MacauTripping Chapter 3 - The Dawn
When I opened my eyes, my first thought was...
That statement was followed by this question:
Where the hell am I?"
Oh right. I'm in a bed, in a hotel room in Macau. I made it! The week-in-a-day travel odyssey is over. Now, all that is left is to start gluing Chuckhumpty-dumpty back together again.
The word from the sidelines is... 'everything hurts'."
My phone tells me that the time in Macau is 4:12am. The note pad on the desk tells me that I'm at the Grand Lisboa. The local time between my ears is undetermined.
Strangely, I jumped out of bed with a start, headed over to the bathroom and drew a bath and put the hot water kettle on. I need coffee, all the time, always. Particularly now. In advance of this trip, I put together a coffee travel kit - a pound of beans, a hand coffee bean grinder and an Aeropress. I used this for the last trip to Vegas and loved it. I get to enjoy freshly ground beans of my choosing, brewed as I like, on my timeline at a fraction of the cost of retail coffee. In Macau, all hotel rooms come with electric tea kettles. A push button boil and vigorous grind later, I'm enjoying some delicious coffee.
Good Morning Macau
Coffee in hand, I climbed into the tub and settled in for a good soak. Last night, I fell asleep last night feeling alone, exhausted and desparate... served with a side order of self-doubt and irresponsibility. As it turns out, all I needed was some rest. I'm good now. In fact, I'm so good that I cut short the bath and moved to the giant steam shower. Buckets and buckets and buckets of screaming hot water pour down from the massive rain heads in the stall. Not only is it a rain head, it has an array of settings as to how the water will drop on you. Massage pulse made one of my fillings rattle.
I'm clean. What to wear? I opened my valise to find chaos. As with any extended trip where you change locations often (I'm staying in 8 hotels over 8 days) efficiency in packing/unpacking is essential. Everything needs to have a place, a catalog, an order. My phone and passport goes in the slot next to the laptop, camera lenses wrapped in padding in the messenger bag, the coffee kit in a plastic bag inside of a burlap bag, the GoPro mounts in plastic bag, another bag stores memory cards, batteries, microfiber lens wipes and other bits related to photography. Jumping from hotel to hotel is a lot of work and without organization, shit gets lost. It took one day to realize that realized that I packed too much equipment.
I get out all of my electronic gear, unbox the 220v-110v transformer I bought for the trip and plug in all of my equipment. In the name of efficiency, I should have done this before I went to sleep. Confucius said "to achieve synergy with the universe, all humans and their lithium-ion powered gadgets should simultaneously unplug and recharge." I remove all the memory cards from the cameras and transfer all the photos and videos to my laptop. Zoom.
I should probably write a blog post or something. I've certainly got a lot to talk about. After a little mulling... I realized that the idea for the article - in addition to story telling - was already in front of me, the Boy Scouts' credo. You guessed it... "be prepared."
Before I know it, four hours have passed. I'm amped on home made coffee, I've reshot some of the room photos and packed almost all of my equipment. I've also arranged words and photos into some sort of article. Hunter has been pinging me for a while. He's been up and exploring downtown Macau since about 4am as well, and is now downstairs at Grand Lisboa. I cobble together all the last bits of the article and post it without doing much in the way of fixing spelling, typos and grammar issues. My intention is to revisit these articles at a later date and turn them into a collection of stuff.
I post the post, put some pants on and head downstairs to grab Hunter. He wants to see the weird room I'm in with his own eyes.
The next 8 days are going to be a nonstop nerdgasm at the global epicenter of casino resortitecture. For most of the people reading this, Las Vegas is our frame of reference for this discussion, a common language. Macau isn't just an evolution of the concept. It is a dramatic rupture of the time line. Las Vegas is to Latin as Macau is to emoji. From service to technology, architecture to interior design, culture to casinos gambling, Macau, specifically Cotai, is the sharp edge of the knife.
This isn't to say that everything Macau is :peachemoji and :milkbottlemoji. The Macau peninsula is dotted with dirty, rotten multi-floor gambling joints that service the addicted, the grinders and few others. These aren't resorts, these are casinos. A casino's goal is to escort players from the front door to gaming tables to the noodle joint and then back to baccarat. In this language, things like way finding, service, customer experience, technology, entertainment, architecture and design are less necessary. As Cotai continues to enhance the state of the art and time does what it does, customers who were previously satisfied by the thrill of any old bet will either die off or come to expect more from their casinos. These days, people would rather shoot dice in the casino than a dark alley.
I went down to the lobby, grabbed Hunter and brought him up to my room. We walked through the room, pointing out the weird, the odd and the wonderful. We discussed the confusing layout of Grand Lisboa's multi-floored casino, the bizarro artwork in the lobby and how this property is essentially a shiny modern version of the confusing old turd that is Hotel Lisboa next door. It is a brand new version of a dumb old resort. In latin, they call this SLS.
After making the last check of the room, I grab my stuff and leave the Grand Lisboa. The next stop on this trip is Ponte 16 Sofitel, located about 15 minutes walk north on the inner harbor. Unless we melt, in which case this walk will take an eternity.
The big mistake I made the last time I was here was to only spend my time goofing around inside the casinos. This time, I wanted to see and experience the rest of Macau. I wanted to to walk the sidewalks with the locals and try and become an invisible observer of Macau's truly fascinating cultural intersection. Ponte 16 was booked for this reason... to explore areas outside of the Peninsula and Cotai casino corridors.
Despite unforgiving temperature and humidity, the walk from Grand Lisboa to Ponte 16 was a wonder. The buildings slowly evolved from high rise hotels and bank buildings to lower rise apartment complexes and eventual three story mixed pastel colored mixed use buildings that may date to the late 1800s. The meticulously maintained cobblestone sidewalks are inlaid with patterns of fish, shells, sharks and other iconography. Chinese herbal pharmacies, gadget stores, jewelry stores and pawn shops line the way. As the walk progresses, the smell of sweet, fragrant incense grows stronger. Eventually, we arrive at the inner harbor and make our way inside Ponte 16 and up to the Sofitel hotel lobby. Check it won't be available for a few hours, so I check my bags and we set off to explore the casino and public areas.
To make the long story short, Ponte 16 - like other SJM operated casinos - is a quagmire. Hallways lead to dead ends, important stuff is in weird places and opulent venues are hidden and unused. This grand staircase connects a parking garage nobody uses to... essentially... nowhere. Once you find stuff, the stuff you find is mostly good. The hotel, overall, was a positive experience. The small(ish) casino features an non-energetic mass market floor and a number of finely appointed junket salons. I didn't eat at any of the restaurants.
After geeking out on abstract concepts of casino design, Hunter and I braved the increasing temperature and hit the pavement again. We ducked down an alley way and started exploring.
The smell of incense led us to a temple.
Out of nowhere, our exploration intersected with a large boisterous religious processional that featured costumed dancers, flag carriers and a 50 foot long green dragon accompanied by the klack and klang of musicians singing and banging on drums and gongs.
Throngs people and photographers and police motorscooter escorts followed in the parades wake.
A block later ran into one of Macau's famous pork jerky stores, where we picked out an assortment of dried, grilled and glazed meats for the road. All of it was really good, but the spicy pork was delicious and worth making the trip. Hunter didn't like the beef. I did.
Eventually we ended up at the base of the Ruins of St. Paolo, the last standing wall of a cathedral from the 1700's that was destroyed by fire. We walked up to the top of the hill and took some photos of the ruins. At that point, the head became truly unbearable. After a quick break in the shade, we traversed back down the hill and through a maze of equally amazing alleys before eventually making our way back to casino center, and eventually lunch at Encore's 99 Noodles.
Every day is like five days long.
After lunch, we split up and I headed back to Sofitel to check in, photograph the room and do maybe do a little writing. The big news at this juncture is that JohnH is making his way to the Shanghai airport to get on a plane to Macau. Little did he (or us) know that North Korea had shot a bunch of missiles into the atmosphere as a test... a few hundred miles from the flightpath his plan was going to take to Macau. He ended up being stranded in the airport for six hours, sending us text message status updates. What began as comedy veered towards tragedy and eventually bursts of frustrated anger.
We made plans to meet up at Wynn, but the synergy of jet lag, heat, dehydration and leg cramp from hell unplugged my consciousness about 8pm. I won't blame Beer #4 (Tiger) and #5 (Yanjing)
Good night Macau.