We kicked things off early yesterday, not so much out of any precise schedule but more out of the knowledge that we were going to be cramming a lot of sightseeing into our last full day in China. After breakfast we grabbed a ferry to Macao. I showed you a photo earlier of the crossing at Gongbei Port, which is done on foot and is entirely land-based. However, I was informed that the line-ups there are horrific, and that it's actually much quicker to head to the river and take a ferry across. I can't speak to any line-ups at Gongbei, but there were very few people taking the ferry, and they run every half an hour, so it really was a very speedy process.
Macao is a former Portuguese colony that was returned to China in the 90s, and much like Hong Kong it's considered a Special Administrative Region that still maintains its own passport, customs, immigration, currency, etc. There's still a fair bit of Portuguese on the signs, but Cantonese is the de facto language. As we left the ferry terminal I snapped this shot:
At the time I was just grabbing a shot of huge volume of parked scooters along that wall, but I didn't realize how typical a shot that would turn out to be. The buildings were very typical of that side of the river, and the cluster of scooters, I would soon find, was a small one. I think there's a scooter for every man, woman and child in the city of Macao. Wasn't long before I figured out why either. Euphy called up a friend of her mom who maintains a residence in Macao, and she sent her driver over to pick us up. Oh la la. It's nice to have wealthy friends isn't it? We headed out and I snapped a quick shot of the road:
I know that a picture taken from the back seat looking through the front windshield is hardly ideal, but you can see here the narrowness of the street we were on. The car barely fit down there. Also you can see that they drive on the left side of the road like a bunch of savages!
I was amazed at just how many roads there are just like the one shown above. Two lanes are by far the rarity here, and as the driver deftly navigated the twisting alleyways with only a few inches to spare on either side of the vehicle I decided that a scooter would probably be a substantially more comfortable way to travel in Macao. In our time there we rarely saw any roads that would allow travel in excess on 50 km/h, not because of the posted limit, but rather just narrowness of the roads, and the traffic. Unless you had kids to shuttle around a large vehicle would be largely pointless.
Our first stop was St. Paul's Ruin, which is a really fascinating sight. It's the front of a really old church.
Yup, I said "the front" on purpose, that's all that's left. The plaque inside informed us that there was once a mighty cathedral here, but after it burned down for the third time they just didn't bother putting it back up, and left the façade, which was the only thing still standing. I guess God really loved that church. The image of this church has become something of a symbol of Macao; I'm not really sure I'd want something my vengeful deity had thrice smote being symbolic of where I live, but I guess that's why I'm not from Macao.
We stopped outside the ruins for a brief snack of egg tarts. I've had egg tarts dozens of times back in Toronto as they're available at virtually every Chinese restaurant or food stalls in the Pacific Mall. I've never been that thrilled with them honestly, although I attribute that partially to the fact that the bright yellow filling always makes me think that I'm about to have a lemon tart, and all food is a bit disappointing to me when compared to a lemon tart. I mention all of this because after visiting China I will, without question, never be able to enjoy one of those little egg tarts in Toronto again; they're SO MUCH BETTER here! The best by far, was the one we had outside St. Paul's Ruins. The primary difference between the Chinese versions and the ones I always get in Toronto is that here they either bake them for longer, or actively torch the tops, because they're heavily caramelized on top, and that makes them taste fantastic. The Macao versions (where, interestingly, they refer to them as Portuguese Egg Tarts) rose above the rest based on the fantastic quality of the pastry that contained it. No stodgy frozen tart crusts here, just light, crispy pastry cradling caramelized egg filling. Damn, now I want an egg tart.
Okay, moving on before I get hungry.
Our next stop was Macao Tower.
As I'm sure you can tell from the photo, it's a tall sightseeing tower. Virtually a necessity in any large city. We went up and took in the views, which really were spectacular.
I don't know if it was the day, the time of day, or some other factor that I'm not considering, but it was empty up there. No line for the elevator. Hardly any humans scurrying around the observation deck. It was awesome!
What makes Macao Tower particularly interesting is that they've got a bungee jumping platform on the top which is the tallest commercial bungee in the world. Pretty exciting stuff, and it looked like they were running a pretty solid operation there, so it would have been an interesting opportunity for me to finally try a bungee jump, but I opted out. Bungee jumping, as interesting as it would be, always ends up seeming like poor value for money when I actually stop and consider it. Well over one hundred dollars to throw myself off a building. Nah. Also, my stomach was bothering me, which is probably less than ideal for that kind of activity.
We headed from there across one of the many huge bridges that connects the sections of Macao and into the casino district. Macao is (quite rightly) called the Asian Las Vegas, and just like their American namesake they've got a cluster of some casinos that are towering monuments to wealthy excess.
Our first stop was the Galaxy, and then we checked out, interestingly, The Venetian. Sound familiar to Las Vegas fans? It should, because it's modelled after the Sin City edition in exquisite detail.
The photo above should be shockingly familiar to anyone who has ever visited the Las Vegas edition of this hotel.
After a bit of gawking at the ludicrously large hotel/casino combos we grabbed lunch at Portuguese restaurant, which was an exciting change of pace. After lunch we made our way over to the ferry terminal and booked passage to Hong Kong.
My first impression of Hong Kong was a grim one. For the sake of common decency I won't go into details but suffice it to say that the facilities in Hong Kong's ferry terminal could use some attention... and this is coming from someone who just spent three weeks in mainland China. Somebody invite the British back, this place still has some hospitality lessons to learn.
Practicality dictated that our first stop in Hong Kong should be our hotel, so we grabbed a cab and headed there. After the stunning room in Zhuhai it was a bit of a shock to check in to our Hong Kong broom closet.
Yup, that's the whole thing right there.
It was a bummer because we were originally slated to stay with a friend of Euphy's Dad in what would have been an incredibly interesting accommodation since the friend in question is a two-star General (equivalent to Canadian rank, I'm told) in the Chinese army stationed in Hong Kong. He'd invited us to stay at his house on the base, which would have been incredibly cool. Unfortunately we had to grab a hotel at the last minute when there was some resistance to him bringing a white guy into a Chinese military base. Understandable, certainly, but a bummer all the same.
After we dropped off our bags we headed to Hong Kong's Times Square. There were some tall buildings, tv screens, and about eleventy billion people. That's what I remember anyway.
We went into the main shopping centre that supports the square, and wandered around for a bit. It's a giant bastion of American consumerism, a tower monument to designer brands. We weren't in there long before I had a rather comical conversation with Euphy where I reminded her that not only am I not really into expensive boutique shopping, but also she's REALLY not into expensive boutique shopping. It was sort of a silly place for either of us to be, so beat a hasty retreat to the subway and headed to some place with more our style of shopping.
The huge throngs of people in a typical Chinese street market always make me uneasy, but I'm usually able to get over it and lose myself amongst the vibrant lighting, a stalls selling odd, quirky goods that are far more interesting to me than any designer sunglasses. We went wild for quite awhile in there until the oppressive humidity started to wear me down. We stopped for dinner, but it was a downhill slide for me at that point, and I ended up feeling pretty poor for the rest of the evening.
We made a brief stop along the shore of Kowloon, looking back at the island so I could get some pictures, and then headed back to the hotel.
The General who we were going to stay with stopped by for a visit, but I wasn't able to chat with him much since everything had to be translated through Euphy, which is a laborious process, and I was beginning to feel genuinely awful at that point, so putting on a smile and engaging in some chit chat was becoming difficult. It was a real shame too because he seemed like a really interesting guy. Something tells me that you don't get to be a General in the Chinese army without accumulating a couple stories. I'm holding out hope that someday I will get another opportunity to sit down and have a talk with him... maybe I can even learn a bit of Mandarin before then.
Well, as I said before, I was able to get myself a good night's sleep and I'm feeling on the mend now. Good thing too since I'm less than two hours now from getting on a plane. We had breakfast this morning with Euphy's Dad and then said our goodbyes. We had to check out of the hotel at 11:30, and our flight's at 5:05, which means being at the airport around 2:00. With that little time, and needing to leave a fair amount of time just to get to the airport (or anywhere in this city if it involves even a short cab ride) we decided that there was no point in seeking out adventure. We grabbed a cab and headed for the airport express train station.
The airport train in Hong Kong is a fantastic service. They've got a train that runs from the island out to the airport, but they've put check-in counters for the major airlines in the station. It was lovely being able to check our baggage and get our boarding passes before we even got on the train to go to the airport, really made that journey a lot more convenient. We arrived at the airport much earlier than necessary, but it wasn't so bad given that we'd already checked our bags and knew that we had a ludicrous amount of time to get through security. So we wandered around, had a drink, shopped for a little bit, and then casually meandered over to the security check. The lines were short and it didn't take long before we were in the gate area. We stopped in at the Priority Pass Lounge and got some food, and now we're just relaxing here and enjoying their WiFi.
So I guess that's it. After so long on the road it's going to be incredibly difficult going back to a normal work week, but I'll be happy to see everyone back home. It's been an amazing journey, and one that I'll remember for a lifetime. It's hard to forget anything that you've taken over 2000 pictures of...