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!


  1. I can't wait to see your Christmas card! :o)

  2. Hi!

    What happened to the set pieces?? What did they look like?? Did everyone get paid?? You left out the important details, girl!! :)

    Not to make you homesick, but thought about you and the boy's today, as I was wandering through the park. It's all decorated for Halloween...

  3. Ah yes, the set. If you watch the film, This Is It, you can see renderings of everything. Most of it is done in CGI. One scene was actually filmed in the scene shop, though Michael isn't in it. Fortunately there was insurance to cover this exact problem, but it was tough going for awhile as so many other clients had been pushed aside to make way for this one big client! Everyone landed on their feet. Eventually.

    And Michael R: I hope you like pink!

  4. Why is there a dress-code to go into a building? What's up with that?


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