HK Travelogue – Day 5: Macau

On this Sunday, the second-to-last full day of our trip, we actually woke up rested. We’d gotten almost a full night of sleep and really felt the difference from the previous mornings. We returned to Canton Road for breakfast, where we found a Café de Coral in the enormous Pacific Place mall. Café de Coral is an inexpensive local chain that has outposts all over Hong Kong. Erik and I ordered similar breakfasts: two fried eggs, a piece of toast, milk tea, and more protein (fried hoki in his case, ham in mine). These were about $2 US per person. Erik also got a bowl of macaroni soup. This soup seems to be a big HK thing. We saw it at KFC as well as pretty much every cheap eatery serving Western-ish breakfasts like this one.

I think it’s basically macaroni cooked in some kind of broth, with shredded lunchmeat ham and kernels of corn in it. It tastes better than it looks, and you can also get it with instant noodles instead of macaroni. I’ve heard it said that HK (and Asia in general) is experiencing an obesity problem for the first time in its history, but I doubt you could get very fat eating this kind of fast food, as opposed to all those giant value meals available in the States. (Is there any breakfast place in the whole US that would give you only one piece of toast?) But I don’t know very much about it.

We bought some more cookies on the way back to the YMCA, where we met Caroline (she’d managed to find a church service conducted in the YMCA, by perfect coincidence) and the three of us headed out via MTR for the Sheung Wan neighborhood of HK Island. Joanna met us there, in the Macau Ferry Terminal, which was absolutely awash with people. There’s a useful Chinese saying for this situation; in Mandarin it’s ren shan ren hai, and it means literally “people mountain people ocean.” You get the drift. Joanna had hoped to avoid Macau on the weekend because of these crowds, and now we were already running a little late. While we waited to board the ferry, she ran around tirelessly trying to get us onto an earlier boat (no luck). I don’t know about the others, but I didn’t mind the wait, because I got to do a little sketching of the many people in the terminal.

I’m so grateful I found Sarah at Undercover Street to custom-make me this half-lined, half-blank travel journal right before we left. I think it was meant to be, because I contacted her extremely last-minute, and not only was she able to make the journal and meet me near my parents’ house to hand it over in person, but she found these incredibly beautiful 1930s maps to put on the covers: one of China (including HK and Macau), and one of California (including San Pablo and San Jose). This combination notebook and sketchbook really saved my shoulders while we were abroad, since I only had to carry one light book instead of two heavier ones.

We boarded the ferry, and it felt like an airplane: same kinds of seats, fold-down tray tables, overhead compartments for baggage. We had assigned seats near the center. The TurboJet ferry got us to Macau in one hour, and then we were stuck in the line for customs for nearly another hour. Poor Joanna, whose HK citizenship put her in a different queue, had to wait such a long time for us!

Customs in Macau

We then took a taxi to the old district of Macau, where we enjoyed a meal at Fat Siu Lau, then had a good stroll and peek through the bakeries before sightseeing at the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Macau Museum, and a 17th-century fortress. The bakeries were fun because the bakers made many of the cookies in open view of tourists, and they gave out lots of samples. I think my favorites were some crisp cashew cookies, but I didn’t buy anything. (Unlike the Chinese tourists, many of whom returned to HK laden with enormous bags from Koi Kei and Choi Heong Yuen.) The Macau Museum was really enjoyable. We could easily have spent our entire day there. It was a giant collection of artifacts relating to Macau’s history, and many of them were just the kind of exhibits I really love: daily-life displays. There was a reconstructed dining room from a century or two ago, a vast spread of fake foods you’d see at a traditional Macanese tea, wedding clothing and furniture, and my favorite, a set of stalls showing old-style street hawkers. You’d enter a stall and it would be facing a mannequin dressed like a particular kind of vendor, like a scissors-and-knife sharpener, and then you could press a button and hear a recording of someone doing that vendor’s traditional hawking cry. The effect of the mannequin and recording together was surprisingly realistic.

Caroline and I hang out with a different mannequin

At this point my camera ran out of batteries (I’d forgotten to charge it the night before), so I don’t have any photos of our walk around the fortress, our bridge crossing in a taxi to the other end of Macau, or most of the craziness that is the Macau Venetian. It’s said that this casino is three times the size of the one in Vegas, and is one of the largest in the world. Joanna told us that gambling is such a big pastime in China and HK, it’s actually possible to get free passage to Macau, free rooms in the casinos, and free meals, just for spending a certain amount at these casinos. Though the streets of Macau were filled with tourists, the vast majority of the crowd we saw at the ferry terminal was casino-bound. We wandered the insane “streets” of the Venetian for a good bit of time (it’s set up to look like Venice, right down to a fake waterway you can take a gondola ride through), and later took a peek at the Fisherman’s Wharf theme park too. It all reminded me very much of Disneyland for grown-ups.

Inside the Venetian

On the ferry back to HK, we ate delicious Portuguese egg tarts we’d bought in Macau, and Caroline took a nap while Joanna and I talked about what to do the next day.

I want to revisit all of HK at some point, but I particularly wish we’d had a longer time to explore Macau. It’s such an odd place. I hadn’t thought there would be much to see there, but like HK, it’s packed, and the contrasts make it very curious. On one side, there were the massive casinos and the whole lifestyle they represent. On the other side, there were narrow little streets, all those old buildings, European-style squares, and lots and lots of little shops and eating places. Erik said it was like “Asian Europe.” We went into one shop that sold Chinese antique-style items like jewelry boxes and plates, and it looked like a tiny place, but there was a flight of stairs leading up to another equally tiny level, and then another, and then another, until we were in an attic-like top storey filled with fascinating old furniture. This is how I feel all of Macau seems: apparently very small, but with layers and layers of interesting stuff to look at. Next time we’ll spend a couple of nights there and get to see everything with a bit more leisure. And I plan to eat all the egg tarts I can hold.

For dinner, Joanna took us to a local eatery in Sheung Wan where the entire extensive menu appeared to be in Chinese. Since Joanna was with us, I wasn’t perturbed, and merely asked her whether they had my favorite shrimp and egg ho fun. She ordered it for me, while a waitress appeared with an English menu for Caroline and Erik. This was the only place we went to in HK where the portion sizes were anything like the ones we encounter at home. The food was very similar to what we often eat at Daimo, too, only (as everything was in HK) it tasted much fresher. I have to say, though, we just ate dim sum at Daimo today, and had Portuguese egg tarts at Sheng Kee Bakery a couple of days ago, and it all compared very favorably with HK. The egg tarts weren’t nearly as fresh, but they were passable, and the dim sum was good. I still miss HK food, but it’s good to know we can recreate the experience to some extent here at home. And Daimo between 9-11 AM is nice and quiet, with mostly older Cantonese in the place eating congee or noodles and reading the Chinese newspaper. 🙂

Next entry: our last full day in HK! 😦

Go here to see my Macau album!