Sunday, December 28, 2008
Betting on a New Landscape
In the last few years Macau has changed considerably.
It used to be a sleepy town my friends and I visited periodically, wandering down the narrow alleyways and checking out Chinese antiques and eating Portugese egg tarts.
The old famous spots are still there -- the ruins of St Paul's, A-Ma Temple, and of course Casino Lisboa.
But nowadays it has morphed into a mini version of Las Vegas, with names like Wynn, The Venetian, Sands and MGM Grand tacking their shingles onto the Macau skyline.
It's so odd seeing the American version of gambling in this former Portugese enclave and one wonders how long it will be sustainable.
In October the Chinese government again restricted the number of times mainlanders could go to Macau to gamble. Now it's only four times a year and they must apply for permission separately from Hong Kong.
As a result, business has slowed down considerably there leading to many lay-offs in the hospitality industry and construction on new casinos on hold. However, it was good for us, as it wasn't too busy and we didn't see a lack of taxis which was previously the case.
We didn't gamble, but checked out the Wynn. Even before we walked into the hotel, we watched the fountain show that happens every 15 minutes. And the coordinated fountains danced to which song?
Money Makes the World Go Round. How appropriate.
Then we went inside and oohed and ahhed at all the designer shops -- Prada, Chanel, Tiffany, and Louis Vuitton. There was even a Ferrari store, selling accessories featuring the Italian car brand.
In another part of the hotel, there was another show even half hour. The round ceiling was divided into 12 segments, each with an animal from the Chinese zodiac, and below a half dome.
At the appointed time, the ceiling opened up to reveal a screen showing crazy graphics. But one comment was that it was like watching his screen saver on his computer. True...
But then the graphics later revealed a giant chandelier that descended and then the dome below opened up to reveal... an oak tree.
The tree rose up and it was covered in glitter so that when the lights shone on it, it would change to different colours according to the four seasons.
People started throwing coins at the tree, perhaps suggesting it was a wishing tree, or a symbol of fertility, good luck, or maybe environmental protection?
In the end the tree descended again, the chandelier disappeared and was covered up by the animals again with a loud dramatic thud.
While the city has changed so much since the handover in 1999, the food remains the same.
For lunch we had pork buns, half bagettes that had thin slices of pork chops that were absolutely delicious, and small Portugese egg tarts that we popped into our mouths for dessert. We also had some spicy pork jerky that was better than the non-spicy ones.
And then in the late afternoon, we headed to Hac Sa or black sand beach where we at Fernando's, a culinary institution in Macau.
We had the roast pork that featured russet-coloured thick crispy skin, and tender meat, and prawns in a tomato-based sauce with a touch of spice. The only sad thing was not having enough bread to soak up all the sauce.
It was disappointing not having the stir-fried clams, but the waitress told us the clams today had too much sand so they didn't buy any. Instead we also had pan-fried fish and crab that had a thick shell. I managed to pry most of the shell off the pincher to get a big chunk of meat.
Many raved about the salad, particularly the tomatoes that were very fresh and tasted ripe. Many salads these days have what look like red tomatoes but don't have much taste. The flavours were heightened by sprinkles of sea salt.
Our stomachs sated, we headed back to Hong Kong, with fond memories of the food and marvelled at the changes in Macau.