Dear Badge // MACAU: There’s More to It Than The Casinos

Badge, or “Regine” as I fondly annoy her (that’s really her name, btw), probably knows the most secrets about me. I might have to lock her up one day if she gets too feisty. Badge is all the way in my hometown in Iloilo City, but she promised me that if I completely break down in life, she’ll drop everything and hop on a plane so she can slap me back to reality.

We have an unlikely friendship. I was a star student (No, seriously, before I became the shadow that I am now, I was pretty amazing … or just really good at tricking people) and she has ADD. As we grew older, we both understood that adulthood was the biggest mistake ever, but it is a responsibility we take on regardless. I’m so used to being a know-it-all and telling people what to do, and Badge has always been able to tell me I have a stick up my sass. I knew from the moment she laughed at me when I slipped and landed on my bum (on the second floor of our grade school building) in fourth grade that she was for keeps. She’s been laughing at me since then.

Dear Badge,

I won’t drag on about this trip because we had only spent around 36 hours in Macau.

In reality, our trip to Hong Kong happened because we found a really affordable round trip fare to Macau (via AirAsia) from Manila. But right when we landed in the Macau International Airport, we dashed out of the city so we could spend more time in Hong Kong, our main destination.

First-world style

Macau is divided into 4 main areas: Macau Peninsula (where Senado Square and the famous St. Paul’s Ruins are found), Taipa (Macau International Airport), Cotai Strip (casinos), and Coloane Village (this place feels a lot more rural; definitely looking to explore this next).

I’m not going to build up an argument that Macau was better than Hong Kong, because it’s not, but Macau was surprisingly charming! Let me begin—

Ferry Rides

The ferry rides (via TurboJet) were mostly a breeze, except that a gajillion tourists (and I mean bus loads) go in and out between Macau and Hong Kong at any given day. Always — ALWAYS — stay ahead of them. When you see a young man with a forced smile holding up a tourist agency flag surrounded by retired men and women (sometimes with their grandchildren and their half-enthused adult children in tow), RUN. RUN AHEAD OF THEM.

You don’t know what a bad day means until you get sandwiched between Chinese titas screaming to get each other’s attention in the line in immigration. Nightmare.

Plus side: sometimes you get to watch cute chubby Chinese babies being carried around in the fast craft (almost as cute as your little nephew)!

CASINOS

We went gambling!

No, we didn’t. But maybe in a different point in my life when I have tons of money to burn, I’d hit the casinos and see how well Lady Luck and I get along. So far, she and I are just okay.

Senado Square

We spent most of our time in Senado Square, which I preferred. History lesson: where the Philippines was colonized by the Spaniards, Macau was colonized by the Portuguese. All around the city you find the rich tradition living on, long after Macau was turned over back to China (Like Hong Kong, it still holds the title of “special administrative region”). In fact, every establishment still displays its Portuguese title with its Chinese translation.

The Catholic churches still stand proud in Macau, or in the case of St. Paul’s Ruins, the walls still do. Another church in the area, St. Dominic’s, still offers daily services and is quite well-maintained. I was able to go in and make a quick visit as the old Chinese matrons recited their afternoon prayers in Portuguese (I respectfully decided not to steal a photo as instructed by the Filipino guard).

St. Dominic’s

In every corner there was a Filipino for every 4 Chinese you bump into (In Macau, it’s either you’re white, Chinese, or Filipino). In fact, most of the Pinoys that worked there willingly greeted us in Filipino/Tagalog as we stopped to ask directions or when we looked particularly lost.

Filipino-owned stores in Macau

Pork chop buns are all the rage in Macau, fried pork chops (bone-in) in Portuguese bread rolls. We also tried to grab some of the famous egg tarts from Margaret’s Café e Nata (supposedly the original versus Lord Stow’s) but they were unfortunately closed when we went.

Lin Kai Night Market

A Michelin-starred restaurant we wish we could have eaten in, but had no more time for

A day should be enough to enjoy the major attractions in Macau, but without the lure of Hong Kong, I don’t think I’d be too bored if I stayed a little longer. Best to pay a visit to a tourism office and get a brochure of their activities for the month.

Macau has regular art exhibits and modern art/film museums and libraries that should satisfy the indie-art traveler. I wasn’t able to check them out, but here are a few leads — visit the Patane Library an Oasis of Film and Music Lore; head over to Sun Never Left market on weekends; or simply check for shows in the cultural centers or in the casino theaters.

Fortaleza do Monte (Monte Fort) — From St. Paul’s Ruins, a quick ascent to the fort (also where the Macau Museum is situated) will reward you with a great view of the Macau Peninsula skyline. You can also try going up Guia Hill where Fortaleza da Guia (Guia Fortress) and lighthouse is located. From the pictures I’ve seen, it seems like an even better destination (not sure about the view).

View from Fortaleza do Monte (Monte Fort)

MACAU POST OFFICE

As if the heavens were giving me a nudge in the right direction, I found myself in the beautiful colonial building that is the Macau Post Office right at the entrance of Senado Square in Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro. I sent out my first official postcard (for this blog/project) and somehow ended up buying 800 PHP / 16 USD-worth of postcards and commemorative stamps. I would have bought more, believe you me.

Portuguese wine

This is a story of chance encounters.

We had lost our friend Thea to the throngs of tourists by St. Paul’s Ruins. So while my other friend Nono looked for her, I found myself inside what I thought was a  nice quaint restaurant that turned out to be a Portuguese wine lounge, Macau Soul! What can I say: meant to be.

I was making chit-chat with one of the owners, Jacky. She and her husband, David, were from England and had moved to Macau to “retire“.

“I’ve heard good things about the Portuguese wine here,” I said.

“Oh, yes. Our wine here is very good,” she remarks in an English accent, matter-of-fact. “No, really; we’ve been told.”

It was 4 o’clock and while I didn’t really think it was too early for a glass, I wanted to cover as much as I could in our short stay in Macau. So, after making sure to note their hours and promising to be back later that night, I exited with just the right amount of spring in my step.

We arrived at half past 7:00 pm, all walked out from 5 days total in Hong Kong and Macau. David assisted us in picking out a bottle from their wine list, a carefully curated selection of vintage ports. They stock half bottles, which is great if you’re a small party and/or if you’re looking to try different kinds of wine labels. Wine is very affordable in Macau, and Macau Soul had a reasonable range, price-wise. (Trivia: Macau lifted it’s tax on wines a decade ago. This, among other efforts, is a move to further establish itself as the gambling capital of the world, making itself more attractive to big money–spenders)

Laid-back

David and Jacky

“If we stock them, they’re good.”

He asked for our wine preference (red, bold not sweet/fruity, dry) and we ended up trying two kinds of Douros (Quinta do Crasto 2011 and something else I totally forgot to take a picture of), one more traditionally made than the other. They served their wines with marinated olives and some wanton-like snack. It was a very long traveling week (I mean, you know; I SOS-ed you throughout a PMS episode) and it was really a wonderful way to cap off a trip.

Cheers

I’m sorry; I droned on too much. You know how much I love being pretend fancy and proper (what you call “kaartehan“) to offset the rugged, earth-bound lifestyle I have. It is the product of having been brought up in a conservative home and having read too much 18th-century set literature (meaning: all of Jane Austen).

ACCOMMODATIONS

I’m going to leave you with this story. Don’t worry; it’s not a boring one—

Accommodations in Macau are a tad bit too expensive if you’re traveling on a budget. “Budget” hotels in Macau are not even that cheap and really make you wish you paid the extra amount to get a room in a swanky casino hotel. At least you know where your money went. Then again, what did I really expect from one of the richest cities in the world?

In any case, our flight back to Manila was before noon on a Thursday. We woke up and found our bathroom door locked. It was a little before 7:00 in the morning. I went down to the front desk (the phone wasn’t working), slightly groggy, and asked for the key to unlock it so I could take a shower before a two-hour plane ride. She gave me this:

As she handed it to me, she said ever so politely, “Just jam it on the lock (*makes a forward motion with her fist*), and if it still doesn’t work, call me.”

I miss you always, because it’s not the same being clingy with anyone else.

From your favorite,

P.S. I’m not even sure I have the right address. I’ll ask you about it later.

I just got back from another week-long trip in Bangkok and Saigon, and I’m even more excited to write about those. Serving more letters this week until next.

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