Thursday, November 24, 2005

Macau: Taipa and Coloane, the islands south of Macau

Today, one would no longer feel that Taipa and Coloane were once islands separated from the Macau peninsula since three long causeways now link Taipa to the mainland while Coloane has virtually been connected to Taipa by reclamation projects which would host a new casino district of Macau. But the good thing about it is the old settlements in both islands still exude the rustic charm of small colonial villages.

I'm writing this last part here in Manila. It took quite a while since I was dead tired when I got back. I had to rush to class in UP straight from the airport in Clark. Traffic was bad so I missed my first class. Just imagine the stress that met me when I arrived. The slow traffic and incessant honking of horns really drove down the point... welcome back to your chaotic country! I had to do stuff after class so to make the long story short, I got home at about 4 a.m. The sleep I got the next day wasn't enough either so it was just today that I've recovered in a way.

Anyway, I overslept on Tuesday. Who wouldn't after exerting so much physical effort the previous days? I was supposed to meet brod Phil at the park below my hotel at 9 a.m. but he ended up knocking on my door since I was sound asleep. Hehe! Since I had already packed my things, all I needed to do was to get dressed. So after rushing down, it was off for a drive around Taipa and Coloane before proceeding to the airport.

The southernmost of the two islands, Coloane, was still forested. I hope they keep it that way. It is said that pirates hid in the caves of Coloane, waiting for ships filled with cargo to pass by for them to raid. Coloane Village is the main settlement of the island and that is where the St. Francis Xavier Chapel is located.

We had breakfast at a cafe near the church. Then it was off for a drive around old Taipa Village. We didn't have time to stop over anymore but the place had also been preserved and restored. Around the church, the Igreja de Na. Sra. do Carmo, were several mint green Portuguese homes which had been converted into museums. The shop houses around the town market had also been spruced up in order to attract the tourists.

I really hope the mayors of our own cities learn from the Macau example. It's never to late for Mayor Atienza to convert the Escolta, Sta. Cruz and Binondo areas into a San Ma Lo since many of the art deco builings in the area still stand. All we can do is hope that their eyes are opened to the reality that the ordinary foreign tourist comes to see the local culture and heritage of a country they visit more than anything else. Thus, if we want to attract this billion dollar industry, we should know our market and invest big time to attract it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hong Kong: Zipidee do dah... zipidee ay!

My oh my, what a wonderful day! Hehe! I'll tell you more about the photo on the left later. But you've guessed it, I was in Hong Kong today.

Anyway, I woke up this morning two hours behind schedule. My body was just too exhausted. As soon as I was able to muster enough energy to get up, it was off to the Red Market to look for some local products. Finding what I needed, it was back walking again to complete my rounds of the UNESCO structures in Macau. From the market, the first stop was the Protestant Cemetery. It was a very plain, nondescript place. I wonder why it was included in the inscribed sites when St. Michael's was more impressive. Beside it was supposedly the Casa Garden, but it was also being restored. Schmuck!

So it was back to my regular route, from St. Anthony to St. Paul. This time, I took time out to check out their museum. It's the same religious art we have here in the Philippines. But I was struck by the crypt where the remains of the martyrs of Japan and Vietnam are enshrined. However, what appalled me was the fact the center of the crypt had been converted into a virtual wishing well. And the sad part is that most tourists, usually Chinese or Japanese, didn't know any better and threw their coins as if it were target practice, which I feel desecrates the sanctity of the crypt area. So much for the calls for respect outside.

I had three more sites to go to complete the twenty five, the Fortaleza do Monte, Lou Kau Mansion and the Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple. Just check out my photos or this website to read all about these sites. Now that I had that done, it was time to think of what to do for the afternoon. After much reflecting, I decided that I didn't want to shop and thus save money. So it was a trip to Hong Kong for some sightseeing!

I got to the ferry terminal at about 2 p.m. just in time for the 2:30 p.m. ferry to the former British colony. The trip to HK is approximately an hour so I got there at about 3:30 p.m. But I wasn't able to start going around immediately since there were no maps or brochures in sight! That was the start of a bad afternoon since I didn't know where to go and what to do. Plus my feet were still killing me!

Since I had been to HK in 1993, my first instinct was to take the MTR to somewhere hoping to see a map. And good thing I asked about the unlimited 24-hour passes for tourists since I remembered we used those before. It costed me HK$50 but it proved to be a good investment. It turns out one ride to Hong Kong Disneyland is already HK$26! So a round trip costs more than the day pass.

With the day pass came suggestions of where to go. Since I've been to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon already, I decided to visit Lantau Island which was now connected to Hong Kong by MTR and bridges. One of the suggested sites was the Lantau Link Visitors Centre where one could view the Tsing Ma and Ting Kau bridges, among the longest in the world. But alas, it proved to be a waste of time since when I got out of the Tsing Yi station, no one could point me to the right bus! So I got back on the MTR to rush to the Big Buddha in Lantau. By the time I arrived, it was 5:20 p.m. The last bus had departed at 5:10 p.m. since the Po Lin monastery closes at 6 p.m. Damn! By this time, it was getting dark so obviously, it was useless to try to see other sites.

Hong Kong Disneyland was on Lantau as well. So I decided to check it out, but only if they had special night tickets. I remembered that during my last visit to Tokyo Disneyland in 2002, we purchased tickets at a reduced price since we entered late in the afternoon. So the photo you see is the entrance to the park. But I didn't enter since I received a shock when I made it to the ticket counter. The lady said HK$295! I asked whether it was the night rate... Oh sorry sir, only one price. I could not fathom the thought that it was the same price for three hours of doing nothing much? Nevermind! It's the same Disney banana anyway. And I'm sure it's nothing compared to Disneyworld! Hehe! But at least I got a feel of the place which GMA and her family had visited just a day earlier. And I liked the dedicated Disney MTR which had mouse shaped windows and was designed like a lounge inside. Good thing I had the unlimited MTR ticket or else I would have thrown away close to HK$100 on wasted travel!

So now what? Maybe I could check out the night market in Mongkok. Never made it. I saw a smaller night market in Yau Ma Tei but nothing much. So I decided to head to Tsim Sha Tsui, another place which was familiar to me since the Toys'R'Us there was heaven to me in 1993. It was there that I saw Hong Kong harbour, and just in time for an astounding lights and sounds show. Imagine the famous Hong Kong skyline, dancing to music, lights in every building, in one big interplay of color! This coordinated feat was a sight to behold and I salute the Hong Kong Tourism Association for it.

The difficult thing about travelling alone is having your picture taken. I've actually mastered the art of taking my own photos using only coins and the timer (about 90 percent of my photos were done on my own) Hehe! But getting a photo of myself with the Hong Kong skyline in the evening was a different story. After several tries by hapless bystanders whom I coerced to take my photo, it was no use. I didn't know how to manipulate the settings to show the lights of the skyline properly. Plus a tripod was essential for such shots. So I gave in to those pesky photographers who had professional digital cameras and who printed photos in 5 minutes. The photo you see costed me HK$30 (P210) for a 3R copy. Damn! But it's the only way I could have gotten a good shot. Hehe!

Before I left Tsim Sha Tsui, I passed by Hard Rock to get my shot glasses. But instead of taking the MTR back to Hong Kong, I took the Star Ferry. You haven't been to HK if you haven't used the Star Ferry to cross the strait at least once. Hehe! By this time, walking was agonizing and I was simply forcing myself to keep on going. After a quick dinner, I decided it was time to call it a day. And I'm back in Macau!

Tomorrow, I fly back to the Philippines. But I'll try to pass by Coloane Island to check out the St. Francis Xavier Chapel. I have to pack now.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Macau: The Historic Centre of Macau

My feet are killing me! I literally spent the whole day walking and have in fact covered the entire lower half of the Macau Peninsula. The morning was spent going around more of the UNESCO properties included in the listing "Historic Centre of Macao." There are 25 of them and by tomorrow, I hope to have visited them all. Sad though that several have ongoing restoration work like the Moorish Barracks, Mandarin's House, St. Augustine Church and adjacent St. Augustine's Square. So I just got to see them from the outside.

Here is the description in the UNESCO listing: "Macao, a lucrative port of strategic importance in the development of international trade, was under Portuguese administration from the mid 16th century until 1999, when it came under Chinese sovereignty. With its historic street, residential, religious and public Portuguese and Chinese buildings, the historic centre of Macao provides a unique testimony to the meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West. The site also contains a fortress and a lighthouse, which is the oldest in China. The site bears testimony to one of the earliest and longest-lasting encounters between China and the West based on the vibrancy of international trade."

My goal for the day was to visit at least seven churches, a visita iglesia, as a personal sacrifice and and chance to reflect. The morning trek began at 9 a.m. with a short hike to the
St. Lawrence Church, one of the three oldest churches in Macau which was built by the Jesuits in the mid-16th century. Good thing there was Sunday Mass, albeit in Chinese! Hehe!

A few meters away was the coral pink Headquarters of the Government of the Macau SAR, the seat of power of the territory. From there it was a scenic strech along the banks of the man-made Nam Van Lakes where one could see old houses that lined the former seaboard, as well as the Macau Tower and the 2.5-kilometer Ponte Governador Nobre de Carvalho which links Macau with Taipa Island. I went up Penha Hill hoping to visit my second church for the day, the Ermita de Penha. But a wrong turn lead me to the middle of a posh residential area that dotted Penha Hill. And I had no choice but to walk back, wasting close to 45 minutes of my time. Oh well! By the time I was up Penha Hill, the reving of motors could already be heard from a distance as the morning events of the Macau Grand Prix 2005 were well under way.

After getting back on course, I made it to the next site, the
A-Ma Temple which already existed long before the city of Macau came into being. From A-Ma, it was a short walk to the Moorish Barracks, constructed in 1874 to accomodate an Indian regiment from Goa appointed to reinforce Macau. Although the exterior was well-kept, the inside was still undergoing restoration. Along the same road was Lilau Square and the Mandarin's House. The house was also undergoing restoration. While there were preparations for filming in Lilau Square so no chance to take photos as well. Sigh!

Back to St. Lawrence Church which was a few meters away from St. Augustine Church and Square (which was being restored),
Dom Pedro V Theatre, the Sir Robert Hotung Library (which was closed), and the St. Joseph's Church and Seminary, all in the UNESCO inscription.

St. Joseph's Seminary and Church was closed earlier but by this time was already open. I wonder why the Jesuits have a liking for the name San Jose Seminary. Anyway, the seminary became the principal base for the missionary work implemented in China, Japan and around the region. But what struck me the most was the fact that it was the church with a bone of St. Francis Xavier! Being from a Jesuit school, I remember stories about the remains of St. Francis Xavier being scattered across the Far East. But I didn't realize that Macau had one of them.

Back to the Leal Senado Building and Senado Square and off to church number three, St. Dominic's Church which was closed the night before. Another of the older churches, the inside was a sight to behold. But of course, it's nothing compared to what's left of our own in the Philippines, moreso our pre-war heritage. Walking around well-preserved colonial cities like Macau makes me sometimes resent the Americans for carpet bombing the "Pearl of the Orient."

I had to take a break from my heritage hike since I had to run to the Mandarin to get my complimetary pass to the Macau Grand Prix 2005 vantage point at the hotel parking lot. Finally got there after another long walk... Pant! Pant! Most of the roads in the casino area were blocked for the races so I had to go the long way. I stayed to watch a race but since I'm not into car races, I decided to continue my tour. But at least I got to watch it live thanks to brod Phil who's wife works at the Mandarin.

Since the roads were blocked, I had to go the long way again to reach Guia Hill. I was dead tired and quite hungry (I had a "walking" lunch, a beef turnover I bought along the way), so I decided to stop for a sandwich. When they said salty beef sandwich, I was expecting the dried beef I had been craving for but which was quite pricey. I was disappointed to get an ordinary corned beef sandwich... hehe!

Finally, I reach the hill entrance. There were two ways to get up. One was by walking up I don't know how many steps, and the other was by cable car. Guess which I picked? Hehe! When I got up the hill, I still had to hike to the other side where the Guia Fortress was located. The Guia Fortress was built between 1622 and 1638. Inside the fortress stands
Guia Chapel, church number four, and the Guia Lighthouse, the first modern lighthouse on the Chinese coast. As I was about to take my photos, my batteries failed. So I had to run back to the middle of the hill to get a new set. Arggggh!!!

Down from the hill and off to St. Michael Cemetery and Chapel, church number five. But before I got there, i had a great vantage point of the F3 races which were ongoing. It was nearing 5 p.m. (and churches close early in Macau), so I had to run to St. Lazarus Church. Just my luck, it was closed. But outside the church were fabulously restored heritage buildings. So it was off to the Cathedral which was also closed the previous night. Good thing it was open. Church number six! I still had a chance to complete seven but the St. Anthony Church was quite a long walk away. But I went for it and for some reason, I felt it was still open. My second name was given by my parents in honor of St. Anthony. So more reason to rush. It was open, visita iglesia complete!

To cap the day's dose of heritage was a photo with Macau's most well-known symbol, the
Ruins of St. Paul. I had been there the night before but it was a different sight during the day. Beside it were Na Tcha Temple and the Section of the Old City Walls.

If you thought the day was over, guess again! It was time for some Macanese street food. Got myself some sweets and dried beef to take back to Manila. But the best delight was the local version of a fish balls stand. You thought Filipinos have already seen everything from fishballs, squid balls to kikiam, shrimp balls, and chicken balls. Not quite! The picture would show what I'm talking about. And the way the food is cooked is healthier too! No cooking oil or deep frying. The bite-sized delights are cooked in broth, drained and put in a stryrofoam bowl. Plus you can even mix in some vegetables like Chinese cabbage and mushrooms. Then the sauce is put. I'm not sure what the others are but I know there's spicy curry and the ordinary sauce which I had. Yummy!

Back to the hotel for a short rest. Then it was off to check out the neon lights of Macau's casinos. Hehe! I don't gamble so don't ask me how it's like inside. Tomorrow I wake up early to get a head start at the Red Market. Then it's a choice of Hong Kong or Zhuhai City in the People's Republic of China. Will tell you more about it tomorrow. Hehe!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Macau: My first taste of lutong Macau

It's really difficult when you're travelling on a budget. But any break from stress is heaven for me, moreso if its travelling to another corner of the world. Cumprimentos de Macau! Yup, I'm in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, now a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China. I arrived here using Tiger Airways, another no-frills airline which flies from Clark. Good thing they're expanding their destinations. Hehe! Moreso, the Historic Centre of Macao was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list this year which gave me more reason to make a visit.

Being on a tight budget, using a taxi to get from the airport to the hostel was out of the question. Why pay 50 patacas (times 7 equals PHP350) for a five kilometer trip when you can pay just MOP3.30 if you take a bus? Sad thing it was rush hour though so it was standing room only. Boy, can they stuff those coasters! And just like most Chinese cities, English is hardly spoken! So I had to rely on instinct where to get off.

When I felt I was lost, I decided to get off and look for a place to have dinner. I entered the first restaurant I saw. Just my luck, English was still non-existent so I had to make do with pointing at pictures on the wall. I think I picked a pork dish with leeks, celery and carrots. Not bad for a first meal although it was quite salty for my standards.

After that filling dinner, it was time to walk and look for the hostel which brod Phil Vega had reserved for me. He had to make reservations since there were a lot of people here in Macau due to the Macau Grand Prix 2005 which culminates tomorrow. It turns out, I got off quite near my hostel. Looks like my traveller's instincts are working perfectly today. Anyway, have to go for now. I'm off for a stroll around old Macau (talk about adaptive reuse of heritage... outstanding!) and maybe find some great hawker food. Hehe!

Some photos of that stroll are in my
Patrimoine Mondial photo album.
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