Friday, 2 November 2007

Macau the gambling capital of the far east

Macau Via the Chinese border
We were driven through 100s of miles of banana plantations and goose farms that form the livelihood of the indigenous Chinese who have not had the luck to have their land bought for development in the booming area of Guandong and we were relieved to have reached the China/Macau border. Bleary eyed we joined hundreds or were they thousands? of Chinese rushing into Macau. Some wheeling washing machines and others carrying massive bales of , I presume, clothing made in China. Many though were just strolling through with hand baggage. Organised and well staffed though they were at passport control we were puzzled by the queues formed by this massive migration. Once through and worried we would not find a room for the night we headed for the nearest travel agents and booked asap despite limited English on their part. It was later that night that we found the real reason behind the hordes crossing the border, no it was not a mass evacuation but weekend gamblers heading for the rapidly modernising sin city of ‘Macau‘. Bolstered by the big boys from Las Vegas injecting zillions into the province it is now close to being the biggest gambling den and town of vice in the world. It’s new found fortunes being based on 1. The break up of a monopoly on gambling by controlling triads in the province and 2. The huge nouveau riche Chinese so nearby and their well know love of gambling.
That night we entered the lately finished Venetia hotel built as an exact replica of the one in Las Vegas but reportedly double in size complete with singing gondoliers and a vast, eager, ready made clientele on the doorstep dying only to get on to the gaming tables and we were stunned! The interior replicates all the sights in Venice albeit in a pretty naif style but with daylight streaming into Piazza S Marco at midnight, the square lined with noodle houses and Chinese food speciality chains, remembering we are in South China and not Italy. We went with the flow and wandered the new shopping malls where 1600 US dollar silk shirts competed with tiffany diamonds to catch the eye of the prosperous gambling man and his lady about town.
The following day we headed for Macau City centre and saw the real development going ahead of unbelievably humungous new casinos - 2000 bed +. The old Lisboa and it’s former owner Stanley Po has built the most gargantuan place opposite in the shape of a lily - you wonder how it stays up and despite it not being finished it is fully operational as a Casino. Games I never knew existed are being played by ever eager to lose their money individuals in the most gold, migraine inducing surroundings I have ever seen - tasteful this is not.
However the owner of the palace of gold has tried to prove to everyone that he is cultured and has purchased the most expensive ever item of the Qing dynasty - a bronze horses head - yes I did at first think that it was a joke on the Las Vegas Barons and their links with the mafia and Frank Sinatra but he spent 64 million Hong Kong Dollars ie around 3 million pounds sterling and it is guarded 24/7 which happens to be the opening hours of the Casino it is displayed in. If you are bored for one minute there are the ever present dancing girls around the clock - they do seem to have a suspiciously similar routine to the Russians in the MP3 nightclub around the corner, who do their dancing around a pole but hey this could be ‘The Moulin Rouge’.
And sex does seem to be a big part of many a Chinese gamblers package and it is not wholly surprising considering the lack of girls in China due to certain cruel policies over the past 30 years. Yes prostitution is big business in the area. I saw weekend packages for Macau at the Hong Kong ferry terminal with ‘Sex all in!’ for the discerning man looking to enjoy the whole weekend in full. Hotels in Macau provide rich pickings for working girls from the world over and it is difficult to escape from. Foot therapy, massage (of course), VIP service, Hotel service are all covers for sexual services and whether you are in the street or innocently going back to your hotel room chances are you will be accosted by one or more of these people.
Just as we were leaving Macau the trial was beginning of the former Macau public works manager who is charged with accepting million upon million of bribes for everything from the long suspension bridge to every casino in town - so long were the list of charges that they took 5 hours to read out in court. I am going to miss old Macau now I am back in the UK. Not for the weather or the gambling, no for the gossip!

The bronze horses head on display in the latest casino


Ray said...

I enjoy gambling in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Macau.

HF said...

Great post!
Macau is such a wonderful place. Like they say in Portuguese, “não há outra mais leal” (there is no other more loyal).
Helder Fraguas