On our recent trip to Vietnam, we had a day layover in Hong Kong on the way over and about a 12-hour layover on the way back. So, we took advantage of the time to visit with some friends who live in the area and to do a bit of sight-seeing. This is my second time in Asia and also my second time visiting both HK and Macau. The contrasts I observe I think will never cease to amaze me.
After landing in Hong Kong, we took the express train straight into Kowloon, where we had booked a hotel for the evening. We checked in, freshened up and headed for the ferry terminal. By the way on a side note, I still had my Octopus Card from about 6 years ago and it worked. The Octopus Card is like the Oyster Card in London, where you can top off as you go and use it for all the underground, busses and some ferries as well. However, one cannot use it for the ferry to Macau, or at least, we don’t think so.
The journey over is about an hour from Kowloon to Macau. We learned, that since our last visit, there are new ferry lines now going to Taipa as well. Taipa is one of the two islands that along with the Mainland Macau make up this special administrative region. China took over Macau in 1999, after more than 400 years of Portuguese rule. One would think that after such a long time, more Macanese would speak Portuguese, after all it’s one of the official languages, it is still used in government buildings and all signs are in Portuguese, as well as Chinese. Yet, that’s not really the case. I had noticed this on my first visit here, and was again aware of this disparity when trying to communicate to the locals.
Our friend Mary, a Macanese, however speaks multiple languages, one of them being Portuguese. Mary picked us up at the Macau ferry terminal and we headed over one of the long bridges joining the region to Taipa to see the University of Macau, where my husband and she had studied about 12 years ago. The University, which will soon be transferred to mainland China, is located in a modern building on a hill. Most of Macau is made up of hills. And curiously one drives on the left here, just like in Hong Kong (in mainland China and Portugal, one drives on the right). From what we learned it seems that the reasons for this are purely economical rather than historical or cultural, since all cars are imported from Hong Kong.
After a quick zip through the area, we headed over to Coloane, the second island, now joined to Taipa via a landfill. Coloane is also being colonized today, but in a new way. The region’s newest and largest casinos are prominently welcoming the visitor on what is the land-filled area, now called the Cotai Strip. In Coloane, one can still see vestiges of a Portuguese past in a laid back atmosphere, which is relaxing and inviting. It’s almost like stepping back in time. In fact, in the older areas of Macau, one feels like one is no longer in Asia (until the oppressive humidity and heat remind you otherwise) but somewhere on the streets of Lisbon or another part of Portugal. It’s truly a beautiful contrast.
We parked along the water front, facing what is mainland China. Yet another contrast. It’s hard to imagine that across what seems like a little pond lies the big giant of the north and yet mainland Chinese are not allowed into Macau without special permission. Macau will remain a special administrative region until 2050, when it should be fully integrated into the rest of the country. And although that is not that far away, it is hard to fathom what type of changes could come about after integration, some maybe not so welcome.
Mary took us to the plaza of Sao Francisco Xavier, which is lined with Chinese restaurants on one side and Portuguese restaurants on the other. We chose a Portuguese one, facing the little church of Sao Francisco Xavier, where we enjoyed some traditional Macanese dishes, such as Bacalhau a Braz, Bok Choi in some special sauce (can’t recall) and African Chicken. The three dishes are perhaps more symbolic than one would think at first. And they represent Macau’s history perfectly, which is a mixture of the Portuguese heritage, the Chinese roots and the influences of immigrants brought to China by the Portuguese, such as the African slaves.
After a delectable lunch, during which Mary had to rush off to get back to work, we strolled through the old parts of the village and then hopped on a bus to get back to Cotai, where we wanted to see what the Macanese version of the Venetian looks like (after all, one cannot come to Macau without visiting a casino, right?). The region’s economy is based on the gaming and tourism industries and it’s very quickly becoming the Las Vegas of Asia, with revenues tripling those of its American counterpart.
The Venetian and the other casinos on the Cotai Strip provide free shuttle busses to their sister casinos on Mainland Macau. So, we took advantage of this and went to the Sands casino, which is located across from the new shopping and recreation complex that is being built near the ferry terminal. The complex, when completed, will be amazing with stores, theaters, restaurants and attractions. Mary met us here again in the afternoon and whisked us away to tour the rest of the city. We went up Guia hill for a beautiful view of the city below.
The Guia Fortress lighthouse and little chapel are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is the historical center of Macau. The fort and the chapel were built in the 1600s, with the lighthouse being constructed much later between 1864-65. It’s the first western style lighthouse to be built in east Asia. We were joined on our tour by couples taking their wedding pictures at the fort. It seems like it was the season for weddings on this trip, as I also witnessed many couples taking their wedding pictures, while in Ha Noi. 😉
After our quick tour, as we needed to get back for dinner with other friends, we bid farewell to Mary and Macau, and boarded the ferry back to Hong Kong.
AFRICAN CHICKEN (GALINHA A AFRICANA)
- 1.5-2 kilos of chicken pieces or whole chicken, cut into pieces (I purchased drumsticks, as that’s all I found at Tesco’s)
For the Marinade:
- 1 teaspoon chili powder (more or less according to how spicy you would like this; I for example didn’t use any)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon pimenton (or paprika if you don’t have it)
- 2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder (a mixture of star anise, cinnamon, fennel, black pepper and cloves)
- olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup garlic, minced (it’s about 1 head of garlic)
- 1/4 cup sweet paprika
- 1/4 cup pimenton
- 3/4 cup grated coconut
- 1/2 cup raw cashews (the original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, as the peanuts are originally an African legume; feel free to substitute)
- 1 1/2 cups water or chicken broth
- 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon turmeric