Monday, 4 July 2011

‘Lutong’ Macau


I first heard about Macau when I was a kid from my late father who was a casino junkie, he'd mention that it was like the mecca of gambling in Asia and every gambler's dream is to risk their luck (and money) in Macau at least once in their dice rolling life. He wasn't able to fulfill that goal as he succumbed to lung cancer in the 90's in a dingy apartment in Malate, gone are the wealth he achieved as a young businessman thanks to the local casinos here in the Philippines. 

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In a way, my trip to Macau was a bittersweet one. I considered it as a sort of homage to my late father, though reckoned with a vice of gambling that ultimately cost many people to pawn their houses, cars and other belongings just to try their luck beating the system that has been proven unbeatable. I learned my lessons from my father and I have swore off gambling but the idea of visiting Macau prevailed upon me for many years that even though it is this small former Portuguese colony, it has remained on my list of places to visit.

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During my third day in Hong Kong I took a day trip to nearby Macau which is only a 2 hour ferry ride away. I woke up around 5:30 A.M. from the lodging apartment owned by Ate Violy, a Filipina in Tsuen Wan, then I immediately hassled myself in order to catch the earliest trip to Macau which was at 7:00 AM. I took the MRT from Tsuen Wan up until the last station of that line to Central and from there I transferred to the HK MTR Island line going to Sheung Wan which is only a station away from Central station. I arrived at Sheung Wan at around 6:30 and I went to Shun Tak Centre where the Hong Kong - Macau Ferry is located and purchased a roundtrip ticket for 300 HK $ (1,500 ++ PHP - ouch) for th 7AM trip and 5PM return trip.

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The trip took a little less than 2 hours and it was raining in the middle part of the ferry ride that made me wonder if I'll be able to walk around Macau, but good thing the rain stopped minutes before we arrived. From the comfortable seat I looked out at the foggy window and saw the towering Macau tower from a distant, along with a long winding bridge and some spherical shaped buildings and other tall hotels and Casinos, a burst of excitement shot out of my spine and I realized that finally, with all those talk of Macau from my late father. I am here not to bet on baccarat's and black jacks, hell not even to spin a slot machine, rather to experience and see for my own eyes a place built by gambling and entertainment, a mini Las Vegas of the Orient plus a lot more.

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I was traveling alone as my trip to Hong Kong was sort of my practice for solo traveling which I plan to eventually take further in other Asian countries later this year and the next. I found myself lined up with a bunch of overly-ecstatic group of tourists from mainland China, though I saw a trio of Filipinos on the ferry I lost sight of them at the line. In that moment - I swear if I could speak Mandarin, I could very well end up with their group.

I was still a bit hassled mentally from my previous 'tete-a-tete' with a HK immigration officer from my arrival a few nights earlier that when it was my turn to show my passport at the Macau immigration I sort of expected another lengthy questioning. Fortunately, nothing of that happened as he only flipped through the pages of my passport a few times as if expecting to find anything printed on it like a "banned in Macau" and in the end he handed back my passport without any issues. 

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On the way out of the ferry terminal I ran across the three Filipinos I saw at the ferry earlier, they were composed of two males and one female and they were talking to their tour guide which turned out to be Filipinos as well. Sallie and her daughter Eva are sidelining as tour guides - most of the times they just hang out at the arrival lobby of the ferry terminal and wait for Filipino visitors and that day they chanced upon us. 

I ended up going with Eva as the three other Filipinos went with Eva's mother. Eva is around 23 years old and she went to Macau to join her mom and dad to try out the life there. She told me that life there is never easy since you need to continuously look for jobs and other gigs but even though, she says the opportunities there are still more robust than the ones found here in our country.

So, for $100 HK (560 pesos) I took her as my guide, since she knows already the stops where the free buses operated by the different hotels and casinos, stops and picks up passengers. I reckon it will be much easier for me to explore Macau and having someone to talk to that speaks your own language is a welcome addition.

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Together we went to the usual tourist spots in Macau (which I will write separately about soon) like the Senado Square, Ruins of St. Paul, the Venetian, MGM Grand, Wynn Casino, walked around the streets, lined up for a free lunch at Galaxy Hotel.

We also went casino hopping from Venetian, MGM, Wynn, Galaxy to Lisboa - which is owned by Stanley Ho and in the lobby of his hotel you'd find some of his various collection of rare artifacts of the Buddha, jars and a lot more. 

While walking the casino floors I noticed that most gamblers playing there are the 'leisure gamblers' I mean they do not look like the ones deeply trapped with gambling which is alright with me. Just set aside a small money for gambling, to enjoy and experience what it was like betting, winning and losing, its all part of the thrill just make sure when to stop and do not treat it as a source of livelihood.

Maybe someday, I'll try playing in one of the Casinos in Macau, but right there I remember conjuring up an image of my father, if only he was still alive he would probably have a blast trying to beat that blackjack dealer at one of those tables. Things didn't panned out in his life because of his gambling addiction, but I still think he deserves a shot to play the tables of Macau. I could have proxied for him that day but I've only enough money in my pocket, but what if I win?, well the answer to that is something I'd rather not find out.


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From the grapevine there, I heard was, a former "fugitive" Senator spent his 'hiding (kuno)' days gambling in Macau.