Some people consider Macau as Asia’s bootleg Las Vegas with its multitude of casinos and its dizzying nightlife. But, in fact, it deserves much more credit. When I first set foot (for a 4-hour visit) back in February 2009, I was immediately intrigued by its contrasts – the juxtaposition of its colonial architecture with its seizure-inducing neon lights. The Catholic influences are evident, but so is the atmosphere of worldliness. How can devotion and debauchery co-exist in one tiny territory? I was hooked.
Those sentiments were revived after my second visit yesterday. As for Marga, it was an overwhelming case of first-timer’s wanderlust.
The events leading to the trip were anything but tranquil. Save for Marga’s headache and making a few wrong turns en route to HK Ferry Terminal, the morning went rather leisurely. We originally intended to take a later ferry. But before we knew what hit us, we were hurriedly forced into boarding the next departing boat. It was crazy, to say the least. What began as a simple schedule inquiry mutated into this mad dash to the dock, set to the cacophonous “soundtrack” of irate attendants heckling “HARRY UP! HARRY UP!” (Language barrier = 67, Us = 0) We stepped in just before the boat set sail. And nope, no Phil Koegan in sight.
Well, at least the harassment worked to our advantage. Suddenly, we were ahead of schedule. Hooray for happy accidents.
The Taipa Ferry Terminal felt extremely isolated compared to its bustling peninsular counterpart (the point of arrival in my first visit). When I gazed out at sea, there seemed to be no trace of land on the horizon. Walking from the harbor to the immigration lines felt like marching in limbo.
Luckily, the entry process did not take long. Neither did our search for transportation. While waiting for an available bus, a shrill female voice hollered the most comforting phrase we heard in our trip thus far: “Saan kayo pupunta?” (Where are you going?) Lo and behold, it was a Filipina, an employee of MGM Grand, whose apparent mission in life is to assist wandering kababayans. And for that, we were thankful.
“MADAM!”, Marga yelled back in utter relief, as she started sharing our makeshift itinerary. Soon enough, we found ourselves boarding the MGM shuttle service to peninsular Macau. Things were once again running smoothly.
It’s funny how tourist maps make this former Portuguese colony look so huge. When, on the contrary, crossing over from Taipa to peninsular Macau took us less than 20 minutes via shuttle. The city is surprisingly walkable. With map in hand and towering hotels as reference points, we easily navigated the narrow cobblestone roads. In no time, we reached Senado Square (Largo do Senado), a microcosm of Portugal’s cultural traces.
While exploring the premises, we noticed how the weather was relatively warmer compared to HK. There were still chills, but the heat of the midday sun managed to seep through. For the first time in three days, I afforded to roam without a jacket.
For a place that’s only a one-hour ferry ride away from HK, there’s certainly a world of a difference. Apart from the conspicuous shortage of train systems, Marga observed that the Macau Chinese tend to be more laid back (Portuguese Mañana habit?). Her observation was validated by the Sunday crowd flocking towards the Ruins of St. Paul. It was thick, but it was nowhere near the suffocating quasi-stampede we witnessed at the HK-China border. There was no forceful shoving; everyone just kept walking. We didn’t mind taking part in that orderly cascade at all.
Upon realizing that we were only running on beef jerky, we decided that it was time for late lunch. After searching around the vicinity, we wound up in Boa Mesa Comida Portuguesa (Literal translation: Good Table Portuguese Food), located at the corner of Travessa de Domingoes. It wasn’t our original choice – turns out, the subject of Marga’s initial inquiry was closed for renovation. Nonetheless, Boa Mesa was a good find. The servings were generously hefty and the flavors were decent.
To cap off that gastronomic assault, we scoured the premises for egg tarts – always a staple in any Macanese sojourn.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon in Largo da Se/Cathedral Square, which serves as a Sunday hub for Pinoy Catholics. Developed in 1576, the square houses Igreja da Se, a cathedral built in 1622 and renovated several times since then. Other notable spots in the area include a gigantic crucifix and a classical fountain. We lingered around the area until evening.
Mass at the Igreja ensued over sunset. Soon, it was time to head back to MGM Grand. When we reached the main roads, the city had already transformed into a glistening light show. Each building offered its own luminous spectacle. There was barely any dim corner in sight. Needless to say, it was visually overwhelming. Halfway through, Marga professed her newfound love for the place once again.
Upon reaching the bus stop, there was still an hour to spare. So, we managed so sneak in a caffeine fix and one last glimpse of the skyline. I’ve yet to stay for more than one day, but it is now one of my favorite detour destinations. Such is my fascination with Macau, Hong Kong’s peculiar antithesis of a neighbor.
Until next time. Obrigado e boa noite, Macao!