By Izah Morales INQUIRER.net Seeing the fluffy clouds from the plane, which looked like soft pillows, I felt like I was in dreamland. But I knew I was not dreaming when the plane landed on the runway of the Macau International Airport at Taipa Island one cloudy Monday afternoon. As we headed to the arrival area, I heard voices spoken in different tongues. I opened my little notebook and jotted down a few conversation lines in Cantonese and Portuguese. But then again, they were of no help. Only a handful of people understood English. I noticed that they understood my English better if I imitated the way they spoke. We later made our way to the hotel through a transport service from a travel agency, albeit most hotels do offer free shuttle services. When we arrived at the hotel, we checked in our luggage, grabbed a map and a booklet on some basic information about Macau from the concierge and went out to taste what it offered. We took the hotel’s free shuttle to go to the Macau Ferry Terminal. The shuttle passed by a bridge connecting Taipa Island and the Macau Peninsula. The beauty of Macau bloomed as the sun set. Photographers would surely fancy the dazzling lights from the bridge and the exterior of the casinos. From the Macau Ferry Terminal, we walked towards a department store called New Yaohan, where there was a bus stop. Each destination in Macau has a designated bus number. We took the bus number that was going to Fisherman’s Wharf. Later, we realized it was a mistake to ride the bus to the Fisherman’s Wharf since it was just a few meters away from where we were. The distance in the map fooled me. Nonetheless, it was a thrilling yet scary experience to be lost in a place, where you seem to feel like an alien. In Macau, shuttles have no conductors or people designated to collect your payment. In the Philippines, they were necessary. The locals who were riding the same shuttle told us to pay MOP (Macau Pataca) 2.50, which was the standard fare rate, in a box that was located near the bus entrance. I asked the driver if he was passing Fisherman’s Wharf. He didn’t understand a word I said. Fortunately, we recognized a Filipino who also boarded the bus. I approached her. She told us that we missed our stop and that we should get off the next stop. She then pointed at a button that we should press to signal the bus driver to stop. I took the map out and learned that we were in Lotus Square. We were lucky to have found fellow Filipino Vangie Soriano who understood us and could speak our language. She was riding the same bus that we took but was seated at the back. She helped find our bus stop, where a shuttle going to the wharf was passing by. We later found ourselves in the busy streets of San Ma Lo, where vendors offered you to taste pork strip. We also noticed clothes being sold in San Ma Lo. Here's a photo of the streets in Macau. Macau is in Asia but it is inspired by Mediterranean and European architecture. The buildings at the Senado Square gave us a glimpse of a different architecture that was shaped by 450 years of Portuguese rule. The lights at night gave a romantic appeal to the scenery. At around 11 in the evening, the city was still alive, thanks to numerous casinos operating in this place. By that time, we decided to go back to the hotel for a goodnight’s sleep. Here's a snapshot of the Senado Square I took The next day, we headed back to the Macau Ferry Terminal to join a group tour, which the travel agency arranged for us. Most of the tourists were Europeans and Indians, plus us three Filipinos. Our Portuguese tour guide Mario shared every bit of information about the tourist attractions in Macau. But what struck me was that Macau residents were free from paying taxes before the Portuguese hand over of Macau to China in December 1999. He said that only business establishments especially casinos were paying taxes. Casinos have become the lifeblood of Macau’s economy, which now attracts millions of tourists and gamblers from the world, thus earning the reputation of being the “Las Vegas of Asia.” Mario claimed there was now more money in Macau casinos than in Las Vegas casinos. Amid the grandeur of the Mediterranean-European architectures, the historical churches, and the amazing casino lights, the public housing system in Macau, which resembles tenements in Binondo and in Divisoria in Manila, was what struck me. Mario told us that he would show tourists not only the best but also the worst side of Macau. Here's a beautiful shot of the St. Dominic's Church at night. Visiting another country has allowed me to see the world differently. I learned the following: Before taking a trip abroad, you better have a checklist of the basic necessities for long trips. Number one, you’re passport should not fall under the six-month expiration window. Best to check when it will expire and have it renewed quick. It is your most valuable identification upon entering a foreign land. Also, don’t forget your plane ticket. Check this one before you start and finish packing. If you want a discounted plane fare, it is best to book a flight months before the trip. Research about the place you’re visiting. Search the web for basic facts like language, population, weather, geography, among others. And before you fly, have some of your local currency changed to foreign currency from a local bank. It is cheaper to change your local currency from a bank than at the airport. Don’t forget to bring extra cash, and yes, a digital camera to capture moments of your trip. Every trip has its own adventures and misadventures. It’s like a dish. You should be brave enough to taste every foreign dish served to you, as you enjoy the thrill and experience no matter how sweet, sour, spicy or bitter it is.
Recently in Macau Category
By Estanislao Caldez Northern Luzon Bureau TUGUEGARAO CITY--An Asian Spirit Boeing plane carrying 18 casino players from Macau landed at the Tuguegarao airport last Thursday to start its flight from that Chinese gambling center. The Macau visitors were invited by officials of the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport in Sta. Ana town. Cagayan officials led by Gov. Alvaro Antonio led the group that welcomed the visitors, who were entertained with songs and dances at the airport. "The historic flight opens the development and progress of Cagayan," Antonio told the visitors. With the flight from Macau to Tuguegarao, Asian Spirit plans to have other flights from 14 cities in Asia and the Pacific to ferry tourists and investors to Cagayan, he said.
By Augusto Villalon Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--Macau is a place of many contradictory realities, all happening simultaneously and almost independently of each other. Confined within a total area of around 25 sq km, the Chinese fishing village and former Portuguese colony is established today as the 21st-century gaming capital of Asia, its future anchored on the massive numbers of visitors attracted by its booming casinos. Macau is a city in perpetual motion. Las Vegas-type casinos continually pump cash throughout the day and night into already fully loaded city coffers. Money, lots of it, and everything that newly earned wealth can buy is everywhere in abundant Macau today. “The more the better” is the feeling that new Macau generates, and Macau definitely keeps gathering up more and more of everything. Once confined to small peninsula and its two adjoining islands, land reclamation has continually expanded Macau boundaries. Never has reclamation been carried out as in today’s grand, massive and absolutely obsessive scale, it seems that the hunger for more land cannot be sated. Aggressive reclamation rapidly opens new areas, giving the feeling of incessantly feeding Macau’s compulsion to construct more shimmering architectural trophies and casinos, while improving existing public facilities and housing for local residents. Macau is clearly on a roll. Reclamation The reclamation centerpiece is the Cotai Strip where huge casinos and high-rise hotels, some already under construction, stand side by side on wide boulevards, planned as an Asian Las Vegas, an improved version of the original Strip. New Cotai casinos play the game of architecturally one-upping the neighboring competition with flamboyant super “glitz-and-glitter” structures that follow the dictum that “bigger is always best.” So think of what Las Vegas looks like today as Macau leaves it behind in the dust. Macau will just be bigger and best. Once Cotai is fully developed, Macau improves its present image of being a vibrant, pulsating city with money coming and going into its many casinos and shops, a strong tourism magnet for China and the region. On the opposite spectrum of “bigger and better” and “glitz-and-glitter” architecture, Macau pays special attention to its old buildings and streetscapes, recognizing heritage as another resource to add to the tourism picture. Macau heritage is unique in the region. Centuries of Chinese-Portuguese interaction is so evident in every phase of Macau life, from language to religion, arts, cuisine and urbanscapes, that make it stand out in the region as the only city with this type of cultural fusion. Outstanding program With the goal of inscribing the center of Macau in the prestigious Unesco World Heritage List, the government established an outstanding program to recuperate its decaying Chinese and colonial heritage. The heritage values of structures were studied, documented, categorized. Finally significant structures illustrating the “Macau story” were grouped together. Since it was discovered that most structures were located along a tight road network running through the central Macau area, distinctive street paving was laid out, linking most heritage monuments on a spine of pedestrianized streets, an ingenious and effective urban-planning scheme. Not only were heritage structures conserved, their urban surroundings were cleaned up and improved to make them stand out better. Parking lots, tourist stalls, badly paved streets and sidewalks around pre-conservation heritage structures were removed, redesigned or replaced with landscaped open spaces, and in some instances existing plazas in front of heritage structures were framed with newly constructed colonnades that hid tourist stalls while allowing them to continue business. The detailed methods followed by the Macau Cultural Institute satisfied the most exacting internationally upheld requirements of heritage conservation, leading to the inscription of the Historic Center of Macau in the World Heritage List in 2005. Sophisticated Very sophisticated is the reuse of Macau heritage structures. Heritage buildings have been converted into offices, shops, boutique hotels and museums. Also very sophisticated is the way that totally modern structures are grafted onto heritage structures, as seen in the addition at the rear of the landmark Sir Robert Hotung Library. Macau’s reuse program shows an understanding of using heritage to enhance contemporary living. But if authentic heritage is not enough, Macau has plenty of instant heritage. It is also a heritage fantasyland. New hotels allude to European royalty: a replica of Queen Elizabeth’s carriage is parked outside the front door of one hotel; and in full view of the oversized pseudo monarchial portraits hanging in its mirrored, gilt-encrusted lobby, a pair of Buckingham Palace Guards in full costume march back and forth. Equally instant and absolute fantasy is Fisherman’s Wharf. On an esplanade jutting out into the water, an enormous development of convention facilities, restaurants, bars, shops all spread around an amusement park with replicas of Vesuvius (which erupts every hour on the hour, spewing fake fire and real smoke with lots of sound effects!), Lhasa’s Potala Palace, Colosseo of Rome, Eiffel Tower of course, and Tower of London. There are Moorish, Tudor, Portuguese and Chinese Villages, a Wild West area and the Latin Quarter of New Orleans. It’s a place where one can “travel” around an encapsulated world, taste all kinds of “local” cuisine depending on which quarter of Fisherman’s Wharf he is in, and shop away in the tempting collection of high-priced boutiques. A great diversion, Fisherman’s Wharf, and a perfect destination for those looking for that kind of reality. Too perfect? On the other hand, the conservation of authentic Macau heritage returns old structures to a state of near perfection, making them appear as if they were constructed yesterday rather than being centuries-old. With most of the patina removed, the conserved structures sometimes appear as brand new as Fisherman’s Wharf recreations. Do the realities of “new” and “old” and “fantasy and authentic” overlap in Macau? There is no overlap with continuing traditions in everyday Macau life. Away from the tourist tracks and despite overnight modernization, parents still walk their children to school, shop for supplies in markets, corner shops, or street stalls for fresh produce, slurp bowls of hot noodles on sidewalk stands for a quick lunch, pick up laundry after returning from work, and later, back in their flats, watch television in the evenings. Buildings in areas like these are not grand, nor are they sparkling clean or new, but they have the character of life. They tell the other half of the Macau story not seen in the casino strip or the heritage walk, the story that behind all the glitz the everyday life of Macau goes on. Young and old still gather in public parks. Children play while adults do tai chi or practice Chinese opera arias singing under the open air in full voice. I am told that shops specializing in traditional paper lanterns for seasonal Chinese festivals still exist. Craftsmen still fashion birdcages in the old way. Men bring their caged birds to tea shops where birds sing to each other from the safety of their cages while their masters noisily exchange the new gossip of the day. The other face of Macau is what I want to see next time I go, to experience the personal reality instead of the official tourist version of Macau. On the other hand, there’s a reality check here: walking into personal Macau may be straying off limits, intruding into someone’s home without an invitation. Where is the demarcation between tourism and community privacy?