The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Hey, who ya callin’ an oxymoron?

Macau is a spatial oxymoron. It’s relaxing and stressful, elegant and tacky, sleepy and exciting—as W.H. Auden put it, it’s a real “Portugal-cum-China oddity.”

The first day in Macau we explored the center city by following the Lonely Planet’s recommended walking tour. It took us to all the main sites on Macau’s hilly, cobbled streets: the old Portuguese fort that overlooks the city, the remains of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and past a delicious gelato place. After these cool but touristy sites, the book reads something like, “and you might want to walk around this area of town.” This was one of the more interesting parts of Macau, and yet, all the tourists had disappeared. I guess mainland tourists don’t use Lonely Planet. We wandered around abandoned buildings, construction sites, and fancy hotels. At one point, we were even followed by a particularly cute stray dog.

That night, we went to the casinos. Our favorite was undoubtedly the Grand Lisboa, which is supposed to look a 44 story lotus but looks more like the hilt of giant, neon sword—one that might’ve been designed for Liberace. At the bottom of the casino is a 4-story, neon Easter Egg that advertises coffee shops. I don’t know the architects, but I’d let them remodel my bathroom. Inside of the Grand Lisboa, all the walls are covered with ornate gold trim, there’s a nine million U.S. dollar Qing dynasty horse head, and there are massive chandeliers made of hundreds and thousands of crystals. But what really made the casino was the baccarat. I still don’t know the rules, but after seeing a table with a typo, we just had to bet on “Palyer.”

After doubling our money by betting on the typo, we headed to another of Stanley Ho’s casinos across the street, the Casino Lisboa. Though jam-packed with thousands of people, we were probably the only gwailos (literally white ghosts in Cantonese) in the casino. Everybody else seemed to be intense, chain-smoking mainlanders, who were here to seriously gamble. No one smiled at the Casino Lisboa. It also took us over half an hour to find the tiny, understocked bar. The interior had ornate, gold trim and plush, red carpets, but the gold had browned and the carpets reeked of smoke. It was run-down, crowded, and decadent. I loved it.

After the old Casino Lisboa, we headed to the Venetian, which has more floor space than four Empire State buildings and is the second largest building in the world. Inside, it has three imitation Venetian canals replete with gondolas. But frankly, the Venetian was lame. It had none of the quirky opulence of the other casinos or even the amusing typos; it was just a massive Disneyland for gamblers. We could only console ourselves by doubling our money playing roulette.

The next day we explored Coloane—one of the two main islands of Macau. It was full of sleepy areas and delicious places to eat. We wandered around looking at the Portuguese-influenced buildings, walking into a Buddhist temple, and spending all the money we’d won (and then some) on some world-class Portuguese cuisine. Despite the grey, windy weather, we also strolled along the black sand beaches that we had all to ourselves. In our explorations, we even stumbled into the middle of movie set. If you see two confused Americans in the background of a big-budget French movie (supposedly) set in Brazil, it’s probably us. Also, if you see a big-budget French movie set in Brazil (I can’t imagine there are many), it’s actually Macau.

With great food, run-down casinos, and at least one really cute stray dog, it’s no wonder Macau has overtaken Vegas as the world’s top gambling destination.

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