my evening in macau
while i was staying in hong kong, i thought i'd take advantage of the opportunity to take a short ferry ride across the water and visit the former portuguese colony of macau (which only reverted to china in 1996). the streets here still bear their colonial names, such as "Rua Ciudade De Evora", which contrast sharply to the British colonial street names in Hong Kong, such as "Rumsey Street", a name which makes me think of old school ties and gentlemen reclining on overstuffed chairs in a private club's library. however, unlike hong kong, i did not see any actual portuguese people remaining in macau, and i read in wikipedia that the current portuguese / macanese population of macau is less than 5% (which, of course, means it must be true).
the cost of the ferry itself was ridiculously low, and similar to the low-cost shuttles at las vegas airport, the casinos provide free shuttles that pick you up at the ferry terminal and whisk you away to their various gambling-houses.
the casinos of macau are famous, and especially so for their baccarat tables. being a long-time enjoyer of the game of baccarat, with its mystique, the strange crowd it draws at the tables in vegas, and the extremely good odds (the house advantage on regular [non-tie] bets is 1.06% - 1.24%, according to wikipedia)
The casinos here are continuing to blossom as well -- a large sign at the ferry terminal announces the opening of the Venetian Macau in 2007, and the new Wynn Macau will be opening in just a few months, in addition to existing casinos like "galaxy waldo".
the almost transparent system for clearing customs and immigration, the street names, and the large parks that dominate Macau are all very evocative of the fictious Freeside from William Gibson's Neuromancer. i spent time exploring the backstreets of the old quarter, seeing beautiful colonial buildings, enjoying thick strips of dried meat jerky, and discovering the only cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon I'd seen since my trip began.
one of the first casinos i stopped in at, an old-school casino called "Casino Lisboa", was a far cry from Vegas. i'd gotten used to the standard "features" at Macau casions: metal detectors on every door, armed security guards eying the crowds, dealers UV-scanning every bill to check for forgeries (and the cashiers doing the same to their chips when you cash out), but the Lisboa took things to the next level, with armed guards standing on raised pedestals surveying the room, and a sign advising its readers "No Spitting" and "Beware of Pickpockets". No bar appaeared to be available, and VIP rooms consituted a huge number of the potentially available tables, so the actual space where the neophyte could gamble was somewhat limited.
By contrast, the Sands Macau (my last stop of the evening) was Las Vegas-style modern and fairly plush, had a large bar and floor show, but the losses of my first few hands of baccarat, and the rather dubious advances by an overly friendly woman hassling single men (like say, myself) at the bar, were my cues to move back to the ferry docks and catch the next boat home to my not-so-spacious guesthouse room in Hong Kong.