HONG KONG & MACAO

After a very short but wonderful break in Canada, I am now back in PNG and very much back into the routine of life here. On the way through I stopped over in Hong Kong.

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I flew Cathay Pacific for the first time and I was quite impressed. I have been flying Philippine Airlines a lot lately, and while I can see that they are trying hard, they never quite get it right. I was impressed with Cathay’s entertainment system – it is hooked into the flight map so it provides a warning message when one is about to commence a show that is longer than the available time before landing.

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I caught the train from Hong Kong airport over to Kowloon. I liked this funky display that showed the stops and the progress of the train. I think all trains should have it.

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I have been to Hong Kong once before, some years ago, and frankly, I hated it.

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I thought it was a big, dirty, smelly city, with few redeeming qualities.

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However, this time, I decided to approach Hong Kong with a fresh mind and give it another chance.

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Armed with a fresh attitude, I set out to explore Hong Kong…only to discover that it is still a big smelly, city with few redeeming qualities.

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But there are a few interesting elements to it. I like the British influence here – a legacy that endures, despite the increasing incorporation of Hong Kong into mainland China. Like these double-decker buses.

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The Hong Kong dollar is worth about one seventh of real money. So it looks quite odd in Starbucks to see a sandwich that costs $41. It’s like a terrifying glimpse into the future of life in Canada.

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I went for a stroll around Hong Kong and I must admit it does have some interesting architecture.

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I was quite taken with this building with the big hole in the middle.

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I walked through Kowloon Park, which provides an oasis from the concrete jungle and exhaust fumes.

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I decided that the best way to enjoy Hong Kong was to get out and go somewhere else.

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So I jumped on a ferry and spent the afternoon over in Macao.

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The ferry trip afforded some impressive views of the city of Hong Kong.

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It was clear and sunny that day – unlike last time I was there when it was so polluted that I couldn’t even see across the harbour.

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The trip over to Macao follows an archipelago of cute little uninhabited islands.

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On the way over to Macao, I had to buy a super-deluxe ticket as they were sold out of regular tickets. The difference was a larger seat and that the service was catered.

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Well, catered after a fashion. The “meal” involved a bread roll that would make a French baker vomit in disgust, water that was undrinkable, and a “dessert” of jelly with a single slice of mandarin in it. Here is the future of the earth right here – our food ever diminishing in quality as we try to stretch it across billions and billions of people. This was bread roll number one for the day – a spongy piece of sugar-laden gluten with a smear of greenish margarine on it.

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The first glimpses of Macao proved interesting.

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The water was brown. I’m told it usually is a bit brown but it was particularly brown on this occasion as they had seen quite a lot of rain of late, which washes a lot of sediment into the water.

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Macao and Hong Kong are the only “Special Administrative Regions” of China, meaning that they enjoy some measure of freedom not extended to those in mainland China. For example, this week, there were huge memorial services in Hong Kong for the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. A large portion of the young people in China have never heard of the massacre since the Chinese government employs literally millions of people as censors to ensure that no one ever hears about it.

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People often think of Las Vegas as the gambling capital of the world. However, that title firmly rests with Macao, which has a gambling sector that is seven times larger than Vegas. China is cashed up and its people like to blow their cash at the gaming tables. Macao’s gaming is now worth over US$25 billion per annum.

Hong Kong (82)Macao was a Portuguese colony from the 1550s until late 1999 when it was surrendered to the Chinese.

Hong Kong (131)I went foraging for a decent meal and I had heard that the distinctive Lisboa Hotel has a great restaurant. Lisboa means “Lisbon” in Portuguese.

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The lure of a 3 Michelin Star restaurant motivated me to jump into a shuttle bus and travel across town to the gaudy Lisboa.

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The lobby has a giant pot thing inside a gold plant. I don’t know why.

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No hotel lobby is complete with a mammoth tusk carving of the Great Wall of China.

Hong Kong (34)Inside the hotel, there are multiple levels of cavernous casinos, filled with pushy people smoking and wasting their money on games with poor mathematical outcomes.

Hong Kong (35)But right at the top of the building – inside the golden dome – is the wonderful restaurant, “Robuchon au Dôme”.

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The lift opens and the first thing one sees is the pianist at his grand piano.

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To earn a Michelin star, a restaurant has to go above and beyond in every regard.

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To earn 3 Michelin stars, it must be something very special indeed. This really is a tale of two breads. Well, a glorious basket of breads, and all for me. The plastic bun on the ferry was looking particularly sad at this point.

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White asparagus for an entrée (appetizer for my North American friends who insist on taking a word that makes sense and using in a way that doesn’t).

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Scallops for a main.

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Then came the dessert trolley. I like a restaurant where they need a whole trolley to move the desserts around. That’s my kind of place.

Hong Kong (65)I went for a mille-feuille and a pistachio cake. Nom nom nom.

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I turned up without a reservation and wearing shorts. They were very accommodation and lent me a pair of trousers so that I could eat at the restaurant. They were a perfect fit. Here is a picture of me in my borrowed restaurant trousers.

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This is what the dome looks like from the inside.

Hong Kong (145)And here it is from the outside.

IMG_2The view from the dome is impressive. Though the windows could use a wash. They really should send someone up there to do that.

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Whenever I visit a new city, one of the first things I like to do is get high. It gives one a great perspective on the city.

Hong Kong (84)Macao’s harbours are pleasing to the eye.

Hong Kong (77)One can see across the river to Mainland China.

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On the ride back down to street level, I couldn’t help but notice that I was riding in Schindler’s Lift.

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I exited the massive hotel complex to explore more of Macao.

Hong Kong (124)The Ruins of St Paul’s is a must-see destination in old Macao – and a great spot for a selfie.

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Construction of the church started in 1602. It was completed in 1640, but then destroyed by fire in 1835, like so much cool stuff has been over the years.

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Nearby is Mount Fortress and the Museum of Macao.

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The fortress was constructed from 1617 to 1626 to protect Macao from invasion by sea – and indeed it succeeded when the Dutch tried to invade in 1622.

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It’s walls are about 4 metres thick in places.

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Alongside one of the walls is this area that, I can only assume, is where people are supposed to take their horses to go to the toilet.

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Up top, there is one of these funky little temples with the crescents so that the demons falling from the sky fly back into the air. Religion is so cute and amusing when it’s someone else’s.

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The museum is small, but has some interesting artefacts.

Hong Kong (163) st lawrence canon bronze 1627 replica

Like this canon (it’s only a replica) – a bronze gun called the St Lawrence Canon.

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And these freaky little oriental puppets, which I found mildly disturbing.

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The older parts of Macao are somewhat run-down, European-styled buildings – juxtaposed against the massive modern casinos.

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No matter where one goes, one can always find a Starbucks. Except Papua New Guinea and Afghanistan. Pretty much everywhere else though.

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There are some pleasant, tree-lined streets in Macao.

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As with most of Asia, motorcycles are popular. It’s something of a mystery why they are not used much in PNG. Probably the condition of the roads and the prevalence of car jacking. I’ve heard it said that anyone that road a motorcycle could expect to have it stolen on the first day.

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Here is a pretty fountain and a cheeky girl.

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Macao is crowded. Really crowded.

Hong Kong (119)And this is what they call meat.

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I caught the ferry back to bustling Hong Kong.

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It’s a stressful place. A sensory barrage at every turn. I have no idea what this shop was selling and I don’t care to find out for fear of an epileptic fit ensuing.

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Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.

 

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One shopping mall had this giant, transforming panda in the middle of it, for no good reason.

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I caught the train back out to the titanic Hong Kong airport – mostly air, about 12 shops and around a billion people.

So, in summary kids: Hong Kong can my ass, but Macao is nice and it’s only an hour away by ferry.

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Back in Port Moresby, it was business as usual when I arrived. The bathroom renovations are still dragging on. Sometimes we have to be reminded that privacy is a privilege, not a right.

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I picked up a cold in my travels so I went to buy some tissues. Of course, the supermarket decided to be completely out of stock – every brand, every size, every type. Good luck finding my aloe vera enriched tissues here. One very helpful employee showed some initiative and showed me where the tissue paper for wrapping gifts is. I appreciated the effort.

 

Until next postcard…

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