Saturday, February 28, 2009

China, Macau, and Hong Kong Pt2

We had booked our accommodation in Macao weeks earlier at a place called Auguster's that seemed to be getting good reviews on various websites. We booked three nights over the internet and when we showed up we paid for the three nights in advance. However, our first night turned out to be our last. The owner was keen to rent every available square metre of floorspace if he could find people to fill them. Andrea and I both had to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. We almost kicked a sleeping body in the head on our way out. This Auguster's place was just an ordinary apartment in an ordinary apartment building. The three rooms all had bunk beds in them. There were three bunk beds in our room plus four in each of the other two rooms. There were also three people sleeping on folding beds in the common area/office area outside the three bedrooms. That's a total of seventeen people. There was one shower and one toilet with one basin in one bathroom for all to share. When we awoke in the morning we had to queue to use the bathroom, along with two extra people who had just arrived, and we all waited around in the dark while the three other bodies in the common area kept sleeping. It was pretty awful and I didn't sleep well in the cold bedroom with only a single thin blanket for warmth. The next day we started looking around for a new place to stay. On the Thorn Tree forum of the Lonely Planet website we found out about a place not far away called San Va. It turned out to be a peculiar place, an older style guesthouse with partitioning walls that didn't reach the ceiling. However, it was very friendly and we got our own room with access to multiple bathrooms for slightly less than we were paying at Auguster's.

Here I am on the street outside the San Va guesthouse. The street is famous for having been used as a location in the Indiana Jones movie "The Temple of Doom". Cool. In the movie the street is used as a location in Shanghai.

Here is Andrea by the fountain in Largo Senado, the main square of Macau. The fountain has been dressed up for Chinese New Year.

And here's me trying to work out how to use somebody else's camera. You often get asked to take somebody else's photo and I have no qualms about making the same request of others. Note that I am still wearing my gloves because it is still very cold. I don't know what that large decoration behind me is about but the bright decorations in the square do make the place seem a little warmer.

There are many casinos in Macau and where there are casinos there are ridiculous follies like this. Inside a walled Arabian compound where you could buy popcorn from what looked like a very short minaret, a Blackhawk (correct me if I'm wrong) helicopter had crashed and two statues of alert American soldiers guarded the site while two guys dressed as American soldiers alternated between sitting and standing around trying not to look like boredom was getting the better of them and failing miserably. Other ridiculous follies in the vicinity include a Romanesque shopping centre and amphitheatre, a mini-Potala Palace (the real Potala Palace is where the Tibetan Dalai Lama is supposed to live), a volcano that erupts every evening, and restaurants and shops themed on towns from around the world. It's very international in the worst way.

This is a famous Macau landmark, the facade of the old cathedral built in honour of St Paul the apostle. The image of this facade appears on a lot of souvenirs of Macau. Apparently the cathedral was destroyed by a fire during a typhoon in 1835. Now it's a piece of world heritage listed with UNESCO. To be honest the facade of St Paul's was less interesting than the baked egg tarts that are sold at several shops on the road leading up to it; they're delicious.

More Chinese New Year hijinx. A man readies himself for his part in a performance by the dragon.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

China, Macau, and Hong Kong Pt1

I may be back at work now but not so long ago I was a free man, traveling the world, seeing all the sights that the good life has to offer and tasting all the good things that culinary minds can devise. We were able to get away for a while during the Chinese New Year holiday period. We both had two weeks vacation from work but Andrea's school vacation started a week before mine, the implication of this being that we only had one week in which we could be traveling together. As it was, Andrea left as soon as her vacation started and spent a week in Guangzhou before I finished work and flew there myself to meet up with her.

I like this map because it shows the relative sizes and positions of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and Guangdong. Taiwan may be tiny compared to China but it still makes Macau and Hong Kong look like those angels that dance on the heads of pins. I found this map at

As you can see in the map, Taiwan is not far from where we traveled, in Hong Kong, Macau, and Guangzhou. It's only about 600km from Kaohsiung airport (the major international airport nearest to Tainan) to Hong Kong and the flight only took about 50 minutes. However, that was long enough to warrant an in-flight meal, to my great delight. Despite myself, I love aeroplane meals. They symbolise so many things, not the least being the human ability to adapt to new surroundings. There's something special about those trays of food, drink, utensils (all plastic now) and napkins that magically start appearing about 25 minutes into the flight.

From Khaosiung Airport I flew to Hong Kong to catch a connecting flight to Guangzhou where I met up with Andrea. On the bus ride from the airport to Guangzhou city she told me about the places she had been and the people she had met. Here she is exploring one of the local mountains with a girl from Taiwan who she had befriended.

I had been in China for a couple of months back in 2003. I was pleasantly surprised by Guangzhou. It wasn't nearly as polluted or the city as stark and barren as I had been expecting. However, it does have a different feel about it compared to Taiwan. There's something about China that contrasts with the warmer, cozier, friendlier feeling I get about Taiwan. I was only in China for one night; the next morning we boarded a bus for Macau.

China now includes two Special Administrative Regions (SARs), namely, Hong Kong and Macau. Not so long ago the British still controlled Hong Kong and the Portugese controlled Macau. Hong Kong was returned to the Chinese government in 1997 while Macau was handed back in 1999. I don't know exactly how these former colonies are specially administered but I do know that they enjoy more liberty than China proper. On the dock of one of the harbours in Hong Kong, I saw protest banners promoting the wholesome character of the Falun Gong movement, banned by the Chinese government. These banners would not remain up for long if they were erected on the mainland.

I was going to use this photo to depict our reunification in Guangzhou but as usual we were pretty lazy with the camera and I think we only pulled it out the day after we arrived in Macau. Here we are posing for ourselves in some strange place just across the road from the main plaza. There were Chinese New Year decorations everywhere and an awful lot of people were coming and going from the place.

Same place, one less poser. By the way, it was really cold in Macau. Our extremities always seemed to be cold and we did our best to cover them up. Here I am wearing my gloves, scarf, and beanie/tuque.

According to Wikipedia, the gaming, tourism, and hospitality industry contributes more than 50% of Macau's GDP and about 70% of the government of Macau's revenue. On a walk around the island we saw plenty of impressive (gaudy?) looking buildings, not the least of which was the Grand Lisboa.

Interestingly, in the 5 working days leading up to the start of my vacation in China I saw three separate articles on the BBC's Asian Business Report (or it could have been the Asian News in general) concerning the deleterious effect the global financial crunch was having on development in Macau; building projects put on hold, thousands of laborers laid off, huge falls in gambling revenue, etc. We didn't feel the effects of this ourselves when we were there but I guess we didn't have an experience of a booming Macau to compare it with. I have no idea what Andrea is trying to communicate with her hands ini this photo; I never learned ASL. Neither did she.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

My precocious pupil

Here is a Utube video showing Sunny, one of my students from last year, reading The Wizard of Oz. She is only five years old. Andrea has started saying that if we have children she wants them to have a bilingual education. I think I agree with her. Here is a link to the video: