Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lost in Translation, Macau: 10 Days With My Cousin Traveling Through Macau, Hong Kong & China.

I have officially left Southeast Asia.

After a 2 hour flight from Bangkok, Thailand I found myself in Macau, a tiny country located in eastern Asia, bordering China and the South China Sea. A country that was once a colony of Portugal, is now one of China's special administrative regions (SAR). Meaning that under the "one country, two systems" policy, Macau is a semi-autonomous territory and operates with a high degree of autonomy in all matters except for its defense and foreign affairs.

Don't feel bad if that, until a few seconds ago, you hadn't the slightest knowledge of its existence. Not too many people do. But if you did happen to already know this tiny tidbit of geographical knowledge, all I have to say is (impersonating the voice of actor Sean Connery) "I'm impressed!"

My cousin Jessica was waiting for me as I exited baggage claim. "Hey!" we said to one another before exchanging hugs. "So, welcome to the trail," I said to her as we walked to get our money exchanged. Jessica, who teaches English in South Korea, had 10 days of vacation and wanted to see the World Expo in Shanghai. So we decided that we'd meet in Macau and go to Hong Kong before entering China.

"So what are we going to do in Macau?" Jessica asked. "Um . . . yeah, I don't know," I responded. We laughed at how neither one of us had done any research about the countries we were about to travel. But first things first: we needed to call my friend Sara and get directions to her apartment.

My friend Sarah (from Portugal), who I'd met met while traveling in Vietnam, lives in Macau as a lawyer and said that we could stay with her and her friend at their apartment. Sweet! Because Jessica's phone wasn't working properly we had the woman at the Information kiosk make the phone call for us. We handed the directions to our taxi driver which had been written in Cantonese by the kind woman from Information, and off we went. Once we made it into town and got out of the taxi, I noticed that Jessica had a perturbed look on her face. ''Well that happened faster than I thought it would,'' she said after counting the change that she'd received back from the taxi driver.

"What?" I inquired.
"I already got ripped off."
"Okay, so that didn't take very long." she said, and the both of us began laughing.

Afterwards, we were greeted by Sara who walked us to her apartment. It was so nice to see Sara again. She's such a sweetheart. And once we reached her apartment she did everything that she could to make Jessica and I feel at home. It was a really nice apartment, too, located in the heart of the city. I definitely wouldn't be roughing it tonight. Before Sara went back to work, she walked us to an area where the Portuguese influence was noticeably visible.

After viewing the few tourist attractions that the city is known for, Jessica and I began roaming around the town without any particular agenda except to see some lighthouse in a park. Ah, yes, the lighthouse in the park. And we ended up having a dickens of a time locating this freakin' lighthouse. You can't ask anyone for help either, because no one speaks English and no one has a clue as to how to read a damn map. This was the first of many times that Jessica and I would get lost and walk aimlessly through the streets. And I do mean the first of MANY times. Not just in Macau, either, but for the next week and a half. In the end, however, it all worked out . . . sort of. I mean we did find the park, but never managed to find the lighthouse. Oy vey.

After many hours of good ol' fashion walking, we decided to head back to the apartment. But first we thought we'd grab a snack as we were both a bit hungry and it would be a few more hours before we'd eat dinner with Sara. This turned out to be more difficult than we anticipated. This ALSO would be the first of MANY times that a simple task such as finding something to eat would turn into something so problematic. We were quite surprised with the lack of restaurants in Macau. We would rhetorically ask, "People in Macau do eat, right?"

And then of course it began to rain. Hard. As if it wasn't difficult enough already to find a place to eat before the monsoon showers began. The streets quickly flooded into ankle deep water. We thought we'd try our luck down some side street before throwing in the towel. So we tiptoed our way down the sidewalk and street, avoiding large puddles while also trying to manage to stay as close to the wall as possible as there wasn't much of an overhead awning. The closest thing we could find to a proper meal was a bakery which was offering loads of free samples. It's safe to assume that we took full advantage of the present situation at hand.

After we loaded up on our free samples, we found our way back to the apartment where we unexpectedly fell asleep for the next few hours. It was dark outside when we woke up. I felt as if I had been drugged. "Is Sarah not back from work yet?" Jessica asked, as we were both ready to eat. ''I'm here! I'm here!" Sara said, who quickly raced out from her bedroom upon hearing Jessica. "Wow. I didn't even hear you come in," I said. "I really must have been out."

Sara and a friend of hers took us to a place to eat. I devoured my meal. I don't remember what I ate, I just remember eating it fast. Afterwards, Sara took us to a restaurant where a friend of hers worked; however, her friend was walking out the door as we arrived and he appeared to be upset. From the looks of it he had a hard days night. His slacks were dirty and he took off his uniform, rolling and tossing it over his shoulder onto his white undershirt as if he couldn't bare to wear it a second longer. He began speaking angrily in Portuguese.

"He said that he hates his job and that he's going to quit," Sara interpreted for me.
"Oh, okay."
"He always says he's going to quit."

He continued to rant for the next 15 minutes until we reached another bar. Jessica and I were surprised with how Portuguese sounded. We both simply assumed that it would sound like Spanish. Wrong. It sounded more like an eastern European or Russian language. Interesting.

"English! Speak in English!" Sara continually repeated to her friends throughout the night. And I continually felt awkward. They would speak English momentarily before switching back to their native tongue. "English! Speak English! . . ."

We eventually walked back to the apartment while listening to drunken tunes to the Beetles from Sara's friend. He played the guitar for a few minutes at the apartment before he wandered off for the night. I hope he made it home alright. I went to sleep on the couch and had a glorious nights sleep. When I woke up in the morning I found a note next to me written by Sara, which read, "Good morning, Adam! . . ."

Jessica and I attempted to meet up with Sara before we departed for Hong Kong. While Jessica enjoyed her habitual morning coffee fix in the cool confinements of McDonald's, I ventured out to find someone who would let me use their cell phone. I eventually found someone, but I caught Sara at a bad time as she was already out for lunch with her co-workers. However, she said that there was a beach party in Hong Kong in a few nights and that it would be great if we'd meet up. Beach party in Hong Kong? Sounded like plan.

Before Jess and I departed for Hong Kong we had one last mission: to see the largest casino in the world. We couldn't leave Macau without seeing this casino, called The Venetian, even for no other reason than to say, "Why, yes. Yes I did. I have seen the largest casino in the world," if someone was to ask in the future. And I mean that's what this country is really known for, really, for its legal gambling and casinos as gambling is illegal in China. I must have looked a bit out of place as I wandered through the casino with my rucksack. And I have to admit: Eh . . . Jessica and I really weren't that impressed with the casino. We didn't stay long, just long enough to take a few pictures and then we were outta there.

Too see the largest casino in the world: Check!

Macau: We came, we saw, we conquered - and only in 1.5 days.

Next Stop: Hong Kong


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