Macau is a casino country. That is the image I have of this small nation, not much bigger than the smallest Indian state. It already has 29 operational at full capacity and several more under construction.
But all that later. The excitement began the moment we boarded the plane for Hong Kong — and landed 2 ½ hours ahead of the time by my watch — because of the time difference! The only casualty: sleep. But one look at the rolling clouds outside — and the never-ending Hong Kong airport — was enough to shake me out of the slumber. The hour-long journey by ferry to Macau in rains and rough sea made me queasy. One colleague could not keep his dinner down. First tip: make sure you are loaded with medicines before you board! Second tip: Make an umbrella your constant companion if visiting Macau between June and September — you never know when it pours.
My first impression of the Venetian hotel was impressive: the huge casino and its hundreds of tables and people milling around were the centrepiece of the lavish and classy surroundings.
My own accommodation was comfortable, and after checking-in, we went for lunch at the Imperial restaurant. Macau can be tough on vegetarians but for those who love seafood, it is a gastronomic heaven. Prawns, salted fish, different varieties of dim sum, snails — it’s all there, but with a distinct Chinese flavour and very different from the Indian versions.
The evening was spent in a tour of the hotel — Portuguese architecture in the main lobby, artificial sky and shopping in the Grand Canal — the whole scene reminded me of Venice.
Sightseeing the next day was quite an experience — the 338m tall Macau tower was the main attraction. We could see the Pearl River Delta and the whole of Macau from the deck at 223m. But what really took the breath away was skywalking — just a sheet of transparent glass separating you from a plunge into Pearl River.
Being a duty-free harbour, one can get antique furniture, jewellery, handicraft items and Portuguese wine really cheap here. Smooth traffic, no police or road rage and completely safe for women — Macau has many things to recommend itself.
However, despite all signs of a booming economy, the place appears unreal. At the casinos, people are mechanical, addicted to gambling. Despite the obvious wealth, there is no warmth in relations, love, friendships. Perhaps this is the future of mankind, for Macau is clearly a favourite tourist destination for South Asians, but at the statue of the Goddess of Mercy all I could think of was the hollowness of life here.
We had to leave Macau the next day but I was wrong to assume that the excitement was over. We missed our ferry back, then missed the connecting flight from Hong Kong as well! I went out for a brief tour of Hong Kong city next morning, and saw multi-storeyed buildings, massage parlours, electronic market, ladies’ bazaar. When our flight to India finally took off at 6 pm, all I could do was to compare the small city-state with the Indian metros — and it struck me that Hong Kong resembles Mumbai in every manner.