There is something schizophrenic about Macau. On the one hand there is the architectural and cultural legacy of four hundred years of Portuguese occupation alongside an older Chinese tradition. Then there are the glittering palaces dedicated to hard core gamblers - a sort of adult Disneyland, cheek by jowl with the grubby high rises and narrow alleys where the majority of the people live. Then there is the extremely avante guard architecture of the waterfront set against ancient forts and Buddhist temples. The sacred and profane can to be found in equal measure- elegant churches and seminaries sit alongside the global brand shops in Senado Square or the thousands of tiny shops and stalls which crowd already congested alleys.
Church of St. Lawrence. One of many impressive churches and public buildings of the colonial era which are now World Heritage listed
400 years of Portuguese colonial rule
By nightfall, hungry again after walking for most of the day, I scoured the alleys around the hotel and found some kind of stir fry and rice for dinner. Tantalising smells also came from the confectionery stalls but no one would sell me less than a kilogram so I went from one to the other sampling peanut toffee and sesame bars until even I had had enough.
Next morning I took a bus intending to visit the A- Mah Temple but ended up losing quite a bit of money when the driver told me to put my $10 note into a machine that gave no change. I was a bit miffed about that since it was only supposed to cost about $3, but I made the bus driver take me on a trip around the town until we had used up all the money. That pleased everyone.
A- Mah is the goddess for those who make their living on the sea and very possibly gave the island it's name. The temple itself is impressively set over several levels on massive outcrops overlooking the sea. When I finally got there, people were earnestly engaged in morning exercises of various kinds including Tai Chi. It is one of the few green spots and open spaces and enjoys a refreshing sea breeze. Away to the south the delicate looking Sai Van Bridge stretches it's double decker steel tendrils towards Mainland China, closely guarded on this side by the somewhat sinister -looking Gate of Understanding. Unlike the other bridges, this one is typhoon proof which is somehow symbolic of unbreakable bonds.
This Portuguese- built lighthouse on top of the Guia Fortress was the first to be built on the coast of China
There was just one more thing I wanted to see. I had heard that Macau had bird singing cafes where people took their birds out to tea so that they could socialise too. I thought that was a lovely custom, but once again, no one knew what I was talking about, not even the tourist bureau. I did see a little bird cage at a garage for the ubiquitous motor scooters, but there wasn't a lively cafe with birds to be seen anywhere.
Torrential rain started pouring down while I was out and I was drenched to my underwear. I shouldn't complain. Large parts of Southern China were flooded that day, but I was a bit depressed and bedraggled as I went back to the hotel to pack. There was a restaurant just off of their lobby and lo and behold, while I stood there waiting for a taxi, a man brought his bird cage in and parked it there while he went in for lunch. It wasn't quite the spectacle I had imagined, but at least it proved that the tradition hadn't completely died out.
Having missed not one but two connections and unable to contact Air China "All our lines are busy.... etc", there was no choice now but to pay another fare to Beijing, rather than miss the last flight out for the day and thus my next flight as well. So much for cheap airfares. You get that sometimes.
My chagrin was marginally appeased by the very pleasant service on the plane- such a contrast to that between Singapore and Macau - and the fact that they also served meals and good coffee without charging anything. Thanks Pan and Fiona for restoring my spirits.