Turned out Lily did not sleep well in my absence. Duh. She probably feared I might chat up one of the dozens of cute women I passed by. And had I found some goddamn ice, she may have been correct. Instead, the two of us reunited in the most literal way. She pulled her ancient Chinese secret move on me again and I forgot all about no ice for my booze.
The next morning the error in my Macau hotel choice became even more clear. Buying into the Cotai Strip glitz sacrificed convenience and practicality. Had we stayed in Macau City, we could’ve taken a short stroll to the street for an array of interesting breakfast choices. Instead, we faced a quarter-mile walk just to get to the first reasonably-priced option in the mall — McDonald’s. Luckily Lily loves McMuffins.
The Cotai Strip offers spectacular sights, don’t get me wrong. Elaborate art and sights wait around every corner.
Fountains. Sculptures. Faux renaissance art. No expense spared. But not much is missed by not staying in this area. It’s a day trip. A much better call would’ve been to stay in the thick of the old city. Lily and I figured this out after we hopped on a hotel shuttle bus for another day’s adventure on yet another perfect weather day.
Before we left I played a few hands of blackjack in our hotel’s casino. My stack of chips grew quickly. Adding to the fun was Lily’s confusion about the process. She’d never indulged in games of chance, and explaining the rules to her proved futile. She had no interest in playing, so perhaps her beginner’s luck transferred to me. She loved that I was so happy, though, and seemed to understand the point when I cashed in my chips.
I enjoyed the ride to Macau, which included passing over a lengthy bridge. Our bus passed a gigantic construction site, of which a caught a clear view outside my window. A land reclamation project from the South China Sea of nearly four hundred acres blew my mind.
I thought of a Mark Twain quote: “Buy land. They’re not making it anymore.” How goddamn quaint. I expressed my awe of the project to Lily, but she found it boring. Creating new land is nothing new to someone from a big coastal city in China
Our main target for the day was Guia Fortress, a fort, chapel, and lighthouse built-in 1865. Before that, we took a crack at dining. I failed to research the best Macau dining options before I left my WiFi connection, so we winged it. I figured a great path to amazing food is to veer into a random alley and into a shitty-looking place.
Other than the food and the service sucking, the place we chose was fantastic.
Feeling adventurous, I opted for the duck, which yielded about three mouthfuls of decent meat for a ton of effort. Two factors kept me from getting pissed off: charming Lily across the table and that I didn’t bother figuring out how much it cost. Had it been much above five USDs I might have punched someone in the face.
Next, we embarked for the Guia Fortress. Data didn’t work on either of our phones, so we had to find our way without being a blue dot on a screen. Like a couple of Neanderthals. We had to actually talk to people.
We could see the lighthouse way up on a cliff but ended up seeking out directions the old fashioned way. We did not, however, ask the two guarding the driveway to a consulate building, holding AK-47s. And by “holding,” I mean fingers an inch from the trigger, ready to aim and mow down this round-eye for a sideways glance. And I thought Asian blackjack dealers were intimidating.
Soon we found ourselves climbing and climbing, like heading to the entrance to Red Rocks Amphitheatre from the lower parking lot. We passed joggers, cyclists, and stunning partial views of the Macau skyline through trees.
The lighthouse itself was unimpressive, as was the little chapel adjacent to it. I tried to take video during a walk-through only to be chastised by a guard. No biggie, because the décor and artifacts were underwhelming, It appeared to be built for short people, and I found myself tilting my head or even bending forward at the waist to get through doorways.
Shortsighted landscaping maintenance allowed scrub brush grew freely, however, ruining a view from an old cannon position.
The rigorous climb rewarded us with sweeping views of Macau and the South China Sea beyond. Remnants of the fortress provided grand selfie stages and creative pics of the two of us with the sunset.
Guia Fortress proper closed at dusk, but we lingered as long as we wished on the walkway just below on a perfect evening. The colorful Macau skyline glittered from high rises too numerous to count, including shiny hotel-casinos. I noticed the hotel I had first reserved before changing to the Cotai Strip and shook my head ruefully.
Only one other couple, from France, shared the whole area with Lily and me. We exchanged happy greetings and pic taking duties before heading separate ways.
The occasion was perfect for proposing to Lily, or at least discussing how serious we planned to get. And had she shown interest in living in America and not wanting kids, I might have. Neither of these applied, so from this point on we saw each other as simply great travel companions with benefits. Whatever the case, the time for drinking had arrived.
Perhaps the best part of disposable water bottles is empties serve wonderfully as flasks. They make being a buzz-loving traveler on a budget a breeze. Earlier I flattened a bottle and poured twelve ounces of white tequila in it to pocket for the day trip. As soon as Lily and I were back down among stores I scored a Sprite and aimed to start mixing. Perfect.
Except urban China surrounded me, which meant crowds and no place to sit. Eventually, I copped a squat in a pedestrian island near a barricade and performed the mixology. Lily seemed amused, and passersby seemed bemused. Like they’ve never seen someone behaving like a raging alcoholic or something. Did they think I’m made of money?
Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the bus ride back to the hotel. Lily proved to be a happy and frisky drunk. Following a lively romp in our reasonably-priced yet gigantic hotel room, we hit the Cotai Strip for a walking tour.
Our first stop was the highly-touted Venetian, right across the street yet about half a mile away. Everything about it straddled the line between grand and gauche. As with every property in these parts, no expense was spared on decor. Seemingly all world-famous art was imitated. In this case, a three-story-high ceiling in the main lobby featured a mural similar to the Sistine Chapel. A quarter-mile down a corridor a canal flowed, complete with gondolas like in Venice.
Observers could walk the length of the faux waterway, which meandered past dozens of luxury shops. Nothing says “romance” like Hermes, Rolex, and Gucci. We aimed to exit for the next billion-dollar property down the street but were caught in a casino for fifteen minutes first. Not at the tables, but simply trying to find the exit.
City of Dreams greeted us next. Seemingly brand new and ultra-modern, this place featured the best in modern sculpture and shit along those lines. A regular selfie wonderland. One of my favorite pics from the whole trip was taken here: me in front of a big dragon-themed orb that changed colors, with Lily taking a selfie in the background.
A search for a theatre hosting a dancing water show led to frustration. Our quest led us through the massive casino and the adjacent luxury mall twice. I suspected the signs did this purposely. I wasn’t even that drunk anymore. Lily complained about something for the first time on the trip as her patience evaporated.
“No more rich people’s store!” and “I hate casinos. They are stupid,” are two quotes that come to mind now. Her mood really tailspinned when we found the dancing water show to be closed. Who, after all, would need entertainment in a casino hotel after 10:00 pm on a Friday night?
On the trek back to the room we passed through another luxury mall-equipped hotel-casino, the name of which is unimportant. A Bugatti in the lobby and impressive appointments everywhere barely registered. The glitz had become boring. Good thing we headed out the next morning.
Our ferry docked on the grittier side of HK — Kowloon Island. Yet another old Toyota cab delivered us to our second wonderful Holiday Inn Express, in Mongkok. Our cute room featured a huge window that overlooked a large park.
Perhaps even more charming, the rooftop included an outdoor laundry area. Lily could not have found a more scenic place to receive more ironing lessons from me, something of an expert. She had held an iron for the first time in our room back in Macau.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m not an adventurous eater. Sometimes when I’m hungry I simply want familiar food and fast. Enter another McDonalds, and me showing Lily my Alpha-male side.
Kowloon seemed even more compact than HK. A Mongkok McDonald’s provided clear evidence of this. The line spilled out onto the crowded sidewalk because the ordering area was so small. Ditto the dining room, where tables were practically stacked on top of each other.
Lily and I procured our food and sought a table. None appeared available at first. I looked for who appeared to be about to leave like one does in a packed bar. I noticed an older gentleman seated with no food in front of him, only shabby belongings. (Only later did it occur to me that this may have been the second homeless person I saw on this trip. I was on a mission, after all.)
Across from this guy sat a lady finishing up her meal, a foul expression on her face. Other people squeezed by me, looking for tables. I communicated with the lady using only expressions. I pointed at the guy and then opened my hand, palm to the ceiling. The universal gesture for “what the fuck is going on with this guy?”
The lady shook her head bitterly and spoke in Chinese. My Mandarin is rusty, but I think she said: “I don’t know what his deal is, but he hasn’t bought shit since I’ve been here. I’m glad I’m finished eating and leaving.”
I looked at the guy and gave him the thumb like he was two steps late getting to first base. “Da fuck outta here!” I said.
I doubt the guy understood my fake New York-ese, but he got the point. He mumbled, gathered his shit, and left. The table the size of a TV tray was ours. Lily beamed at me, her brave round-eye. My T levels spiked. Life was good, and so was our American food. Enjoyed while seated.
Part 4: The conclusion, including mind-blowing scenery.