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Published: October 17th 2010
I sit gazing out across the hazy shores of Macau from Seb's flat on the 35th floor of the Manhattan Tower (http://www.manhattan-macau.com/), as the light slowly fades and my weekend here draws to a close. Dawn will bring the true beginning of my adventure, when I leave the comfort of my friend's luxurious abode and set out alone into the wild unknown! My adjournment in Macau has not been uneventful though, so as Seb is on his way to Beijing for a business meeting tomorrow and I'm left to entertain myself for the evening, I thought I'd try my hand at writing the first instalment of this blog and fill you in on the details.
As I sat on the plane to Hong Kong the enormity of what I'm doing had yet to hit me, pre-occupied as I was with watching episodes of 'Ab Fab' from the in-flight entertainment system or attempting find a position that resembled comfort closely enough to allow me to get a little sleep. It was only when the breakfast trays were cleared away and the cabin crew were told to take their seats for landing, when the window blind was pulled back to reveal the
Hong Kong shoreline looming out of the shrouding mist, that my stomach turned over, my heart leapt into my throat and my head finally brought my thoughts to focus on the task ahead. This was it, I was landing on the other side of the world, 6000miles from from anything familiar, not just for a week or two on holiday, not even for a month or two of travel. Over the next 12 months I'll be building a life in a place where the culture, history, language and traditions are almost totally unknown to me; the only thing I'm sure of is that this place is very different to home. It's the opportunity of a lifetime and the most exciting thing I've ever done, but I'd be lying if I said I'm not just a little bit terrified at the same time!
Still, this weekend I could get 'broken in' gently, staying with Seb in the considerably Westernised Macau would cushion the culture shock blow. It's been great having him to show me around and give me my first taste of China. Macau is amazing. As I stepped off the ferry, the first thing to hit me was the
heat. By the time I arrived it was 6pm and the evening was beginning to cool. The sky was grey and a thick mist hangs everywhere around. The ferry itself was air conditioned and kept at about 2 degrees, so I was lulled into expecting it to be rather chilly and dreary outside. As the doors opened though, a blast of warm humid air hit me and all my clothes clung to me as I made my way up and out through passport control, to collect my bag and finally meet with Seb.
We hopped taxi, which was to take us across the bridge from the main peninsular and over to Taipa Island where Seb lives. The drive through town is amazing, everywhere you look there's some grand, towering architecture draped in flashy neon attire! It really is like a mini Las Vegas! Seb's place was no anticlimax either. The Manhattan Tower stands 37 storeys tall and his flat is on the 35th. There are massive windows overlooking the bay, with a fantastic view over to the main peninsular. After a brief lie down, we went for a dip in the pool, to try to wake me up a
little before we went out. The pool is outside in a courtyard area on the 6th floor. It is right in the middle of the building, so if you lie back and float, you have an awesome view with the walls of the tower rising 31 storeys up into the night sky! (The night sky here, incidentally, is a faintly glowing orange-blue colour, as opposed to the inky blackness dotted with pin pricks of light that I'm more accustomed to seeing; I haven't been able to see a single star while I've been here)
After my refreshing dip we went out to eat at a casino call The Venetian. The exterior looks like a beautiful old Italian palace (draped in neon, of course). As you walk inside, it is gloriously tacky! The ceilings that rise high above you are painted like that of the Sistine Chapel; every inch of them abound with cherubs and decadent golden gilt. The corridor opens out into an expansive gambling floor, with every game imaginable. In the centre of this, amongst a spaghetti junction of gold and chrome escalators is a small ballroom with a classical orchestra and people waltzing. Of to the right
is a smoky jazz joint, with an extensive cocktail list and all around are stores full of designer clothes, perfumes and glittering jewellery. Up the escalators, though, is the real treat. As we emerged at the top, I was surprised to find myself apparently outdoors in a cobbled Venice square, with canals and gondolas to-boot. It took me a few moments to realise what was wrong..the sky here was blue with white fluffy clouds, whereas it was dark when we entered the building! The sky is in fact painted on the ceilings that tower many metres above your head! We sat in this square to eat our dinner, part of which consisted of Chinese dumplings in soup. My attempts to fish these out with chopsticks, not unlike apple-bobbing in grace, met with much laughter!
From the Venetian we travelled over to Macau proper for a few drinks and this was where the night really took off! We watched amazing dancing fountains with fire, the Grand Lisboa with the most extravagant neon display in the word, huge jade statues, many more fantastic ceilings and many, many prostitutes. Ok, so that bit is quite weird, but I have to mention
them - they're everywhere. They're not dressed like slutty Western prostitutes, just dressed nicely as they are going out, but they hang around the casinos trying to catch the attention of the men in an entirely obvious way. One casino had a 'race track' where the girls just walked round and round, waiting to be picked up. I found it quite shocking to see this taken to be such a natural thing. It's certainly not part of the culture that I want to have any deeper experience of. In one bar we went to, there was live music on stage and a random guy started body-popping and dancing quite madly so he got invited on stage, there was also an oil tycoon with the best moustache I've seen and a cowboy hat, and a guy that looked the spitting image of Bill Clinton!
On the way from here to the next club, I was savagely attacked...by a bush! Seb gave me a playful push, but managed to send me flying sideways into the bushes on the ground. I didn't manage to get my hands down so just face-planted entirely gracelessly! Seb and Steve pulled me out of the bush
scratched and bleeding a little, but also crying with laughter! Luckily, they only thought afterwards that they should have taken a photo before helping me out!
Back on me feet, we made it to D2 which was to be our final stop for the night. Nightlife in Macau kicks off around 2am and goes on until the sun comes up. Imagine our surprise then when not long into our second drinks the music suddenly cut out. There was a few minutes of confused babble until a hush fell over the place and armed police men came traipsing in. Unluckily for us, they wanted to check everyone's ID. Of course, Seb and I had valid visas and passports...back at the flat. There was awkward stand off in which Steve strenuously tried to negotiate our freedom in Cantonese and we stood around hopelessly feeling a little confused. Eventually Steve was sent to the flat to get our passports (as he had id on him) and Seb and I were carted off to the police station to anxiously await his return. As we walked out of the club and the music started up behind us, a truly unbelievable sight met our eyes.
There must have been at least 30 armed policemen lining the corridors and stairs to escort us outside. It was a pretty harrowing experience!
In the end our night fizzled out rather than going off with a bang! We spent the next two hours sitting in the police station, being largely ignored while they 'processed' our passport details. They took our fingerprints and basically treated us rather like common criminals, (even though we'd technically done nothing wrong). One girl was nice though and explained that we should keep a passport or photocopy on us at all times while in Macau, as they run random busts to catch people who have overstayed their welcome. In the end we were sent home, of course, but it kind of took the shine off this shiny neon city. Needless to say, we have ensured we've had photocopies of our passports on us for the rest of the weekend!
There is not much to say about the rest of the weekend, it has been spent mostly sleeping or taking it easy, with intermittent bits of exploration. I think I've rambled on enough for now though, time to make sure everything is packed for
the morning and work on some lesson plans! Tomorrow the adventure begins in earnest - wish me luck! 😊
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