At long, long, long last, it's the post you've all been waiting for. ("You've all been" sounds better than "no one's been," don't you think?) Yes, it's Macau: the Phog! (Phog=photo-blog.) If you make some exploding sounds there, maybe tap out a drum-roll on your desk or something, it will make that sound more dramatic. Trumpet-sounds will work as well, although the drum-roll is a little more discreet if you happen to be reading this somewhere other than the privacy of your own home, maybe at work or something, although I know no one ever destroys there own productivity by looking at the Internet during work.
So then, Macau. Based on conversations I have had with several people back home, I should probably say a few words about Macau before getting on to the phog itself. First, Macau is not the name of some magical land where some of your clothes are made--those that aren't made in China, anyway--it's actually an entire country. Or at least it used to be, until China took it back in the late nineties. Now it's in the same situation Hong Kong is: it's part of China, but, as far as visas go, visiting Macau counts as leaving China. (No, I don't understand it either.) Second, it's a peninsula--as well as some islands--a little over 40 miles west of Hong Kong. Third, it's small and crowded: the entire place has only a little over 10 square miles of land, but 450,000 or so people still manage to live there. (And you thought your city was crowded.) Fourth, Macau was actually the first (of many) European colonies in Asia: the Portuguese showed up in the early 16th century, by the 1530s they had established a permanent base there, and they stuck around for almost 500 years--until 1999. What that means is that it has a lot of neat European architecture, which for some reason always seems cooler in Southeast Asia, as well as insanely good food, since it combines ingredients from not only China, Southeast Asia, and Portugal, but also from the Portuguese colonies in West Africa and India. And you thought fusion cuisine was new, didn't you?
Anyway, what did I think of Macau? I thought it was best summed up by the fact that in the 1970s the Portuguese wanted to give Macau back to China, and the Chinese said, "That's okay, you keep it." (On a side note, that really can't be good for your self esteem, if you're Macau.) To put it another way, when one of our friends here asked about visiting Macau, I told him he should just add an extra day onto a Hong Kong trip and "maybe just go to Macau for lunch and dinner, then go back to Hong Kong." (Again, not good for the old self-esteem. Although on the plus side, the Macanese food is good enough to warrant a trip, so that's something.)
A glowing recommendation, I know. So what's the problem with Macau? Well, for one, it's really small: by four o'clock our first day there, we were wandering around trying to kill time until dinner. For two, while parts of old Macau are very nice, parts of it are, well, a little run-down. In fact, I would say the derelict feeling of some of the buildings is the biggest thing keeping Macau from being a fun place to spend the weekend. Yes, it's true: what Macau really needs is a good coat of paint. Seriously--slap on a few buckets of Benjamin Moore, and people would be flocking to Macau. Well, for lunch and dinner at least, and possibly even breakfast, which is not to be sneered at since we all know it's the most important meal of the day.
Here's what I mean. The picture below is Largo do Sonado, one of the most pleasant and--not coincidentally--one of the most nicely painted spots in the city:
And here we have a place just off Largo do Sonado, which, I think you will agree, would look much better if someone just painted the building. (I'm looking at you, Howard Schultz.) (He's the CEO of Starbucks--keep up.)
See what I mean? Let's try it again. Painted:
And again. Painted:
Now you try:
Easy, isn't it? And remember, this isn't a big place, so it's not like these buildings are far apart from each other--I took almost all of these in the old section of the city, which you could walk around in probably an hour, maybe less.
How about some others? Paint:
And even more ...
See what I mean? A good coat of paint. Like this final picture--the mosaics on the ground are so nice (they are all over Macau), but how much nicer would it be if the building behind it looked like it had been painted sometime in the ... well, ever:
But enough about paint. (Even from Shanghai, I can hear you saying "finally.") While there are, obviously, a lot of old colonial buildings to look at in Macau (in fact, some of them look like they could use a good coat ... oh, never mind), the most famous thing to look at is the Cathedral of St. Paul. Or, more specifically, its ruins. Or, even more specifically, its facade. It was built around 1600 and was, at the time, the largest Christian church in Asia. At least, it was until it burned down during a typhoon in 1835. How anything burns down during a typhoon is beyond me--typhoons DO involve water, right?--but I guess it was the will of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Oh, sorry--Jesus H. Christ. My bad.
Whatever. The point is that the church "mysteriously" burned down, and only the facade survived, as you can see from this picture:
On the road leading up to the Ruins of the Cathedral of St. Paul which, lets face it, is a lot of words for not a lot of church:
Getting closer. As you can (start to) see, there's actually a lot of carvings on the facade. Oddly enough, all the carving was done by Japanese monks, because who else would you expect to be carving doves and seven-headed hydras on the front of a Catholic church built by the Portuguese on a Chinese peninsula? When it was being done, do you think the resident Portuguese stone carvers complained about outsourcing costing them their jobs? Yeah, probably they did:
Here's the dove I mentioned before. I love that it has weeds growing out of it:
More carvings. I don't know who that statue is supposed to be, but my money's on Mary, just in case you have nothing better to do than bet money on whether or not this is a picture of a stone representation of the mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ. I mean, Jesus H. Christ. Damn it!
The aforementioned seven-headed hydra. Hello, apocalypse:
And now, since this is getting long and I'm about to start watching the Netherlands play Serbia & Montenegro, here are a bunch of random Macau pictures with a minimum of commentary. Well, a minimum for me, which, as you can tell, is something different--and far, far away--from the usual meaning of the word "minimum."
The Macau skyline:
A cannon on top of Monte Fort, a hilltop fort (what are the odds?):
What I will pass off as a typical Macanese street (and in the old part of town, on the peninsula, it kind of is, as far as I could tell):
A woman begging at A-Ma Temple, Macau's biggest ... wait for it ... temple!
Big old incense coils at A-Ma Temple:
I saw this on the walk to A-Ma Temple, and all I could think was that if those are the clean clothes, what do the dirty clothes look like? Ye Gods. There's a metaphor in their for Macau somewhere, I'm sure of it:
This is yuk gon, which is a dried meat snack (of any kind, apparently) that is famous in Macau:
You can buy it by the sheet if you so desire, but if you only want a little, they'll be happy to cut you off a piece with some scissors. Seriously:
Random Photoshopped picture of an old cemetery we walked through for my Goth fans. You know, because all Goths like graveyards. And trench coats. And the Cure. Or at least, they used to all like the Cure. I'm not really up on Goth culture these days--it doesn't jive with my fake Lacoste collection:
There was one funny thing we stumbled upon our second day there while trying to kill time. It was called Fisherman's Wharf and is a big "cultural" theme park that is still being built. Think Disneyland, but with other countries--the "It's a Small World" ride on steroids or something. You can see what I mean in this picture, which includes the Forbidden City, a volcano, and what I assumed was Venice (the yellow and white buildings in the bottom right):
Just past that was Roman Coliseum:
Then, a few minutes past ancient Rome, we found South Beach, Miami! What else would you expect? Sadly, South Beach was still under construction so we didn't get to see it, although I have to say they are doing a pretty good job, as this picture indicates:
Finally, two more pictures that I like to finish things off. First, a woman eating breakfast on the doorstep of a church in Largo Do Sonado:
Second, flowers--which I did not stop to smell, but which I did stop to take a picture of--at Monte Fort:
And that, ladies and gentleman, is Macau. Remember, it's totally worth going to ... for a day. Well, for lunch and dinner, at least ...
for the stock market