Monday, January 8, 2007

Across the Pearl River Delta

I noticed that my passport gathered a speck of dust, which signalled to me that I needed to travel somewhere else. The obvious destination was Macau, a short 1 hr ferry ride away from Hong Kong, and I went there with another exchange student from St. Gallen. For those of you that haven't heard of Macau, it was a former Portuguese colony, that like HK is a city-state that is a Special Administrative Region of China. The real reason though to go, is that its being billed as the "Las Vegas of Asia," and of course due to my grandmother's influence I can't pass up an opportunity to gamble. . . or so I thought.

"Las Vegas of Asia" is definitely appropriate to describe the city. However, it's more like the Vegas of the 1970s(or so I've heard) with most of its emphasis on gambling and smaller casinos. However that is rapidly changing, the city is one massive building project with huge in-process casino resorts everywhere. In a few years it will definitely look a lot more like its Nevada cousin whether it will act like it is a different story.

Case in point, after getting my latest passport stamp, we immediately made a beeline for the Sands, one of the newer casinos which is owned by the Venetian in Vegas. However realizing this is too good a market, they're about to open a huge Ventian Macau location this year.

The Sands was a nice casino designed in western style decor, but it had a different feel than any western casino I've been to. Namely,
  • The casinos was a bit hard to find within the building, you had to go upstairs go through a metal detector, etc. A far cry from Vegas where you always know where you can place your bets.

  • There were hardly any slot machines in the casino, those that were there were off to the side in their own special room/area.

  • Baccarat was by far the most popular game, consuming tons of floor space. Next came Sic Bo. There were only a few tables for Carribean stud, blackjack, and roulette. Craps was nowhere to be found.

  • It was kind of quiet and subdued, without that many slot machines there was no clanking, beeping, or "Wheel of Fortune!" to be heard. Moreover, there was no music being played over the loud speakers.

  • There were a lot of people there, but nobody looked like they were having fun. Everybody was very intent on the game at hand. No time for chit chat, laughter, or drinks.

The minimum bet was HKD 100 (US $12.90). Given this, we figured we'd move on. It is called gaming for a reason, so if I'm going to lose my money (and lots of it given that minimum) I want to have a good time. Well we tried the Wynn and Casino Lisboa and found similar situations. The Wynn in Macau looks very similar to its Vegas cousin, a bit smaller but still as opulent. It even has some dancing fountains(though on a smaller scale than the Bellagio).

The Casino Lisboa was kind of dumpy and seedy. I now see where the Imperial Palace in Vegas got its inspiration. Up until 2-3 years ago all the casinos in town, including this one, were part of the same monopoly. I guess when you're the only game in town you don't have to give your guests that much.

Since neither of us were feeling the gambling we decided to explore the cities sites, which included some mediocre museums, a pretty nice old town with Portuguese architecture, and then went go-karting. We also tried some of the local food specialties, and had a nice dinner at a restaurant one of Josekin's friends recommended to us. All in all it was a pretty good day.

On the way back to the ferry terminal I realied that a certain group of friends would kill me if I didn't place a bet before I left. . . So, we went to another Casino Lisboa proprty. . . The Golden Dragon Casino right by the ferry terminal. Again, an Imperial Palace look-a-like, and I played some video blackjack. I lost 5 hands in a row and was out the HKD 50 (US $6). Wasn't happy about the loss, but now I can say I've gambled on 4 different continents.

Anyways, the last part of the adventure was getting home from the ferry terminal in Hong Kong. Since, we missed the last KCR back to campus we had to take the "red minibuses of death" that Josekin told me about. After a lot of searching, and somehelp from a friendly local, we found one thatwas heading towards the university...Well we get on and notice this big display next to the driver. Apparently it tells the speed the driver is going and beeps when he is going over the speed limit. . . Well, there was quite a bit of beeping going on in our journey back to campus. There are also no set stops, you yell to the drive when you want to get off, so it was kind of funny when the other student yelled stop in Cantonese and we went from 80+ km/hr to full stop in 2 seconds. . . glad I was sitting down for that one. . .

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