Thursday, May 22, 2008

A World of Difference. The Difference is Macau.

Tourists from Singapore is one of the fastest growing markets in Macau. I must jump on the flight and rush down of course! :)

In 4 days, I travelled to 3 countries. Technically, they are all under PRC, but they are quite different from one another. For those of us who tried to fly directly to Macau, we know our only option is budget. It's a tie between Tiger Airways or Jet Star. The latter flies from T1 and has a covered runaway leading to the plane. You can also choose seats online. Cool? But I took Tiger. Don't know whether there is any difference in price though.

Tiger Airways. One of the two airlines that flies directly to Macau.

I thought it would take like 2+ hour max to reach Macau from Singapore. Wrong! It was quite a long flight, just slightly shorter than flying to Perth. 3.5 hr in all! The flight itself was ok, if you have no high expectations for food and drinks. Everything you buy from them will be instant. Instant coffee/noodles etc.

Macau is not big. When we landed at the airport, it was quite scary. Their runway is mounted above the sea lor, with just a very narrow narrow strip of land. Near the airport was a ferris wheel, but I don't know if people will take it.

Along the way to our hotel, we saw the cemetary. It's huge! Tombstones on the hill, facing the sea. Just like the rich and famous of Beverly Hills. Haha...

We stayed in Presidente Hotel. From the outside, it doesn't look like much. But the rooms were recently refurbished so the interior is quite different. What's more is that it offers a view of the surrounding casinos if you stay on the 16 floor like we did. I suspect the aircon in this hotel is a scam. Because it was freaking cold! The only thing that we are sure was working is the "Off" switch. The thermostat was useless. Zzzzz...

Camwhoring in the hotel. I like the room's colour scheme.

Our first meal was recommended by our Receptionist. The hotel's restaurant. Where else? +_+ Surprisingly, the dim sum was fantastic and quite affordable compared to Singapore's standard. About SGD10+ per pax. Now I know why my Hong Konger suppliers always lament at the lack of good dim sum in Singapore. If Macau is like that, Hong Kong would be even better right?

Dad and friends were in a hurry to go to the casinos. Mum and I went SHOPPING! But Macau is not exactly a shopping paradise. There were only luxury brands. Definitely not for the poor. We shopped at the supermarket instead.

Snacks from the mart. See the water bottle? All major casinos have their own bottled water. The "旺旺" biscuits are my souvenirs to my colleagues. :)

On Day 3, when we drove along the streets of Macau, I caught this sign. Ba gua from Singapore. I never knew it's a national produce. Hmm...

I don't know why many Hong Kong shows write "星" instead of "新". Apparently, Singapore ba gua quite famous. There were people hawking on the street, offering me, a true blue Singaporean, ba gua samples. Don't they know it's only eaten during Chinese New Year? :x

After our breakfast at "陶陶居", a famous Dim Sum restaurant in Macau where you had to wait for tables, we waited for a cab to go to the harbour for the ferry to Hong Kong. That's where I snapped this image:

I love old buildings like these that seem to have strong history. Hygiene issues though.

Day 2 was Zhu Hai day. I don't know where the famous spots are. I only know Dad and friends are going golfing so left us women "shopping" at a huge underground mall near the customs.

Zhu hai, mainland China. My first glimpse.

The things there are also not dirt cheap. Clothing are about SGD40 per item. The widest variety of goods was fake branded stuff!!! Amazing. Most shops were selling those, in one form or another. LV, Prada, and Chanel would cry if they see it.

Ended up with one umbrella which I know can be found in Singapore. +_+ I had an excellent pork chop rice in one of the shops there. With 6 hours to spare, there was not much to do at the mall. One shop seemed like the next. Luckily, we went to do our manicure, pedicure and message. That spent about 2 hours. Very cheap ok! Like SGD12 for a mani and pedi. However, they seemed to expect to be tipped. So get some change ready. As we walked down one stretch of shops in search of the elusive nail and massage palour, we were pulled from all sides. Finally, we settled for one shop because it offered OPI nail polish. If you choose "branded" nail polish, expect to pay RMB$10 more.

It was really tiring to walk on and on, knowing that there was limited shopping to be done. In the end, we were so tired that despite being full from lunch, we hopped into a shop to eat a fruit platter. Just for the seats.

Fruits to move the bowel along. Not cheap ok. I think about SGD6.

I think at Zhu Hai, I finally realised why sometimes Mainland Chinese seem very pushy to us. When you know you are in a country with hordes of people, you will feel the need to compete to get to places on time. A missed train may mean a difference between reaching on time, and being late for an hour. Many people seemed to cross the custom in a group, leading to the inevitable shouting at the customs while searching for missing/lost kaki. If only I managed to snap the sign that requested for no shouting within the arrival hall.

With the billion of people around you, most likely, you will also dispair at getting ahead of the rat race unless you are borned with a silver spoon in your mouth. I guess the descendents of the casino owners are those with platinum spoons in their mouths. When you see the architecture of the casinos, you cannot even begin to imagine how rich the owners are.

The lion of MGM that sucks your money. x:

The Guan Gong of Grand Lisboa.

Stanley Ho's Grand Lisboa

The curvy Grand Lisbao structure was a marvel for Dad and his construction friends. Erm... right... Too many lights for my liking. x:

Interior of Grand Lisboa. The colour gold seems to be a favourite for many casinos.

The cold cold foyer of MGM Grand.

Gosh! I'm a giant! ):

Wynn has a fantastic show using its Zodiac structure and its hidden money tree.

The fabulous Chinese Zodiac of Wynn.

Money tree of Wynn. Their's, not ours. ):

Since I'm so nice, I took a video of the closing of the show. Which. Which I will upload when I have time. x:

The Venetian, Ceiling.

The Venetian, more Ceiling.

The Canal.

What's in the Canal, can you guess? Hint: It's something the casino owners have in abundance.

The Venetian, Toilet. I'm not the only one taking photo here ok.

Day 3, we went to Hong Kong via the ferry. It costs HK$150 one way. Not cheap hor? About SGD$30. By the way, we were very puzzled about the currency. Apparently, currencies accepted in Macau include those from Hong Kong, PRC, and Macau. But some shops accept one but not the others. Very blur.

The ferry took 50 mins to 1 hour. The trip there was very cold. You will alight at "上环" where you can take the very convenient MTR to everywhere. One word of caution though. If you buy the single trip fare, you will get a card like this:

The MTR ticket. Machiam old skool MRT transitlink card.

While others with their "EZ-Link" cards get to tap their cards against the sensor, you have to find a gate that allows you to enter by inserting this card into a red slot. Just like the good old days to transitlink card. Remember how you used to scratch the card until it becomes white and you can draw on it? Also, remember to take the card as you cross the gate. Subsequently, when you exit, remember there will be no card to take. Understand??

The Hong Kong MTR tells you where the train at the opposite platform goes by using blinking lights.

CC mentioned she likes the way Hong Kong's MTR announces each stop in Mandarin, English, and Cantonese, and proposes that Singapore's MRT should have the same. I wonder if every stop will have its Hokkien/Cantonese/Teochew equivalent? What is Somerset called in Cantonese then? The cool thing about the MTR system is the blinking lights that indicate the train's direction if you cross to the opposite platform. The not-so-cool part is the fact that at some stops (I think it was at "Causeway Bay"), you have to walk underground for quite long before reaching the train platform. Not for those who don't like to be trapped underground.

Wan Chai MTR station.

If you see the housing at Hong Kong and Macau, you will be thankful for HDB flats. True, our flats are small and can be liken to matchboxes, but at least they are clean. I wonder what it is like to live in flats in Hong Kong and Macau, which often look like this:

The very crowded housing of Hong Kong. Near 女人街.

Strangely, (to me at least) most of these flats have a security guard, just like in Hong Kong serials. Not only for those fancy looking ones leh. In Singapore, only the condo dwellers get such treatment. The famous 女人街 is like our Pasar Malam. Empty your bladder before you go or come home with a pair of wet bottoms.

If you think there are many people in Singapore, go to Hong Kong. People come to you from ALL directions. Traffic was a nightmare too. Maybe it was Saturday and it was the Vesak weekend, but people were stacked against people. Scary!

Definition of dense population

When travelling, you must always talk about food! I really wanted to try Portuguese food while in Macau, but the closest thing I got was the egg tarts. ): Too bad. Next time maybe.

Last time, when I watched Hong Kong serials, they always eat Por Lor Bao (Pineapple bun). Having wondered all my life what was so nice about it, I die die also wanted to eat. On the last day, I dragged mum to one of the cafes and ordered it:

The famous Po Lor Bao, HK$8. Pineapple bun? Don't taste it though. Rating: 3/5

Again, I realised food in Macau is not cheap. A set breakfast with 2 sausages, 2 eggs, some corn, and half a slice of bread with a mug of milk tea cost SGD4. Is Macau only for the rich???

I ordered this despite ordering a set breakfast with Pineapple Bun because it was a thick slice of bread. MMmmm... Carbs... It came with maple syrup for you to add but the butter was too much though. French toast with peanut butter inside, HK$8. Rating: 3.5/5

From MGM Grand. Funny ingredient in this one - Sour Cream and Cheese Cake, HK$32. But it works!!! Yum! Rating: 4.5/5

More MGM Grand goodness. The good old fattening Caesar's, HK$100. Rating: 4/5

From the pretty cafe/restaurant of Wynn. Very normal cheesecake though. Berry Cheesecake, HK$32. Rating: 3.5/5

Some sightseeing around Macau. At least we got to see more than the insides of its 27 major casinos.

Street stall of Macau.

Many people were taking photo of this Starbucks. Looks run down from the outside right? Interior is just like other outlets here. That's globalisation.

Talking of gloablisation, I found it very sad that I could not find any brands that is not available in Singapore. Many are international labels, such as LV, Prada, Gucci. The Hong Kong brands may be Bossini, Giordano etc. But we can get those here too! ): The funniest thing was that I bought only one umbrella. Amazing. In fact, I bought more for the Don than for myself. Haha... Maybe if I enjoy HK serials, I would have gotten more things. Even mum bought more than me, with her Cantonese operas, clothes, and bags.

Ruins of St Paul, funnily named "大三八". A heritage site of the Portuguese.

Leal Senado Square. Beautiful architecture but reeks of tourist mobs.

We experienced some pretty lousy service at Macau airport. One woman these, at the cafe, was simply unpleasant. She could not bother to understand what Mum was saying (the mum speaks excellent Cantonese by the way), and started arguing with her about "one" and "one box". For those of you who understand Cantonese, here was how the incident unfolded:

Mum: How many egg tarts in one box?
Woman: 6
Mum: "Beh ngor yiak gor" (Give me one)
Woman: "Mo mai yiak gor, hai yiak hup. Lei you yiak gor ji gei huy lor" (We don't sell one, we sell one box. You want one, you go get it yourself")

That was disgusting. When mum was paying, she handed the cashier a note in RMB$100. The woman pointed to another cleaner note in mum's hand and said, "Give me that." Excuse me? A slightly dirtier note is not a real note? Pui! If anyone from Macau Tourism Board is reading this, contact me for her name. Spoil everyone's impression of Macau. Utter rubbish.

On a happier note, we managed to see the sun setting while on board the Tiger. Ah... Home sweet home.

Evening sky on the way back.

Setting sun...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Neh Neh

I finally went to Haji Lane a few weeks back. I know it has been THE place to go for some time now, but I don't like to follow fashion ok? (Riiiggghhht)

I realise Haji Lane is a place with very few but interesting shops. I love vintage but I won't wear it because I kept wondering what happened to the owner of the items. Too many horror movies in childhood I suspect.

Anyway, at one of the shops, I saw this wristlet in the traditional triangular milk packaging. I picked it up and exclaimed happily to shopping buddy that this was the milk from OUR childhood. She looked at me like I was mad.

"Where got? You don't anyhow say la. See the thing and project it into your past meh?"

I shut my trap and scratched my head abit. Was I really remembering the wrong memories? Not to be defeated, I cast my mind back down memory lane. I remembered bringing up the milk in several instances, asking friends from my generation whether they remembered the milk with the triangular packaging. Each time, they had stopped their conversations, looked at me like I was babbling nonsense and gone straight back to discussing where to go, what to eat.

While waiting for the bus one day, I ask JT whether she recalled the milk. She rolled her eyes a bit, and tapped her lips with a finger. A spark, a flash, a blink! Poof! "Yes, I think so..."

FINALLY! Someone with some memory! There you go folks, I'm not senile, I'm not delusional. I just have a better memory than you.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The sales pitch

Was pondering whether to join the gym. Headed to one of the most popular gyms to find out about its facilities and rates.

Prior to the tour, I was given the impression that I was obliged to step onto the weighing machine that would also analyse your fat and muscle percentages. I declined because I felt that they would then use my fat/muscle percentage to harp on the "fact" that gym is for me. Then, snide comment no. 1:

"Why? Getting cold feet?"

Why? Just because I am giving you one less tool to aid you in your sales pitch you have to make sarcastic remarks? Furthermore, an additional guy came over and kept rubbing the cold feet thing in.

Next, we went to take a look at the gym. After explaining this and that, he brought us to the machines areas. From time to time, he would step on a machine and demostrate how it's used. Then he would offer to let us try it. We declined everytime.

"Shy?", he snickered.

Why? I don't think pencil skirts and 4" heels are compatible with machines, do you?

We sat down for The Sales Pitch. After explaining the rates, which were extorbitant (I know, because one friend had joined the gym and has friends who joined at various other times), he asked me what I felt so far. I said I thought that it was better than 5 years ago, when I first visited the gym and didn't like it. Snide comment no. 2:

"Well, you were a lot younger 5 years ago."

Well, wasn't EVERYONE? So he droned on and on about the benefits of gym, finally pausing to ask me why I was interested to see it in the first place.

"I want to be healthy."

He pressed on for more reasons. I added "feeling better". Apparently, my reasons were not the right ones. Snide comment no. 3:

"You are here to lost weight and look good of course."

Excuse me, I don't think there is an "of course" about other people's reasons. Can't my main motivation be to stay healthy because I'm afraid to die young? Can't I want to build up stamina to not huff and puff after climbing a flight of stairs?

Since I knew he was a cutthroat, I naturally didn't want to commit. Snide comment no. 4:

"Why put off what you can do today?"

Hello? It's my money. For a membership that cost a 4-digit figure, I have to consider. I told him budget is always a constraint. He replied that it wasn't expensive at all. This was how he broke it down:

$1000+++ = 365 days of gym + 800 classes per year

Effectively, each class is about 20cents and each entry less than a dollar. I remarked dryly that I am not likely to go to gym daily, let alone attend all 800 classes. He looked at me and laughed indulgently like I am a stupid child and replied," Of course not! Not even I would go to the gym that often." So WHAT was he breaking down to me with the full year entrance and the sum of all classes? No logic.

When I told him that I was looking at other options, he went to add snide comment no. 5:

"There are no other options. I'm sure all the others are charging higher."

Please consider that "other options" are not limited to gyms. I can go for classes in community centre. Sport complexes offer a fairly good gym too. I followed the statement with another fact. "I would rather play sport games than go to the gym. Games like badminton or netball."

He laughed and pointed out that it's very hard to do that because of the lack of players around. I'm sure Netball Association would disagree.

***** Updated: 20 May 2008 *****
He also asked me what I usually eat in a day. I told him bread for breakfast, usually a soup dish for lunch, and home for dinner. Snide comment no. 6:

"Soup dish? Everyday??? What about dinner? At home? Do you eat skin??? No chicken skin, pork skin for you???"

I think I know my diet better than you.