Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Day — and Then Some — in Macau

Monday I got up early and headed for Macau — right across the border from Zhuhai — for what I'd intended as a day trip; I wound up getting a lot more than I bargained for, but I'll get to that later.

Even though Macau, like Hong Kong, is ostensibly part of China now (it's officially designated a Special Administrative Region), the border crossing seemed just as bureaucratic and slow as thouse I've experienced between countries elsewhere. I waited in a long, slow-moving line for 45 minutes to exit China; a short walk in an enclosed area led me to another line where I waited for just about as long to enter Macau. Even though I'd gotten a fairly early start, the hour-long bus ride to Zhuhai from the campus plus the two slow-moving lines meant it was getting near linchtime by the time I reached Macau.

I would have taken a bus to the downtown area, but I had no local currency (both the local pataca and Hong Kong dollars are accepted here; the latter actually seems more common) and the bills the ATM gave me (HK$500, worth about US$64) were too large to break easily; so I just strolled in that direction to take in random sights.

Macau was a Portugese colony until 1999, and the architecture — as well as such infrastructural elements as cobblestoned streets and tiled sidealks (and the palm trees) — give it a distinctly Mediterranean feel, albeit with Asian aspects.

I'm guessing from the word "albergue" that this is the gate to a lodging. (Where English is the second langauge in Hong Kong, here it's obviously Portugese, which has near-parity with Chinese on signage.)

This is a school of some sort; many such impressive structures were not listed on my tourist map.

Although Macau was less Westernized than I'd expected — certainly less so than I remembered Hong Kong as being from my trip there ten years ago — upscale retail extablishments were plentiful on the main streets.

On the side streets, though, the markets and shops were much like those you'd find anywhere on the mainland.

The bright signs above many of the shops resemble those in Hong Kong.

Largo do Senado (Square of the Senate) lies in the heart of the peninsula (the urbanzied part of of Macau, connected to the mainland; there are two less-developed islands below it). The large Portugese-style buildings are now retail and hotels, aimed at tourists.

This little guy seems to be the city's mascot (Macau Mallard?); someone should tell him that it was Beijing that won the Olympics. (Actually, he's touting the Asian Indoor Games, which were held here recently.)

After wandering around largely aimlessly for most of the afternoon, I was beginning to tire and was ready to head back. Even with a map, I was having a bit of trouble navigating, and was feeling a bit frustrated that I wasn't developing more of a feel for the layout of the city. It took more than an hour to reach the border on foot, so by then I was feeling genuinely beat.

I breezed through the Macau departure station — late in the day, the lines were much shorter — but when I tried to re-enter China, I was told that my single-entry visa would not allow me to be readmitted. (I had wondered a bit if that might be the case, but figured it wouldn't be a matter of re-entry since the declared status of China and its former colonies is "One Country, Two Systems." When I'd left China I asked the clerk if I'd be able to re-enter, and he said yes; but apparently he didn't understand my question.)

I was sent back to Macau with the address of a travel agency, the China Travel Service, where I could apply for a new visa. This time I got a multi-entry one, and I paid a considerable surcharge for overnight rush service.

The travel agency also booked me a room in a small hotel at the more-than-reasonable price of HK$230 (just under US$30), which was the only bargain I found in Macau (prices tend to be pretty close to what you'd find in the States, but that's hard to shell out after a month of living on the yuen; that's why hordes of Macauites flock to Zhuhai every day to shop).

The Holiday Hotel (I had to make sure the cab driver didn't take me to the Holiday Inn) was a quite acceptable facility on a fairly quiet street in what turned out to be an ideal section of town: a block away from the lovely Portugese building in my first picture above, and a short stroll from the Largo do Senado. I was well-positioned to start the extra day that I now had to explore Macau . . . but that will have to wait till my next entry.

1 comment:

arnoro said...

Your photo of the Largo do Senado much reminds me of buildings that face the squares in Lisbon in the areas downtown near the Tagus.