I traveled to Macau last month, skeptical that the country might be a complete contrast to my idyllic international travels across Europe and USA. Stories of increased prostitution rackets and crimes added to my skepticism.
After a 7-hour flight from Mumbai to HongKong and 40 minutes of riding the ferry, Macau welcomed with shiny night roads.
The grandeurs of Macau left me stunned. By the time I set foot in the hotel, one thing was sure - Macau was more first-rate than it looked in pictures. The hotel was as big as it could get, even though it was only a three star. Golden walls embossed with dragons looked larger than life. Luggage staffs, the ones with gloves escorting you safely to your room, are privileges of a common man there. Macau's royalty smote me faster than I thought.
Minutes later, tucked away into the confines of white linen and bounded with terrific Chinese dinner, I carefully jotted down the plan for my first day out in the city next morning. The plan was to experience the cultural difference between the slow life of Coloane and the gaudy existence of the mainland.
A night passed and soon enough I was wandering onto the streets of Taipa and the fishing village - Coloane. This part of Macau remained virgin. Immaculate Portuguese influence made it peaceful and laden with old charm. From last night's memory of sparkly buildings, this felt like concrete colorful countryside without sheeps.
Pine forested hills sprawled across Coloane. Feng Shui mirrors dangled on the wooden doors of tiny village shops to ward off evil spirits. It is believed that when they see their own reflection through the mirror, they flee in terror. The Chinese culture is exactly intriguing.
These shops led to a small fishing pier, huddled with scores of fishermen and nets. The Macanese borders merge within the seas of China, but passports are uncalled for. The workday starts with trawling and ends in a happy lunch. Quiet a fishy village.
Breakfast to lunch was a time-lapse. Hunger pangs began. After navigating (with difficulty) Chinese signboards and directions, we found ourselves at Lord Stow's bakery, the iconic bakery that first introduced egg tarts. In fact, the whiff of sweet sugar gave away its location and led us straight to it. However, I highly recommend using GPS considering the verbal snag. Because even though the Portuguese left behind their legacy in architecture, the locals hold on strongly to Chinese language.
The exterior of the building is enveloped in faded white wash and is etched with traditional green windows. A lazy afternoon lunch of crab curry and rice is all it takes to be giddy with joy. Finishing it with the very reason I came here - the Egg tarts. The dish became a present in 1950s to the Portuguese rule and till date remains the most popular, replicated by many on the streets of Macau.
The first half of the day was over. The second half needed me to get on the Ponte de Amizade bridge and cross over. Ready to be introduced to the now transformed and culturally sophisticated Macau.
As a traveler, it is hard to miss out on the contrasting lives of the citizens here. While there is lavishness sprinkled on the streets of Macau, there is also a picture perfect middle class life. As inexpensive hotels are ornamented with golden fabric, the locals struggle in houses that look like matchboxes.
You cannot miss out the imagery of a two-wheeler riding behind a Porsche. There was an air of might, wealth and co-existence amongst blue collared citizens of Macau.
On the bright side there has been massive development, improving the lifestyle of Macanese population. More than half of them are employed in the casinos. All the citizens of Macau also receive an annual payout from casino earnings every year.
Nowadays, an old fisherman's son claims livelihood, plying tourists in the free casino shuttle buses that run across the town. A lazy little colony of fishermen resided before they had to deal with flocks of tourists' everyday. Macau has dipped itself completely in luxury trade, bypassing total earnings of even Las Vegas casinos.
Yet the Macanese continue to work hard. Fishermen by the day and street show artists by noon, these men cannot resist old habits.
My bus arrived at Senado Square. Walking past the classic structure designs at this main town square, I was transported to the Ruins of St. Paul's that stands tall and charms steps full of vacationers munching on porn buns and tasty sticks.
Flanked by brand stores on one side and street shops on the other, I spent my evening sitting and munching on peanut candy from Koi Kei Bakery. You know it is famous when every family is carrying atleast a couple of brown bakery bags around. Observation is key.
The after party of a great day in Macau begins just when it starts getting dark. The black sky is a flawless backdrop to majestic city lights that draw you incessantly. The casinos run 24 hours a day but it is magical to visit them during late hours. I chose the Grand Lisboa, giving in to the guilty pleasures of frisking Macanese Pataca. Until I was ready to drag myself back to the fashionable gold walls of my hotel.
Waking up once again, the next day, to find some peace in the old town.