Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A China Experience (Macau)

We had added Macau onto our itinerary so we could spend some time visiting my brother, Ian, and his girlfriend Axelle. They are currently living there after scoring jobs working as Safety Divers on the Franco Dragone production 'House of Dancing Waters' (if you're at all familiar with Cirque du Soleil's 'O' it's rather like that - a water-themed acrobatic, dancing and stunt show). I'm not sure Macau is a very typical tourist destination. It's a small, former Portuguese colony which they handed back to the Chinese in 1999 (much like the Brits handed over HK in 1997) and operates as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China (which basically seems to mean we didn't need visas to get in!) These days its best known as the Vegas of the East. Since 2006 Macau casinos have been generating more revenue from gambling than Las Vegas!

The first thing we noticed was the dramatic change in climate. We knew of course that it was going to be a lot warmer than Beijing but it was so hot and humid and MISTY. We spent 5 nights in Macau and not one day did we have a completely clear view from the balcony of their 40th floor apartment. (which I'm assured is a fabulous view if you can see it. Actually we were seeing how bad it could get - some nights we actually couldn't see the road 40 stories below!)
The view from the 40th floor! Even with all the mist we had it was still spectacular, if a little dizzying!

Our first couple of days was all about the relaxing, and catching up with I&A. We hadn't seen either of them since we met up with them for a few days on our Cuba vacation 2 years ago! Lazy mornings, lazy lunches and a bit of a wander around the place. Our second day Axelle had arranged for a 3-hour spa experience for me and Chris! Full Body Scrub, a Hot Stone Massage finished off with Ear Candling. And my back is STILL loving the experience a week and a half later. The scrub was so amazing - I'd been suffering from dry skin all winter and it's still reaping the benefits - smooth and soft and not a trace of dry skin left! The Ear Candling was something new - a slightly odd sensation, but not unpleasant - but the package as a whole was just dreamy. We had side-by-side treatment beds in a cozy, warm room (heated blankets to lie on!) - Oh so good! Thank you again Axelle - xxx

We of course went to see THE SHOW! We had second row seats in the 'wet zone' complete with personal towels on each of our seats. And we needed them!. The whole show is a marvel. A huge circular stage which moves up and down, in and out of a huge pool. The show opens with a pirate ship emerging out of the water and the performers crawl out of the water then climb the masts to dive and jump off it. There are trapeze artists, ballet dancers, African acrobats, motorbike stunt riders and more! One minute they could be performing on a dry stage, the next minute the stage seamlessly disappears and there's water and swimmers, high divers and dancing fountains. It was brilliant. And was only set to get better....because the following day we got a backstage tour (there are so many levels in the theatre - obviously at the bottom is the several metre deep pool and the performers sometimes have to go from being in the water, dash up 5-6 flights of stairs to the top to hook themselves up to a harness to come dancing down from the roof! - it's insane. These performers are so incredibly fit and the costumes are spectacular too - obviously having to endure all the chlorinated water - for one scene they wear these gorgeous masks covered in Swarkovski crystals - apparently worth $3000 each!) Here's a link to a great trailer for the show on you tube here
House of Dancing Waters - 2 left photos show some of the scenery during the show, Top Right is the empty dry stage (it's almost completely 'in the round' except for area in the top of the picture. Bottom middle are the fabulous African acrobat team and Bottom Right is Chris trying on the Swarkovski crystal mask on for size)

That evening we watched the show for the second time from the control box. That in itself was incredible - we could hear all the commands and directions - being run with military precision. There are 4 teams of safety divers in the water for each quadrant of the stage and all have to be in precisely the right place at the right time - to move props (many props live under the water) and to assist the performers (being ready with air and to help move them 'off stage') Seeing the show was something I was most looking forward to on this trip and it didn't disappoint. Getting all the 'extras' treatment from I&A with our personal backstage tour and control box seats just made it even more special - thank you again I&A!!
Macau Street scenes

Macau isn't just about the massive casinos (though they are certainly a blot on the landscape). There is still lots of lovely old streets, and the Portuguese influence is still very much apparent - cobbled streets, churches, and old fort and lots of small parks and green spaces. A collection of these old buildings and squares has in fact been recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. Macau for us was mostly about just wandering the streets. Soaking up the atmostphere and sights and sounds and smells. We visited a bunch of the 'attractions' mentioned in the guidebook. The A-Ma Temple was just down the road from where we were staying and is the oldest temple in Macau - the place was smoking with incense - you could buy anything from an 8in stick to some 8ft tall and 4 inches in diameter!! We loved the look of the incense coils - we saw them a lot in Macau temples (you can be walking a street and will stumble into small temples in the most random of places - next to the bank or mechanics shop you mind find one!)
Top: A-Ma Temple
Bottom: On the left is the lovely old Macau, on the right is the face of the new Macau (The Grand Lisboa, affectionately called 'The Turnip')

We also visited the Macau Grand Prix museum (of course - Chris can sniff out motorbikes at 100 miles!), Senado Square, the Ruins of St Paul, the old Fort and one lovely little highlight - The Mandarin's House. We could actually see this from the apartment balcony (on a clear day!) It is an old house, that belonged to a prominent city resident beautifully preserved. Obviously he was very wealthy - the gaff is 4000sq ft! Most of the rooms were sadly empty - I think they could do more with it by adding in furnishings as it was when it was being lived in. But the building is gorgeous.
Top: Senado Square
Bottom: View from the old fort (that cannon isn't aimed up for that brash 'old hotel is it?!), Ruins of St Paul's

Top - The Mandarin's House
Bottom - all the streets were lined with scooters - the main mode of transport it seems! Pateis de Nata (yummy Portugese Egg Custard tarts - another Macau speciality. Doing a quick workout Macau style - the parks are full of these exercise stations - just hop on and get your sweat on!)
I also need to mention the food. We did shy away from Chinese food to the best of our ability - there is too much of a good (and not so good) thing!. Either way I don't think I need to sniff another MSG-laden Chinese meal in a very long time. I'd read up in the guidebook about one of the specialities of Macau as being 'African Chicken' - described as chicken prepared in coconut, garlic and chillies - it sounded right up my alley!! We set off to find one of these finer establishments serving this great sounding dish and ended up at Henri's Galley on the Macau Peninsula (also recommended by the book - Lonely Planet). A seriously good recommendation. Axelle was working, Ian and Chris wimped out on me and had omelet and chips (Seriously guys?!) so I ended up with the best part of a whole chicken to myself. Oh. My. Goodness. Amazing. AMAZING! Luckily there was plenty to share around and the restaurant gives away paper table mats with the recipe on it - I would like to convert this to a slow cooker version sometime soon!

1 comment:

  1. I am loving your holiday roundup posts! Sounds like a great time! Love the sound of the recipe as well, I'll look forward to that cause it sounds lush! xXx


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