Going to Hong Kong? After going to the wrong bus station and missing the time anyways, no longer an option. But that I had already anticipated, and made a back-up plan - there's always Shenzhen or Guangzhou after all, from where HK is just a quick bus/train/ferry ride away. Quick change of plans, and off to Shenzhen on a sleeper bus. Arriving in Shenzhen in the morning and relaxing in the train station, the next change of plan - I could take a boat to Macao instead! Not only would it mean that I'd get to take a boat, and that it would be a bit cheaper, but also that I'd see Macao first, and if I ended up spending too much time in HK or Macao, going straight to Beijing would be a whole lot easier from HK than from Macao. If only it was all that easy...
I was excited to be on a boat again, and even more excited to have my passport stamped. Double entry visa, yeah! Unfortunately there was no chance to go on deck on the boat, but only to sit inside and watch through horribly milky and scratched plastic windows, while hordes of Korean tourists all around me were enjoying watching Kung Fu Panda playing on the board TV. About 90 minutes later we arrived, passed through immigration in China that is not really China, and there I was, no money no plan on a random dirty busy street on the edge of the old town of Macao. This was not really how I had imagined it would be.
I walked, got lost, dropped my luggage off on the street and ran to the nearest street corner to find some readable street name plate, eventually realised I was already where I had wanted to go, walked past my ho(s)tel a few times before finding it, and checked in. Phew. Lonely Planet was not joking about the paper-thin walls, as little as it was joking about the cheapest accomodation in town. 100 Macao Dollars (approx. 100 RMB) later I was in my own little room. A single room hardly bigger than the bed that was in it, with large wooden dividers to the other rooms as wall, that left a little gap at the bottom and top. Here's me hoping my neighbours don't decide to have wild sex / snore / party late. No use, as I'd find out later. This was not really how I had imagined it would be, either.
Next adventure: Getting money! After having the vast majority of ATMs refuse my card because of "no regional support", dropping by a very dodgy internet cafe, and spending a long time trying to find my way through the masses of tourists, I had decided that I do not really like Macao all that much. It's not a bad place, but it was not what I was looking for. Macao is european in layout with small alleys and twisted roads, and Chinese in mentality with dirty sidewalks and people everywhere. Many speak no Mandarin, and many are foreigners to begin with. But they're not the fun backpacking travellers, they're the expensive sunglasses, fancy handbag sporting "I'm here because it's China without a visa" tourists who shop because it is cheap and in the evenings support Macaos casino industry.
I considered leaving the same day, or maybe the day after, or at least heading to the southern island, far away from said tourism and bright lights. But first there was business to do in the north - casinos, bars, and the nightlife of the not-quite-so-chinese-China. I relaxed a little, had a (cold) shower while waiting for my Dutch neighbours to stop playing really, really bad eurotrance music at unnecessarily loud volumes and eventually headed out myself. Four casinos, a few kilometres and several hours later I returned and slept, deciding the next day would be a better time to sort out my travel.
And that it was. As I was checking out, I met Monique from Brazil, who had just arrived and was about to go see Macao. It being a Monday, I thought maybe there'd not be as many people, and off we went. This time Macao was a whole lot more pleasant. Despite the rain (the first time there's been proper rain on my trip so far!) Macao was beautiful, although I still could not quite get my head around it. Coming back to the hostel we met another German, also staying for the night. Since I didn't yet have a room for the night, we decided to share the costs of one for two people - perfect! Off we went again, this time to eat, and eventually to the Casinos. I'm not sure whether I should say that I lost 30 Macao Dollars (about 3 Euros) in a Casino, or whether I really just bought a very cheap cocktail (free drinks for all gamblers) for the money. In either case, it was good fun while it lasted, and it lasted just long enough for me to be sick of it!
But even more fun was peoplewatching. Who goes to Macao's casinos? There are mainly three types. There's the holiday-ers, who are on honeymoon or world tour or just travelling, but most come to Macao for the casinos; for the experience and for the gambling. Then there are the "tourists", who just happen to be in Macao for whatever reason and giggle their way through casino to casino with a mix of awe and disgust at how much money is being traded here. Finally, there's the mainland Chinese and Hong Kongnese, who seek to escape their respective countries' bans on gambling. They are the vast majority. Some play for a bit of fun, some play large and with lots of money. My favourite was an utterly bored looking guy in a tight pink polo shirt, lacking any passion while moving chips equivalent to other people's monthly salaries across the board - and winning. Macao's casinos have them all, the slick suit gamblers, the out-of-place-looking rich kids, the single people falling asleep in front of the automatic slot machines; the pedantic strategists with their handwritten notes, and the people who consult with their significant other; the emotional and energetic, and the joyless tired gamblers. Macao's casinos are plenty, with each table apparently already earning ten times the money of its Las Vegas equivalent. But what is more scary is the number of new Casinos being built. During my time there I must have seen 100+ construction cranes, and that is no overstatement. Casinos the size of shopping malls being built one next to another. As China develops economically, demand will rise and rise. I just wonder what will happen in 40 years time, when China is no longer bound to promising Macao a "high degree of autonomy."
Finally, on my last day in Macao, I ventured down to the beautiful and calm south of Macao, had some lovely local egg tarts (a specialy on the island), swam in the South China Sea, was assaulted by a group of girls from Manila ("do you want to play with me") and saw a rich people suburb. One of the first signs that you are in a richer suburb is that people domesticate animals. Not only do they have dogs as pets, but also are these dogs no longer the shy, friendly dogs as on China's streets, being roughed up by the street life and categorically not being aggressive to people for fear of a kick or a slap, but these are the barking, loud, scary types. Eventually I returned to the north, tried to find money once more (but nowhere would let me have RMB) and decided my money was just good enough to cross the border by foot to get to a Chinese ATM. Crossing the border by foot is no problem, except that it takes long. More stamps, more checks, and oh was I looking forward to China! If it hadn't been for the guards first questioning the validity of my passport ("Why is your visa from two years ago not in here?" "This is a new passport, the old one with the old visa was destroyed when I got a new one" "Well, you should still have it with you.") and then of my luggage and my stay ("What is in that bag? Don't you think Tibet is quite pretty? Do you know who the Dalai Lama is?") I might even have really quickly crossed the border.
Once back in China I eventually found a working ATM, made my way to the bus station, and on to Guangzhou, arriving just after midnight and off to my hostel. But because I am off to Beijing in a few hours now and still need to sleep, that story will have to wait for next time (and I shall make sure it won't be long!)
Macao, Macao - I don't think I will ever love thee. But next time I shall return with more time, more energy and fewer expectations, and I'm sure I'll do you more justice then. Expect me next year.