Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Michael's days off always fall mid-week, and we're still getting used to have a Monday be a "Friday" and not getting perturbed over a real Friday being the middle of the week for him.  I'm a very flexible person and I like to believe I'm raising flexible children, but I have to say that sending Michael off to work on Saturday and Sunday gets increasingly difficult each week for my boys.

Today was Michael's day off, so we took the boys for Linner (late lunch/early dinner) at a place called Gourmet Geezer. I can't even type that with a straight face. To me, a geezer is a little old man who keeps his teeth in a jar by the bedside. So I generally say something like, Hey guys, let's go eat at the old folk's home when I'm talking about it. But the owner is no geezer as I know it. He's a hip, young Brit who likes to race motorcycles and lines the shelves in the restaurant with trophies and photos of his wins. The food is cheap, decent, and western-style, and they serve breakfast all day. So when our tummies feel like a little less adventure than provided by the Chinese and Portuguese choices surrounding us, GG it is!

The boys rode their bikes to the restaurant, and chained them to a post out front while we ate. In Macau, mopeds rule and you rarely see someone on the street riding a bicycle. Very different from Japan, where our little seaside town boasted more bikes than cars on the road.

After we ate, Michael and the boys went off for a longer bike ride while I caught a bus home to get some work done. I had company while I waited at the bus stop:

While enjoying his cigarette and beer, a Tsingtao delivery truck pulled up and the driver loaded case after case of beer onto a hand truck, then wheeled it into the store behind us. My friend's eyes never left the bed of the unsupervised truck. Whatever his thoughts, he never left his comfortable slice of sidewalk.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In the Barra

Whenever I see or hear the word barra, I think barrio, which is the Spanish word for a specific neighborhood. People in Los Angeles hear the word barrio and might think "gang turf" but generally it just means a collection of streets with similar people who have a similar culture and background.

After spending an afternoon in Macau's Barra, I still thought of a barrio, since it's definitely a cohesive neighborhood, filled with people who make their living from the sea. However, the word Barra actually has a different meaning in Portuguese: sandbank or port entrance. And a port entrance is exactly what it is.

The Barra is the waterfront area that runs along the east side of the Macau Peninsula. All the buildings on the east side of the Barra back right up to the water, with giant roll-up doors used to access the boats which pull up laden with sea creatures and imported goods.

Standing in Macau, looking across the river to China

The four of us wandered up and down the tiny streets, peering into shopfronts and giving cheerful waves to the locals who were boldly staring at us, curiosity lining their faces. We stayed until the light drizzle became an actual downpour and we found our sandals insufficient at keeping our feet above the water level in the road. Sandals were the enemy that day... they kept us out of the Ponte 16 Resort and finally drove us back home to flee the muck in the streets. Oh well. There is more to explore in the Barra, including a temple and a fortress. So we'll be back. With better footwear and my bigger camera!

China, just across the water.

Can you imagine living in such a narrow building? It's the width of a regular four-door sedan car.

Here you can pick your dinner outside, and then go inside where they'll prepare it for you.

Mail call

What every room needs: lots of weapons lining the walls and a dragon hanging overhead.

Wriggly crabs, unhappy with being bound up.

Even less happy live frogs, and colorful sacks of other sea creatures. The man who carried this sack off a boat kept prodding them gently with a stick to prove to us they were alive. Or to shock us. The boys asked if they were meant for pets or food. Tastes like chicken, right?

More wriggly live crabs, bound even more firmly than the ones in the basket.

Old. Rusty. Peeling. Chipped. Everything still used the way it was the day it was shiny and new.

Row after row of buildings this close.

Dried things from the sea.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Praia

Today I had lunch at a friend's house on the Macau Peninsula. She lives in a fairly new building called The Praia (Beach in Portuguese). She's up in the penthouse which takes up the top two floors, 55 and 56. At 607 feet above ground, it claims the title of current tallest residential building in Macau. My friend's view faces east, on a clear day you can see Hong Kong, 30 miles in the distance. Today wasn't a clear day, so you can barely see the water of the Pearl River Delta (where there is no "beach" to speak of) in the distance.

To give you some perspective on how very small Macau actually is, the building where I took this photo is on the western shore of Macau. The photo shows you the eastern shore. The distance between the two? Less than two miles.

It's nice to be head and shoulders above the rest of Macau. But I could do without having my ears pop from simply riding up and down the elevator. Ouch!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Michael Jackson in Macau

True story: On June 25, 2009 I was in Los Angeles, on my way to take the boys to a hip-hop dance class across town. I was flipping radio stations at a red light when a DJ interrupted a song to say there was an unconfirmed rumour that Michael Jackson had passed away. My heart stopped and my stomach lurched. But not because I was a major Michael Jackson fan. The reaction came from the bottom of my wallet rather than the bottom of my heart. At that very moment my husband's scenic shop was loading in set pieces at the Staples Center in Los Angeles where Michael Jackson would be in rehearsals for his concert series which would take place in London. All we'd been talking about for months was the shop's creation of the elaborate and amazing pieces that would play a backdrop to his performance. And if he was indeed dead, then what would that mean for the scene shop? What would that mean for all the people working on this project? Would everyone get paid? All other projects had been pushed aside for this one huge client, and work was not yet complete. As soon as we got to the dance studio, I called my husband to tell him what I'd heard. He called over to his employees at the Staples Center to see if anyone knew anything. The people from Michael Jackson's crew who were there knew nothing of the rumour which was spreading on all the radio stations, the Twitterverse, and beyond. Can you imagine?

Sadly, the rumor was true. Shortly after his death a film containing rehearsal footage of the show as well as the animated renderings of the fabulous set pieces was released. My husband and I went to see it. It is very difficult to separate Michael Jackson the wacky public persona in the news from Michael Jackson the incredibly sharp artist who had amazing talent and brilliant ideas. In the last few decades, the wacky part overshadowed the artist. The film, This Is It, really showcases the artist. I left the theater sad for his children and sad for the world which lost him, lost as he was himself.

In the last few months here in Macau, I kept seeing ads in taxis for an exhibit called the MJ Gallery at Ponte 16. I decided we should go check it out. We'd gone to see the Madonna exhibit, so I figured we were due for another dose of American pop culture.

The exhibit was in a part of Macau I'd only gone through on the bus or in a taxi.  Admission was free. Ponte 16 (Portuguese for Pier 16) is a resort along the water's edge of the Barra, the western part of Macau separated from mainland China by just a river.

You can't really call China a stone's throw away, but it is quite close. I'll post more photos of the Barra section of Macau in my next post, but my initial reaction was that they placed a glamorous resort in the least glamorous part of town. Here's a view of the front of Ponte 16, which includes a Sofitel Hotel, casino, and upscale restaurants:
And here's the view if you turn your back to that giant ball made of crystals that does an amazing LED light show and look directly across the street:

Something doesn't fit. And considering you'll find blocks and blocks of buildings like those across the street, I'm going to say it's the Ponte 16.

You know what else didn't fit? Us. We were wearing shorts, tee shirts, and flip-flop sandals. I knew from looking it up online that the MJ Gallery was on the second floor, so we headed for the main entrance. We were stopped short by a smartly dressed female employee who asked us where we were going, pointing her long finger at a sign explaining the dress code, which included a big image of flip-flops with a circle and line through them. As she was talking to us, a male security guard took a step or two in our direction. We said we were here for the Michael Jackson exhibit. She pointed behind us and said we would have to go in another entrance. So we turned around and headed for what we'd missed before, an escalator with MJ Gallery emblazoned on the side. One problem however:
Our entry was blocked by scaffolding which covered a huge open pit at the base of the escalator. A man on the scaffolding was welding something over his head. So we took a sharp right to see if we could get inside elsewhere. As we approached the side entrance in our exceptionally casual attire, another employee came toward us, waving her arms frantically. She pointed at a previously unseen plain little closet of a lobby which had an elevator in it. She didn't want us stepping one foot in the main lobby! We took the lift to the second floor, which opened directly into the MJ Gallery. We were greeted by a dozen costumed employees who seemed excited there were actual guests for them to shadow through the gallery. We were the only ones there.

Entrance with glass cases filled with memorabilia:
Suit of armor that used to live at Neverland Ranch in California. I did my four years of high school on the Central Coast near Neverland Ranch, and remember driving past the entrance wondering what went on in there.

 Thriller costume:

 Glittery socks and white glove from the Billie Jean performance at the Motown 25 concert celebrating Motown's 25th anniversary. That was the first time Michael Jackson performed the Moonwalk (click here to view). After seeing those socks, I can totally understand why he always wore his pants so short. If I had such socks with such sparkle, I'd wear flood-length pants too. If you could get me out of my sandals, that is.

Boots from Captain EO, the short film at Disneyland, California. These made me a little homesick for my hometown Happiest Place on Earth. Good thing we're close to Hong Kong Disneyland! But they don't have Captain EO here!

 The Tunnel of Time, which you walk through and are treated to clips of his music, photos, and music videos playing in the walls. We made the kids watch the entire Black or White video (click here to view) which features a young Macaulay Culkin (who they recognized) and the "amazing" morphing technology at the end. They were not impressed with the morphing, but I remember it was all anyone could talk about when it came out!

You can take an escalator down to the dead-end of the MJ Cafe, which was mainly pastries, coffee drinks, and alcohol. But it was the boys' favorite part of the exhibit. Know why? The electronic darts above Benjamin's head!  

My favorite part of the gallery? This photo. I mean come on, those costumes are to die for! I told Michael and the boys that we were going to re-create this look for our Christmas card photos this year. That raised a serious amount of screeching and begging for mercy from my children. Michael just laughed.  He thinks it's an empty threat I'm afraid! Now to find a fifth person to stand in with us. Who's it going to be? Because I'm not wearing pink!

My thoughts on the MJ Gallery? Might be worth it if you are a major Michael Jackson fan. Or need a place to duck in out of the rain if you aren't dressed nice enough to gain entry to the rest of the Ponte 16 resort! After we'd seen all there was to see, we left via the same elevator we entered, and then spent an hour strolling around Barra. More on that next time!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Double Rainbow

No, I didn't fall on my knees and ask about its meaning, but I did have to grab my camera and take a quick pic. It rains a lot here, but this is the first (and second) rainbow I've seen since arriving. Glad I was able to tear my gaze away from my iPhone and all the wonders of the new iOS 5 for a moment to catch it! Stunning!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Three Months

It's a melancholy sort of day. Low clouds block out any memory of blue sky. Every now and then a cloud gets a bit too full and spills the goods, dousing whatever happens to be below. Sunlight is diffused, leaving everything in shadow, washed in gray. I'm perched in my window seat with a book on Macau history, watching partially loaded container ships and tiny fishing sampans cross the harbour.

Today marks three months since I boarded a plane and left America. I only know this because I happened to check the calender. The first nine weeks in Macau, I could tell you exactly how long we'd been here. Week ten was an invisible boundary line clouding my precise memory. People would ask how long I'd been here, and I could only give a vague answer... around two months... maybe?

With each previous international relocation, we had a definite end date. We had plane reservations already booked and ready to take us away from our temporary home. This time? Totally different. There is no end date to count down to. Our flights were booked one way fare.

I had a honeymoon period upon arrival in Macau. A time where I was both thrilled to be reunited with my husband who'd been here three months without us and thrilled to be a in a new place, meeting new people, and filling my brain with a dozen new things each hour. I think that period may have passed at week ten as well.

Even though the honeymoon is over, I don't love Macau any less. If anything, I find compelling reasons to stay here each and every day. The white-hot thrill has passed, but contentment flourishes. My best explanation? This obscure place transformed from being a foreign and exotic land into something far more more commonplace: home.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

American Food

Today I picked up the kids from acrobatics class at Michael's theater (they're training up a new generation of performers for the show!) and grabbed lunch with them at an Asian cafeteria-style food court nearby. As we sat there eating delicious teppanyaki beef noodles, barbecue eel udon, and chicken fried rice, a cloud of melancholy descended upon the table. My children started sighing. "I sure miss America," said my oldest. My youngest quickly added a "me too."

I take these statements very seriously and try to never make light of their longings for our most recent home. I never say, "You'll get over it" or "We'll be home soon."  After all, we're going to be here a long time. I want them to make this place home, for however long it lasts. And if they have to grieve the loss of their last home before claiming this one, then I will give them space to do so, without judgement.

I casually asked what it was about America they missed. "The food," they both sighed. Thinking they meant In-n-Out Burger or Krispy Kreme, I sighed too, ready to commiserate along with them. But my oldest continued, "I miss Mongolian barbecue. And the sushi we got in the supermarket." My youngest added his favorites as well: sweet and sour chicken and sticky white rice.

I tried really hard not to laugh. I did my job as their mom by exposing them repeatedly to cuisine from all over the world, which is readily available in the Los Angeles area. But I guess I forgot to label it as we went along... that Mongolian barbecue is actually from Taiwan (different than actual Mongolian food), sushi is Japanese, and sweet and sour chicken is Chinese, though a Western idea of Chinese rather than one which originated here in Asia. I pointed out the teppanyaki beef and fried noodles, though Japanese, is made the same way as Mongolian barbecue, just on a smaller scale. And I reminded them that we just had sushi on Sunday, freshly made in front of us, not from the refrigerated case at the grocery in America. And how last week we ducked into a tiny hole-in-the-wall noodle shop which served us sweet and sour chicken with sticky white rice. This stopped them short for a moment.

"Oh... So I guess there is a lot of American food here," the oldest said, cheer returning to his voice.

Um, sure. Okay. Call it whatever you want my son, as long as you eat it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Portas do Cerco

The historic Border Gate that we visited on Saturday was built in 1870 by the colonial Portuguese to bar access to the people from Mainland China. I found a photo from the 1930's showing what it looked like then.

Here is another photo I found, not sure if it was taken before or after.

Though it was constructed in 1870, it has four dates boldly marked on the gate that are not 1870. I've been digging to find out what the dates meant in relation to the gate itself, and came up dry. So I started researching Macau history and found some great information.

The earliest date is August 22, 1849.

On April 21, 1846, JoĆ£o Maria Ferreira do Amaral was appointed the 79th Governor of Macau. He was born in Portugal and served in the Portugeuse Royal Fleet. He had an amazing milliatary career, and lost his right arm in a battle with Brazil defending Portuguese rights. As governor, he made some big waves by demanding that all Chinese residents in Macau pay rent and taxes. The Chinese authorities tried to negotiate with him, but instead of hearing them out, he kicked the authorities out and stopped paying customs to the Chinese. His acts, as you can imagine, agravated the Chinese residents, and on August 22, 1849, seven Chinese men assasinated him and cut off his head.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

National Day

On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong stood before a huge crowd gathered in Tienanmen Square in Beijing and declared it the National Day of the newly established People's Republic of China. It is a public holiday throughout China, Macau, and Hong Kong. Every city throughout the entire nation celebrates with fireworks, and many have parades as well. Chairman Mao is either revered or vilified depending on who you are speaking to, how old you are, and where you are from- which of course determines what your history books said about him.

On Friday I was walking around town after the rain died down. I noticed people putting up the red flag of China on street corners, poles, and in public squares. I come from the U.S.A. where patriotic citizens put up the American flag for just about any reason, or simply as a matter of pride. In Japan, I was there six months before I ever saw a Japanese flag flying. In Hong Kong, the flag could be found in a few places, but it wasn't overwhelming. In Macau, I see the green flag all over the place. But green is my very favorite color so maybe I see it so much because I look for it. To see the green flag being replaced with the red flag of China, if only for the weekend, was a bit disconcerting. It is a good reminder to me that though Macau is a Special Administrative Region, with autonomy in all matters except military and foreign diplomacy, its heart beats with the blood of China.

Green flag of Macau, red flag of China. They both have five gold stars.
Flags were flying on just about every taxi.
The flags of Macau and China at the border crossing to China.
My plans for Saturday were cancelled so a friend and I gathered our kids and decided to mark National Day with a bus ride up to the historic Border Gate, the entrance into mainland China.

As American citizens, we can't enter China without visas, so we didn't cross the border, but we did stop to take photos of the streams of people entering and leaving Macau, many of which were stopping to take photos of us.

On the bus ride home, we encountered a few peaceful-looking demonstrations. Based on the huge number of police officers lining the streets, I wasn't certain it was going to stay peaceful. I was happy we were on a bus and not on foot. According to the Macau Daily Times, the government approved requests from five different organizations who wanted to stage protests in the street. By pure chance, we actually saw three of the five. 

We were going so slow on the bus, the same speed as the people walking down the road. It felt a bit like we were in a parade. I resisted the urge to wave to the crowds on the sidewalk. I was actually quite happy (relieved?) to see protesters, because it's a reminder that though Macau is part of China, the people here have the freedom to stage a protest which stops traffic and draws crowds and news crews from all over.

As a final note to the day, there were fireworks lighting up the sky. We have an amazing view from our guest suite.

Don't you want to come stay with us? I thought so! Book tickets soon, we're heading into the most beautiful time of the year, with lower humidity and cool breezes. Normally I'm a summer girl, but I have to say that I'm quickly becoming a fan of fall after the brutal baking we got this year!

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