Last night at midnight I arrived in Zhuhai and crashed at Cheng Lei’s house before crossing the border this morning at 10am. Before being able to take the step into the next country I stood in line for an hour with a heaping swarm of thousands of Chinese also waiting to cross. Relieved to finally make it to the other side, I basked for a few minutes in the bright sun listening to Portugese all around me. Welcome back to Macau.
The sky is clear and blue, the grass is green, and countless casino patrons are pumping coins into slot machines like zombies. It reminds me of Los Vegas in a beach setting, if there were one – like Atlantic City, but more Miami and less New Jersey. The flashing lights, unrelenting beeps, and artificial light inside the casinos seem to induce a coma which drowns out reality, replacing it with a dream-like fantasy of six-figure instant fortune. I snuck around and took photos of the surroundings and patrons in between noticing security guards eyeing me, until I was at last caught by one while taking a photo of a slot machine called “Double Dragon”. He told me to delete the Double Dragon photo but I pretended to not speak English and managed to escape with my subtle photographic tribute to 80’s arcade gaming. Hooray! One of the casinos that I came across happened to be the Sands – the same that Jason, Elaine, and I went to together in January of 2005. It appeared to have undergone some renovation but was nonetheless a recognizable interior that brought a warm feeling of familiarity. Upon entering I was thoroughly searched (do I look suspicious?), which included every pocket in my backpack, and the cargo pockets of my shorts. I told the guard in Chinese that I don’t have anything in my pockets except for my wallet. His face lit up and he happily replied in Chinese: “Oh, welcome to the casino! Come in! Come in!” as if to apologize for suspecting me of whatever he suspected me of that resulted in the search.
After perusing a number of gambling establishments, I hit the street and quickly found more to see and photograph. First was the Kun Lam Statue, designed by a Portugese sculptor and erected halfway through the last century. It stands tall and proud, and I took many a photograph at this site before going inside to browse around the museum dedicated to the structure. Just next door I found a small island called the Fisherman’s Wharf, which holds such attractions as the man-made volcano (with a side-adventure called Dragon’s Quest – another subtle 80’s video-game reference), European-themed shopping district, and conveniently located helicopter landing pad with exciting helicopter action. I climbed to the top of the fake volcano which sadly didn’t stage a fake eruption, but offered a great view of Macaus gaming district.
Opposite the Fisherman’s Wharf I found the Macau Art Museum. Not thinking much of it, I walked inside expecting to leave minutes later, but didn’t actually emerge until more than 90 minutes had passed. This was the real surprise of the day, and upon entering I find that the museum has, for 20 years, been almost entirely dedicated to modern art. Not a single piece of calligraphy or Tang-dynasty oil painting. No, just blood-red paint splattered onto brooding paper mache figures of chimeras and dragons. I don’t get it, but I suppose that’s the defining essence of the modern art movement. Bravo, modern art.
Not knowing what to do next, I hit the streets again and decided to tour some of the alleys, attempting to find out how the real citizens of Macau live. Finding a real alley in this place is difficult; everything is a casino, restaurant, or high-market retail outlet. After a few mintues of wandering I found what I was looking for and stopped at a restaurant filled with locals. I don’t know any Macanese dishes so I ordered what I could read on the menu and quietly ate among the partially shirtless crowd while looking at my map of Macau. The next alley I found revealed a place to cool off under the A/C and write about what the day has offered, so here I am. In a few short moments I’ll head onto the street again still not sure if I’ll spend the night in Macau or cross the border once again to return to Zhuhai for the evening. I’ll return to the CITS (Chinese travel agency) office tomorrow at 5pm to pick up my American passport with new visa.
I must leave here soon, can’t take this 160bpm Chinese dance music going into my ears much longer.