Chinese New Year in Macau – Day 1 – Arrival by ferry crossing
We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.
– “Recuerdo”, Edna St. Vincent Millay
When one lives in Hong Kong, one must visit Macau. I’m sure that’s a real thing. You have to.
In the spirit of having done a holiday over Golden Week in October, a trip to Germany and the U.S. at Christmas, and now, the Netherlands and Belgium over spring break holiday followed by a few days’ holiday in Singapore, I wanted to lie a bit low over Chinese New Year yet still visit somewhere new.
An hour’s ride away on a ferry boat from Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island was the former Portuguese colony of Macau. Known as the “Vegas of the East” – whether officially or unofficially – Macau was returned to China in 1999 and remains an S.A.R. (Special Administrative Region) like Hong Kong today. While now part of China once more, the peninsula and islands retained a distinctly Portuguese style and flavor.
Upon arrival, it was a bit of chaos in the ferry terminal, as it was Chinese New Year. That meant loads of people were traveling to and fro from Hong Kong. Fortunately, the Hong Kong Dollar (and Chinese RMB) was pretty much a 1:1 ratio with the Macanese pataca, so it’s a mix of currencies that one can use to pay for different things. At least we were able to get into the long taxi queue and pay for a cab.
Our driver didn’t know where the hotel was, so we had to sort that out first. Then, upon arrival at the hotel, my friend got out of the taxi to get the bags from the trunk, and I waited inside, paying the fare. The concierge was telling the driver to move up, and so, with my leg half out of the taxi door, he starts to move forward, the door open wide as well. The people waiting there began to gasp and wondered what was going on. The driver was getting flustered, as he was trying to make change for me, deal with the concierge telling him to move up more to avoid a bus behind him, and the other guy slapping his hand on the trunk to open it up for our luggage.
I finally got out of the taxi with a muttered curse under my breath. Or maybe aloud. It was sort of a hot mess at that moment. I felt bad for the driver who just wanted to get me proper change.
We struck out for dinner around 6:30 PM, heading toward St. Lazarus Square and to a restaurant called Albergue 1601, a Portuguese restaurant recommended by our hotel. St. Lazarus Square was nearly silent, as the photographs show, and most of the old colonial buildings were shuttered up against the night.
Unfortunately, the restaurant was also closed for the holiday, so we headed toward St. Dominic’s Square, where it looked like there might be more restaurants.
Not so. Or, maybe so, but we couldn’t seem to find one which tempted us inside.
Now, our hotel had provided us with an unlimited data paid phone on which Google Maps was preloaded. We were using that to guide us to St. Dominic’s Square. However, we would turn down a street, the GPS needle would swing wildly on the screen, and it would announce in a smug voice, “Signal lost. Turn right.”
It had just told us “signal lost.” Then it would bark, “turn right.” How do we know if it’s safe or not to turn right? It just said “signal lost”!? It doesn’t even know where it’s going, and it’s still telling us which way to turn.
Do not trust electronics.
Instead, we found a map with tiny little lettering on it and tried to use that – along with this damn GPS that couldn’t find a signal if one were to smack it in the face.
We walked all the way into St. Dominic’s Square, then around the touristy and well-packed Senada Square. McDonald’s came into view, including a few local Chinese restaurants with strung up birds and meat hunks in the window, but nothing that screamed, “EAT HERE!” Or nothing that we thought our stomachs would allow, at any rate.
We walked down a few more major streets, seeing enough watch companies, high end purses, and gaudy jewelry shops to make Vegas shudder. Finally, we gave up and went to a Pizza Hut, which was horribly busy from top to bottom. After about 15 minutes, we got a seat. Instead of the traditional pizza at Pizza Hut, I went for a game changer – pork knuckle.
Yes, I ordered pork knuckle at Pizza Hut. I hadn’t a taste for pizza, and I was rather peeved at having to resort to Pizza Hut in Macau when I really wanted Macanese or Portuguese food. I could have Pizza Hut in Hong Kong anytime – literally, because they do deliver to my house. Heck, they can find my house, which is a massive improvement over the last place. Even Google Earth couldn’t find me most of the time, and yes, I live in Hong Kong. Not exactly off the grid in Idaho or something.
I sucked it up, ate my pork knuckle and mashed potatoes with peas in them and mixed veg with gravy. I wasn’t sure if they missed the mashed potatoes or that was just how they came. I didn’t ask. I was sold on the 1 free refill of Pepsi Light and something that wasn’t pizza. The pork knuckle was surprisingly tender and was liberally dotted with freshly cracked peppercorns. It was actually really tasty!
We braved the crowds one more time, but at least now we weren’t hangry. A soft, drizzly rain had started, so that did a pretty good job of clearing out many people. The few out held their hands over their heads, as if that would be effective against rain. No word yet on if that works or not. I just used my umbrella.
After a much-needed pit stop at a nearby 7-11 to stock up on bottled drinks and convenience store snacks, we crashed in our hotel rooms, determined to do better for dinner the next day.
I really hoped this wasn’t becoming another Outback debacle. For that story, see my earlier post titled Atlantis, unicorns, and the body of Jimmy Hoffa – things I am more likely to find than an Outback Steakhouse in Seoul.