to take us ghosts up there.  So, back down the beach we walk to where the parking area is, and many taxi’s.  As we are walking back we again hear the very sweet sound of a driver head hitting a golf ball.  Looking around we realize that where the guy we saw earlier “fishing” is actually THE DRIVING RANGE, and the posts were actually YARD MARKERS!  And, he was actually retrieving the balls somehow.  How cool.  Also on our way back we spotted some of those rare Whitey’s at the BBQ area with two HUGE slabs of ribs over the fire.  Kidding around, I sat down and asked what time was dinner?  They were Americans, but we didn’t stand around and chat, as we were losing daylight.  When we got to the taxi stand we asked the first guy to take us to the gate.  No problem, he was glad to get our money. 

 

Free bus up takes about 10 minutes, and the temple is gorgeous.  I don’t thinks it’s old, but couldn’t find any information except that the statue of A-Ma was made from one large piece of white Jade from Beijing and erected in 1998.  Snapped some photos, saw some live turtles attached to a carving of a turtle (how ironic), looked around, caught the sunset and headed on down on the next bus.  Next stop:  GO KARTING!

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Big gate on the way up to the Temple

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This place is huge. . . but not old, built in 1998 or something, but pretty

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Inside the gates, there's like four of these in a row!

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Lots of pretty colors. . . .

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. . . cool details. . . .

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. . . and cute little gargoyles. . .

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But once again, we are running out of daylight!

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Go-Karts!!!!

We figured this would be a quick last stop before heading back to Macau.  Wishful thinking.  Was a GREAT track, really long, and it looked like fun, but we were told it would be about an hour wait.  Okay, no biggie, they had a restaurant and we were hungry, so we thought we could have a quick bite and then race.  So, we ate, sat around and watched a few races and wandered down to the track, to be told that we had about another hour wait.  Hmmmm. . . 

 

It was hilarious good fun watching these people try and drive these carts, though.  I’m assuming most of them have probably never even driven a car before, as the whole brake/gas thing even seemed beyond them.  As they would finish the race and roll into the “pit” area, they would slam against each other like they didn’t know they should use the brake instead of just ramming into the car ahead of them.  And, watching them putz around the track at about ╝ of the available speed was a hoot, too! 

When it was our turn to race, being the only native English speakers we were separated from the group for our “instructions”.  We had witnessed these instructions a few times now, but had not been able to understand anything, of course.    It was comical, as the guy giving us instructions spoke perfect English, but we were finished in about 2 minutes, while the other group took about 10 to get theirs.  The very first thing he asked us was if we had ever driven a CAR.  Uh, yeah.  Funny, funny, funny.  Of course, we smoked all the locals out there on the course, except for one crazy guy in a plaid shirt that was like a professional.

 

They had a big poster hanging up over where the helmets were of a go-kart with all the parts labeled as to price.  Looks like you could put a cart together for just under $1200 MOP.  Front bumper:  $320MOP  Steering wheel:  $245MOP.  Taking out some slow guy who doesn’t even know how to drive on the turn in Coloane, Macau:  PRICELESS. . . . heehee.

Good and dark by now, about 7:30.  No taxi’s to be found anywhere, not sure how we are getting back to Macau.  Grab a bus back to Taipa and fall into a Italian Taverna we had spotted earlier for some Christmas Eve cheer, and you are not going to believe it, but the TWO DUDES WITH THE RIBS FROM THE BEACH ARE THERE.  They live in Taipa because they are building the new casinos.  Nice.  Had some beers with them, got properly introduced, and were assured it would be no problem to get a cab back to Macau, no matter how long we stayed there.  Ended up leaving around 11 PM, and decided to go to the Sands “for a little while”. 

 

Apparently, this wasn’t the wisest idea on my part, as I played Video Poker sitting at the bar sipping on a few Stella Artois’. . . CHRISTMAS DAY 12/25

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Chinese Temple I missed during the day. . . sure it looks better at night. . .

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Dudes from the beach with us on Christmas Eve

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Cat on a cold slate (?) roof

The next thing I clearly remember is waking up Sunday around noon.  Uh oh.  Thank God Mike was there (heehee), but while I was retrieving my clothes that were strung around the room, I reached into my jeans and pulled out $1400MOP.  I must have done great on the slots, because all the rest of my money was in my wallet.  Met up with TJ in the coffee shop of the hotel around noon for a BUNCH of coffee.  He told us we all returned to the hotel at 4 AM.  YIKES!  What are we?  Rock stars?

We had nothing planned for the day but the ferry trip home, it was our “free day” on the tour (I was the tour director, in case you were wondering).  Decided to have the five course dinner the hotel was offering up at $108MOP/person.  So, it was Christmas, and we overate!  Quick prayer before dinner, thanking the Lord for his gifts, and for sending a Guardian Angel with us the previous night, and then onto dinner!  First course, Caesar Salad with about a pound of smoked salmon on it.  AWESOME.  Second course, Oysters Au Gratin.  Pretty Good.  Third course (I’m getting awful full), Cream of Shark Fin Soup with assorted vegetables (a little bland, but supposedly good for what ails you), Fourth course, Ham AND Turkey, and white potatoes, cranberry sauce and GIBLETS, ewww.  All good but the giblets.  Fifth course, Christmas pudding.  Not so good.  Another cup of coffee and we were all starting to feel like human beings again. 
 
But, it was nearing 3 and we had to be on the bus to the ferry by 4, so time was ticking away on us.  Had to scrap our plans we made the night before to check out Guia Hill and Fortress, decided to hit the slots for an hour, where we all got our clocks cleaned a bit, and jumped on the shuttle to the ferry. 

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Christmas Day, 2006. I think we look better than we feel. . .

Now, I tend to keep an open mind, and I’m not stereotyping here, but a lot of people will say the Chinese are rude.  That they push and shove and don’t know how to stand in a line.  That all they are concerned about is getting where THEY are going.  And, in reality, I’ve found HK to be a fairly courteous place to be.  Oh, occasionally some old woman might jump the line in the grocery store, or someone might slam into me walking down the sidewalk, but normally everything is okay.  HOWEVER, I’d had it with this dude and his wife at the ferry station.  It was a madhouse trying to get through immigration.  Not enough lines open, and too many people to fit in the hall.  And this guy and his wife just walk all the way to the front and push there way in. . . in front of ME!  Okay.  Whatever.  So, now I’m getting on the ferry and I pause for two seconds to stow my bag and the same dude nearly runs me over (now keep in mind that I’m my size and he’s NOT).  He was in that big of a hurry to get about 10 feet to where HIS seat is, and then he stops dead in the aisle.  So, I meanly and strongly SHOULDER CHECKED him as I walked by, saying as politely as I could, “Excuuuuuse ME!”.  TJ almost lost it, as he saw the whole thing.  Mike was ahead of me, and when I told him, he said it was rude.  And, he’s right and I feel a little bad. . . but not too bad.  Especially as when we docked him and his little wife were pulling the same dirty tricks.  It’s like, where do you think you’re going?  The ferry ain’t leaving until everyone is on it, friend.  Whether you are in your seat first or last, it don’t matter!  Okay, I’ve had my vent.  Wasn’t really keeping with the holiday spirit, though.

 

Home around 6:30, hungry again about 8 PM.  Headed down to Lan Kwai Fong for some Gyro’s at Ebenezer’s (how fitting on Christmas Day), and some Tuborg Christmas Brew at The Keg.  Lots of people watching.   Home early to bed, official holiday here on Monday (Boxing Day, silly Brits), but Mike has to work. 

 

All in all, a momentous and cool way to spend Christmas if you can’t be at home with your family!

 

HOTEL:  $3200MOP

 

GAMBLING MONEY NET GAIN:  Approximately $500MOP (HEY, it’s a GAIN)

 

MONEY FOR FOOD:  $800MOP

 

BEERS CONSUMED:  112 plus or minus 28 TJ may or may not have had. . . J