KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
Again, we were up early so we decided to make a visit to the Flower Market Road and the Bird Garden next to it. Apparently, loads of men come each morning to the Bird Garden with their pet birds in small cages - to meet, visit, discuss and otherwise commune with other bird fanciers. When we arrived, we found that once again we had arrived too early for the action and instead, we wandered through the flower market and admired all the lovely blooms that were being distributed from the market to all the small shops and the homes of the upper classes. When we returned to the Bird Garden, we realized that we were required to walk over a sterilized mat - designed to control a possible outbreak of bird flu. This brought us to our senses so we turned tail and headed out of there.
Today was our day to head to Macau - a former Portuguese colony that was settled 300 years before the British established themselves in Hong Kong. We had to take a high-speed ferry from the China Ferry Terminal near Kowloon Park so we got off the bus and walked through the park, this time in daylight. We came across a group of women rehearsing for a Chinese Opera - we stopped to listen for a while as we have always enjoyed this form of singing from watching Chinese art house films.
The ferry ride was as smooth as silk - we couldn't believe how fast the ferry could skim over the water - we arrived exactly as described - 65 km in one hour. There are an amazing number of ferries arriving at any given time - Macau is the gambling centre for this part of Asia, and everyone seemed in a big hurry to lose their money. We passed a casino called "Wynn" and interesting choice of names considering very few people actually come out ahead in any casino. We took a taxi to our inn on the top of Mong Ha hill - a lovely setting overlooking the northern part of the island. We arrived before the scheduled check in time, but our room was ready for us - and were we ever ready for it. The courtyards that we walked through to get to the room were so quaint that I couldn't resist taking photos. I also took a couple of the architectural details as well.
The staff indicated that we were still in time to have lunch in the Educational Restaurant and so we decided to take advantage of the opportunity. I should explain that the Pousada (Inn) de Mong Ha is run by the Institute of International Tourism as a part of their four-year training program. The students get practical experience in all aspects of operating a high-end hotel. The meal was exceptional - Anil had beef tenderloin and I had a selection of wonderful salads from the salad table. A glass of Heineken for each of us topped off the meal. The students were most anxious to provide the best service possible; it was tough watching how nervous some of them were, learning to pour beer into a glass without creating too much of a head.
In the evening we decided to head to the center of the old town and start the self-guided walking tour that is outlined in the Lonely Planet. We took a taxi from the Pousada - the first time we had ever seen a female taxi driver. This was the start of quite an adventure. We told her that we wanted to go to the Largo do Senado - she spoke no English - heard the "S" in Senado and must have thought that we meant the Sands Casino. After all, isn't that where all the tourists want to go? We realized the mistake once she pulled up in front and then said "No, the Senado". She said "sorry, sorry" and we set off on another wild goose chase around the city until we ended up at the southern tip of the island and another Pousada - I think she stopped there because she thought the doorman would speak English. In fact, he was able to translate for us and we finally arrived at the Senado. The taxi fare was four times what it should have been, but it was still only about seven dollars and we did get an exciting tour of much of the island. C'est la vie!
The Largo do Senado was breathtaking - a wonderful old-world square, completely tiled in waving lines of alternating coloured tiles and filled with festival spirit. As you can see from the photos, there were lantern displays here as well, in celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival and everyone was in high spirits. We began the walking tour using the Lonely Planet as a guide and found that all the streets in the area were tiled in the same way as the square. The lower levels of all the buildings have been taken over by all the high-end shops - like walking down Rodeo Drive but with much more Asian character. After some time, we walked up a very steep hill to the Macau Fort and found that we were just too tired to continue any further - it had been a very full day!
We took the local bus back to the Pousada for a total cost of 4 MOP - that meant when you averaged the ride there (60 MOP with the taxi) we weren't really too badly off in the end. We tend to think of these things as all part of the travel experience.
The next morning, we arrived for our breakfast - again the students were very keen to provide us with a great meal - there was everything one could ever want for breakfast, even an omelet station with a chef to make our omelets to order. Anil and I each ordered one with all the works and sat down to enjoy the other great items. When my omelet arrived, I thought it was a little underdone, but I didn't want to embarrass the student in front of his instructor, so I just ate it as it was. The croissants and fruits rounded out the meal and we were ready to take on another day - picking up the walking tour where we left off the night before.
A bus delivered us to another famous church and the Protestant Cemetery. I found this place fascinating, because the Protestants had faced a serious problem. Because there were only Buddhist and Catholic cemeteries on the island, the few Protestants who happened to die on Macau were buried hurriedly in the hills. Eventually, a merchant was persuaded to sell some land to the British East India Company and a Protestant cemetery was created. Some of the gravestones pre-date the creation of the cemetery, as the bodies in the hills were moved down at a later date. We carried on further to the Ruins of St. Paul's Church - the church had been built in 1602 - the facade is all that was left after a fire long ago. Hard to imagine that this church was built even before the Taj Mahal.
Next door to the ruins was the Museum of Macau and we planned to spend a couple of hours in the museum, enjoying the great displays in air-conditioned comfort. We managed to see the first two of the three floors when all of a sudden, my head started to spin and I had to rush off to the nearest toilet to avoid losing my breakfast on one of the displays. I immediately thought of the undercooked omelet - this had happened to me before - in Ottawa while I was visiting the National Art Gallery and viewing some of the Group of Seven paintings there. The fact that I had just had an omelet there as well made me wonder at the similarities. Was I allergic to museums or just unlucky with eggs? All I could think of was Linda D'Ilio's experience in India with E-coli poisoning, and worried that I would be as dangerously sick as she was then.
The woman at the reception desk helped us a great deal - Anil called the Pousada de Mong Ha to see if they still had a room available - we were in luck - and after applying some traditional balm to my temples (provided by the receptionist) we walked out to a taxi and headed back to the inn. Anil playfully accused me of just wanting to stay another night in Macau instead of returning to the claustrophobic room at the YWCA. He did have a point but when he saw how violently sick, I was back at the inn, he became quite concerned. Just as I had done in Ottawa, after ridding myself of the offending meal, I crashed into a deep sleep to begin my recovery.
When I awoke, I found that night had come - Anil had gone out to buy himself something to eat - came back with three beers and a package of Pringles for himself and fresh fruit for me. Boy, was he feeling sorry for himself. He slept early with the help of two of the beers, I ended up staying up most of the night watching movies on HBO. Anil woke up at some point in the night to watch the last part of "Urban Cowboy" with me. Deborah Winger was one of my favorite actresses - too bad she bowed out of the Hollywood scene so early in her career.
The next morning, I was feeling pretty much revived - we headed back for breakfast at the Pousada (the meal was included in the room rate). The dining room was much as we had seen it the day before, however there was no omelet station or omelet chef in sight. Did he happen to eat one of his own omelets? Did he stay up all night watching HBO too?
We wanted to continue on with the walking tour, but the Macau fort didn't open until 10:00 so we decided to take a bus to the outlying islands south of Macau island. The two islands of Taipa and Coloane have been joined together by land reclamation. There are huge sports facilities and casinos being built there - it reminded us of the massive construction in Dubai - it looks like the few construction cranes not in use in Dubai are all located there. However, the small villages on Taipa and Coloane have been preserved, and it is there we headed to get a taste of the old Macau. We found the buses inexpensive, comfortable and air-conditioned. We just stayed on the bus while it made its full loop of the island and were able to see the black sand beach on Coloane. The islands are really green and very quiet and peaceful. We disembarked in both villages and had a walk through the markets until the smell of fish drove us back onto the bus and on to the main island once again.
This time we started the walking tour at the finish, instead of going all the way to the Fort and picking up where we left off. We started at the temple of A-Ma; it was built before the Portuguese arrived. It's a lovely temple - full of worshippers as it was the last day of the Mid-Autumn Festival. I took a photo of the large seven-day incense coils and also a shot of Anil at the temple with Mainland China across the narrow bay. We left the temple and followed the walking trail in the opposite direction to the arrows on the map. We soon found that we were walking uphill most of the way. Note to self - in the future, remember that the Lonely Planet probably draws the arrows in one direction for a good reason.
We saw many lovely old colonial buildings along the way - I had to resist the temptation to take pictures of them all. It would take too much time to upload them, and besides, I don't want to spoil the surprise for you should you ever want to come here yourself. We were just about back at the Senado when Anil spied an Indian restaurant called "Namaste". We ducked into the air-conditioned there to cool off after the long uphill climb and to have lunch and our first fresh-lime sodas of the trip. Sharukh Khan was dancing up a storm on the video screen throughout our entire lunch. He sure has a lot more energy than us, but then he didn't just walk up a mountain!
Our last stop before leaving Macau was to visit an old Chinese mansion built by a wealthy merchant long ago. It had fallen into disrepair and at one point had twenty families living in it. A group of citizens had lobbied to have it restored and now it is open for viewing on the weekends. It was a beautiful example of the Asian architecture of the time and showcased the owners love of detail. It was a very fitting way to end our short stay in Macau.