Friday, May 7, 2010

Macau Casinos

Macau reminds me so much of Las Vegas....sans the entertainment and big name shows. The city is filled with large casinos. The most garish is the Grand Lisboa. It reminds Bill of something that should have been in the old Ghostbusters movie. You can just picture Gozer perched on one of the curved gold pinnacles. At the bottom of the tall gold tower with curved pinnacles there is a dome which sparkles with lights at night. And a multi-story large square building that is painted like a Greek nightmare. The square building is the casino; the Ghostbusters tall structure is the hotel; and we never learned what was in the large glittering dome. We weren't curious enough to walk over there to check it out.

Another big casino is the MGM Grand. The curved outdoor video screen on one corner was an interesting touch. Unfortunately, none of our photos came out because of the foggy weather. The multi-level multi-depth curved exterior on the tall building is also a touch of unusual architectural design. Whatever artist designed the large gold lion on the corner must have been high on something. There are muscles that do not exist on lions and the mane looks like rasta braids.

Today we walked through the cavernous Wynn casino. This casino seems to just go on and on, although there weren't many players at 10 a.m. when we strolled through. Upon entry to the upscale shopping mall attached to the Wynn casino, we found The Prosperity Tree rising up from the floor in all its golden glory. The Chinese love anything called prosperity and gold is symbolic to them for success and luck. A closed golden globe built into the floor opens up and a large glittering golden tree rises up as music plays. About 50 Chinese tourists were gathered around taking photos and wearing big smiles like this was a big deal or something. Once the tree was fully erect, it slowly turned to a bright green. When we later walked back out that entry area, the tree was retracted back down inside the globe in the floor. I have no idea how often this tree emerges each day, but the Chinese tourists really seemed to enjoy it. If you are a VIP or big winner at the Wynn casino, then you might get the privilege of pressing the start button for the Prosperity Tree. This tree display is repeated every half-hour for several hours each day. Tour buses stop by every half hour for all the Asian tourists to have their opportunity to watch the tree raise and lower. There was a crowd each time we walked through this area.

Walking around the sidewalks and looking at the casinos reminded us of 2 people from our past. One was Harold Polatschek, a man who was Bill's mentor in business for several years, beginning 38 years ago. Harold loved Las Vegas and was considered a high-roller out there. Harold received comp trips to Vegas. The casinos did that back then. His flights, hotels and meals were all paid for by casinos; so he made at least one trip monthly to gamble in Vegas. If Harold is still alive, he would be about 100 years old. His mother lived past the age of 100 so it is conceivable that Harold is still around, but we lost contact with him years ago.

The other person we knew who loved to gamble was Larry Ballenger. Larry was one of those people that you just had to love. He lived life to the fullest in everything he did. He was on top and bottom many times and he loved Las Vegas. Larry died years ago of a massive heart attack while in the throes of passion with his latest young wife....a perfect ending for him. When Larry went to Vegas his first big winnings on each trip were spent on expensive suits and watches. And when times were bad for him, he sold those expensive watches. But no matter how bad things got for him, he never sold his Cadillac convertibles that he kept in storage. He always managed to find a way to hang onto the Caddies. Anyway, Larry had a pair of bell-bottom jeans with a large yellow Tweety Bird embroidered up to the knee on the right leg. He called these his "good luck pants" and wore them each time he visited casinos in Vegas. He had once made a small winning at a casino when something happened to the pants he was wearing, either they ripped or something was spilled on him; I don't remember that detail. Rather than go to his room and change, Larry went to a hotel shop and spent about $800 for this pair of jeans. This was back in the early 1970s, and $800 was worth a lot more in those days. Then he returned to the casino and won really big. From that point forward, those were his good luck pants and he always wore them when he gambled. When he died, Larry still had those good luck pants.

The hundreds of watch shops and jewelry stores surrounding the casinos here in Macau made us think of Larry. And the Ermenegildo Zegna shop of nice suits in the shopping mall along with Prada and Versace and other expensive clothing lines also reminded us of Larry. So some things must never change. People who win in casinos still must like to immediately buy jewelry or watches and suits.

Friday we took a taxi back to the Fortaleza do Monte and walked the area. We saw the Leal Senado building, Senado Square, the Holy House of Mercy, the Lou Kau mansion, St. Dominic's Church, the Na Tcha Temple and the only remaining section of the Old City walls.

The Leal Senado building was originally built in 1784 and was the first municipal office, a function it maintains today. The name Leal Senado means Loyal Senate and derives from the formal title of the city bestowed by Portuguese King Dom John IV in 1654. The formal title of the city was "City of Our Name of God Macau, There is None More Loyal." Senado Square has been Macau's urban center for centuries. The curving black and white tiles on the ground and the fountain create a Mediterranean atmosphere. The black and white tiles pave the narrow pedestrian streets and alleyways up the hillside to the Ruins of St. Paul's. The streets are lined with shops of all kinds, some new and some very old.

The Holy House of Mercy was established by the first Bishop of Macau in 1569 and was modelled after one of the most prominent and oldest charitable organizations in Portugal. The Holy House of Mercy was responsible for the first western-style medical clinic and several other social welfare structures that still function to this day. The Lou Kau mansion was the home of guess who....Lou Kau. Built in 1889, this prominent Chinese merchant resided near the Senado Square. The home is a 2-storey, traditional gray brick courtyard house with the typical Chinese characteristics.

St. Dominic's Church was founded in 1587 by 3 Spanish Dominican priests who originally came from Acapulco in Mexico. Here the first Portuguese newspaper was published on Chinese soil. It was called "A Abelha da China" (The China Bee) and was first published on September 12, 1822.

The Na Tcha Temple was built in 1888 and is dedicated to the worship of Na Tcha. This was a new religion or god to us; never heard of this one and could find no information about this obscure deity. The temple is Buddhist and Taoist and is a most unimposing small structure located next to the Ruins of St. Paul's. Nearby stands the last surviving segment of the city's defense structures built as early as 1569. This wall segment is a remnant of an early Portuguese tradition of constructing defensive walls around their port settlements, a tradition also followed in Portuguese settlements in Africa and India. Most of the wall is constructed of a compound known locally as chunambo, an elaborate mixture of clay, soil, sand, rice straw, crushed rock and oyster shells compacted in successive layers.

All of these historical sites are within a short walking distance of one another. A good way for non-gamblers to spend a gray day if you are at all interested in history.

One thing that Bill found humorous was the Canadian College of Macau with a kindergarten on the ground level. Every college should include a kindergarten.

And something I found disgusting both in appearance and in appeal to palate was the Green Tea Cheesecake sold in McDonald's. We have seen just about everything flavored with green tea on this trip. Bet the McDonald's back in the States don't sell Green Tea Cheesecake. It really looked disgusting.

Tomorrow we will check out of the hotel at noon. Don't know what we will find to do until our flight departs for Singapore around midnight. When I originally planned this trip, our return flight was scheduled for 10:30 tomorrow morning. But Tiger Airways then changed the flight time until nearly midnight. Wish they had changed our flight to midnight Friday instead of midnight Saturday. Bill and I are both ready to be back home on the boat. As much as we have enjoyed this trip, it is time to go home.

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