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The International Writers Magazine: China

A gamblers' Paradise?
• Fred C. Wilson III
“Macau is China’s domestic market...don’t care if you are Chinese, Indian, European, you are supposed to go to the buffet.”
-Stanley Ho-

Casino Lisboa

The hydrofoil ride over was a rough one. The storm roared into us the minute we left Hong Kong’s harbor. For over two hours our small craft was buffeted by high ocean waves. Torrential rains battered our little ship. The wild winds swept the high water over the decks. If anybody had the bad luck of toughing it outside, they would have been swept overboard. They would have vanished under the raging black water never to be seen again.

Jetferry I’m from a seafaring family. Both fathers’ biological and step-father served respectively in the Merchant Marine and United States Navy during World War II. My mother an avid swimmer encouraged me to learn how to swim when I was a little boy. Mom test-drove PT boats during the world war. My love of all things aquatic must be inbred. I’m also an avid swimmer and diver; I’ve never been seasick. My beloved land-loving wife who accompanied me hates aquatics. Despite her having been born and raised in the Philippines my darling never learned nor cared to swim; no amount of persuasion will change her mind.

She’s deathly afraid of Lake Michigan and won’t go near it when we’re home in Chicago; but as the old sage goes, opposites attract.

I’m the other way around; mo’ deeper mo’ better. When I went snorkeling on the Big Island in Hawaii the blue Pacific was just my cuppa. Seeing fish as large as me, and I’m a big guy, only made me wish I had a large net to gather ‘em in; I thought of what a fish fry that would make. Knowing her horror of drowning I tried my best to comfort her; to calm her dread of the deep. We traveled by hydrofoil a ship sized version of a speed boat. I knew we’d pull in to the fabled city within a short while. What was an ordeal for many never bothered me in the least. Most of the other passengers shared my wife’s seasickness. It was awful! People were moaning, throwing up, with a few sobbing all around us.

I’m a big eater. I was very hungry having had only a small breakfast earlier that morning. Having brought my lunch with me I sat back casually in my seat munching on a ham and cheese sandwich, a bag of chips, and drinking can of soda pop. The wild weather outside howled like a dinosaur in labor. I felt sorry at the suffering of my fellow passengers. I forced myself to put my meal away.

After the 2 ½ hours of riding high waves and listening to the gusty winds blow our tiny ship finally pulled into harbor just as the storm was abating. It was ironic that the sun started to shine the very second our ship docked. The welcomed respite couldn’t have come a moment too soon to the relief of the passengers; most still held their bellies and wagged their heads still stunned by the fury and buffeting they had endured. My wife vented her anger at me for not getting seasick and eating when others were throwing up. I’m not a sadist; I was just hungry. Those who once moaned thanked God for their safe arrival.

We were in Macao for one day only. My wife and I were determined to make the most of our very short stay. We needed someone knowledgeable to show us around town. We reluctantly signed on with a group. Our particular package tour came with a Macao history lecture, a bus ride, lunch at the fabled Hotel Lisboa a four star hotel and the return trip back to Hong Kong. A self-guided walking tour came with the package.

Our group met at the Hotel Lisboa. We started with a lavish lunch followed by a lecture about Macao’s checkered history. The food was passable; I found a world of difference between the basic Chinese cuisine of Hong Kong and the more Europeanized meals of Macao. Both were delicious though I prefer ‘straight’ Chinese.

Macau was once called the ‘Weed of Europe.’ During my limited stay modern Macau or Macao depending upon how you want to spell it lives up to its former reputation but more on that later. The city is very clean. Macao’s buildings reflect the best of the very modern interspaced with more traditional Chinese and Portuguese architectural styles.

Before the Portuguese arrived and settled in present day Macau, the city was known as Haojing, Oyster Mirror or the Mirror Sea Jinghai. The actual word Macao or Macau is believed to have been derived from a temple built in 1448 and dedicated to Matsu goddess of sailors and fisher folk. When the Europeans came they renamed the peninsula Macao after Matsu’s temple; the name stuck.

Scholars started writing about Macau as early as the Qin Chinese Dynasty. Back in those days the region we call Macau or Macao was a part of the then largely uninhabited Chinese Province of Guangdong. People started migrating to Macao en masse when those bad boys from Mongolia started riding and raping their way through China and other parts of Southeast Asia during the Song Dynasty.

After the Mongol invasions subsided the next real population boom was in 1557 when the Portuguese was granted a long term lease by the Chinese government to establish a permanent settlement in Macao.

We tried to take in as much of Macao as we could in the time allotted. After lunch at the Lisboa Hotel our group split up. We were left to tour the city on our own. Macao is an antique collectors’ paradise. They have shops with prices that cater to everybody’s wallet/pocketbook. Stores sell a wide range of products that range in price from very expensive to cheap postcards. Whatever your taste in souvenirs Macau has it. If there’s an item that’s out of stock they’ll order it; small statuettes, paintings, stamps, cheap trinkets, religious objects, costly antiques such as Chinese beds, cabinets, chairs, camphor wood carvings, and architectural relics hundreds of years old are yours if you can afford them. For a price they will arrange shipping from their shops to your front door!

Macau has always been a gamblers paradise. Gaming has been ‘legal’ in that city since the early 1850’s under the Portuguese. Now known as the ‘Monte Carlo of the Orient’ gambling taxes alone accounts for over 70% of government expenditures. Macao’s gaming revenues has outstripped Las Vegas. That’s a lot of money by anybody’s standards. Macao’s casinos are now larger and grander then some of Las Vegas’ gaudiest gaming palaces; however only a few locals ever set foot inside their cities many gambling houses.

But there is a downside to all this ‘easy money’ the gaming industry is largely stagnant. This enterprise isn’t susceptible to technological advances or economic growth. This industry depends solely upon the continued prosperity of other Asian economies, Hong Kong in particular, if the city plans to remain in business. If regional growth slows down Macao as a serious economic entity could gravely compromised. Few countries, if any, can sustain an economy dependent upon on revenues derived from the gaming and tourist industries; tiny Macao tries. Casino based economies rarely do well. We live in Illinois where there are a number of gaming establishments. In time casinos somehow manage to suck local economies dry. I rarely ever ‘do casinos.’ When we visited this charming city we spent the little time I had sightseeing, taking pictures and talking with the locals. Though not as varied as many other cities visitors won’t run out of things to see or do in Macao.

After touring the city’s many antique shops there was the marvelous ‘Façade’ to consider. The front of the Cathedral church of St. Paul is all that remains of that marvelous Jesuit edifice. The church was built in the latter part of the 16th Century between the years of 1582 through 1602. Like the city, this church was originally built using a combination of Asian and European styles. Then the largest Catholic Church in Asia, Catholic Europe’s royalty donated lavishly to St. Paul’s thus making it one of the wealthiest churches on the continent as well. St Paul

The church is officially enlisted as part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. How did this grand church become merely ‘The Façade?’ After it was leveled by fire on one occasion, destroyed a second time by a typhoon, church authorities decided not to sink any more money on this ecclesiastical white elephant a third time hence the name Façade. Only the front remains.

Whenever you’re in Macao bring along a good pair of walking shoes. The Grand Stairway leading from ground level to the Façade is a hardy hike but the view from the top is something else! Too tired from my climb to linger long I took pictures of the many picturesque shops below before climbing down. To add to the flavor of the place I spotted a bronze life like statue of a naked girl posed sitting alongside the 66 steps leading down from the Façade staring up at me. I did the natural thing; I sat down next to her my arms around her waist and posed for a picture. This girl later became my mental model for a life sized terra cotta clay statue I sculpted about two years later in my ceramics studio!

Venitian Macau

The Venetian is 40-stories tall, $2.4 billion to construct, and is the largest single structure hotel building in Asia, The sixth-largest building in the world by area and the largest casino in the world.

The resort has 3000 suites, 110,000 m2 of convention space, 150,000 m2 of retail and 51,000 m2 of casino space – with 3400 slot machines and 800 gambling tables and a 15,000 seat Cotai Arena for entertainment and sports events.

The city’s once infamous moniker ‘The Weed of Asia’ unfortunately is still relevant. Like the infamous Wan Chai districts in neighboring Hong Kong prostitution in Macau is a major money maker. The bridges that connect Mainland China to the former Portuguese colony experience a veritable ‘invasion’ when legions of Chinese prostitutes stream across into the city. These armies of sex workers who sell their bodies for much needed food and other vital essentials of life are primarily university students who use the oldest profession vehicles to finance their dreams. Many of these girls are studying to be physicians, dentists, businesswomen, or gain entry to other top paying professions. These young women never lack customers who are more than eager to share their casino winnings with them after lucky streaks at the city’s many gaming tables. * Police have been cracking down on sex workers recently so things are changing with the economic downturn and new administration in China.

Not all of Macau’s many hookers are financially challenged women financing university studies or supporting families; many consider sex work a legitimate profession. In this writer’s opinion savvy travelers to this city would be wise to steer clear of the threefold (moral, legal and medical) pitfalls of the sex trade. Many a traveler never made it back homes after being rolled, beaten up by pimps, imprisoned or infected from their associations with sex workers; a word from the wise.

Macao is distinctly different from most Asian countries I’ve visited. Like the Philippines, Macao has a distinctly Western flavor. The people of this once infamous colonial outpost are very friendly. They show a genuine interest in welcoming the many foreign tourists who visit their city.

Here’s a delicious Macanese main course recipe from this fascinating city called ‘Curry Debal’ (Devil’s Curry)’ because its’ hot as hell:


1 kg. (2 lb) chicken
1 tsp thick soy sauce
3 Tbsp. vinegar
3 cloves of garlic (peeled)
3 stalks of lemon grass
1/4 tsp tumeric powder
20 dried chillies (presoaked in hot water) or 2 tbsp. chilli powder
1 tbsp tamarind pulp
1/2 cup water -1/2 cup oil
30 g young ginger julienned
2 large onions peeled & quartered
1 tsp mustard seeds
6 potatoes (peeled and quartered)
6 whole cabbage leaves
20 French beans
salt & sugar to taste
Curry paste:
1 tsp. oil, mustard seeds; 300 g shallots;
30 g candlenuts,
peeled galangal

1. Cut chicken into large pieces and marinade with thick soy sauce, vinegar, and 2 tsp of curry paste for 20 minutes.
2. Heat oil in a pot, fry strips of ginger until golden brown and remove, then add onions for 30 seconds and remove, then saute red chillies and remove.
3. Add mustard seeds into same pot, and cover until seeds stop popping.
4. Add curry paste and fry until oil floats to the top.
5. Drain marinade from chicken into bowl and add marinade to pot gradually, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
6. Add the chicken pieces and potatoes and toss in pot until well coated with paste.
7. Add tamarind juice and water to cover.
8. Boil rapidly for 10 minutes then lower heat.
9. At this point add vegetables. Simmer until vegetables are done & chicken is tender.
Add 2 tbsp. vinegar, sugar and salt to taste. Add more water to make gravy and simmer for five minutes.

© Fred C Wilson 111

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