Thursday, October 22, 2009

REWIND: Hong Kong/ Macau

One of the twists of flying on a round-the-world ticket is that you have to fly where the airlines fly, but that's not always a bad thing. In July, for example, I stopped in Jordan (and, on a whim, also Syria) because there were no direct flights between India and Greece, and I loved my time there-- but more on that later. First, though, in May, the round-the-world ticket compelled me to pause in Hong Kong for a few days on the way from Kunming, China to Delhi, India. I had a good friend, John (longtime readers of this blog will remember him from my days studying in China) teaching English there with his girlfriend, so I stopped in to recharge my batteries, hang out with them for a few days, and see some what I could of the city.

My time in Hong Kong was very laid back-- my priority was relaxing and spending time with my friends, rather than any intensive exploration. We cooked, played games, slept late, watched movies in our pajamas. It may sound odd, but for the long-term traveler, these kinds of mundane everyday activities are exotic and much sought-after. Museums, maps to foreign cities, trains, castles, markets-- these are our bread and butter. So for me it was thrilling to make popcorn and watch "The Daily Show" a few days in a row.

Of course, we did get out occasionally to do some fun things, such as visiting a great used book store, stuffing ourselves with dim sum (a must in southern China), and going to a posh wine bar for a wine tasting night. Lisa and I visited John at his school to watch him teach a lesson; another day we went out to the fantastically-named and wonderfully authentic Flying Pan diner (delicious omelets and home fries in the middle of Kowloon island, who knew?) And on my last day I took a day-trip to Macau, which is only a couple of hours by ferry from Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong skyline Walking around Kowloon island

Macau and Hong Kong have a lot in common. They were both culturally and politically leased to colonial powers for many years-- Hong Kong to the British and Macau to the Portuguese. Both were returned to China within the last couple of decades and have since undergone rapid economic and cultural transformation, but both retain an interesting mix of cultures. Macau is also becoming known as a Chinese Las Vegas, a gambling mecca of crazy proportions. I wanted to see it all for myself.

My day in Macau was interesting-- I checked out a couple of the gaudier casinos and wandered a few of the neighborhoods that have retained their Portuguese character. And I tried Macanese food, which includes a lot of Chinese characteristics (wok frying, local vegetables) but also features delicacies like dulce de leche. The anthropologist in me found the way the cultures coexist and mingle in the cuisine and on the street fascinating.

Portuguese and Chinese side by sideItalic
I didn't spend much time in the casinos, preferring to admire them from outside. I did go out of my way, however, to visit the Venetian, an over-the-top casino a fellow traveler had recommended that houses a to-scale recreation of Venice's Piazza San Marco and surrounding streets, featuring gondola rides where the gondoliers will sing to you. I was definitely impressed-- the replica even included lighting to match the time of day outside.

One of the famous Macau casinos


Inside the Venetian

I finished my day with a wander around the quaint neighborhoods of southern Macau and a stop at a family restaurant, where the Macanese family pressed extra goodies on me and I bought some dulce de leche to bring home to John and Lisa, who were waiting with pizza. The next morning, I gathered my things and ventured over to the Hong Kong airport, where my flight to India was waiting.

Macanese colonial architecture
Macau street life

One of the famous sights of Macau, an old colonial church destroyed in a fire, with only the facade left standing

1 comment:

Daniel Augusto Pereira said...

I just saw this, very cool. I've always wanted to see HK.

I should have had you stop by my tailor and pick me up some shirts?

When are you home BTW?