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Friday, June 14, 2019

Travelogue to Macau and Hong Kong 2019

I had promised my wife that I will bring her to Hong Kong and Macau since we were dating. But somehow or rather, I did not fulfil the promise. Not wanting to be seen like a certain old man who had perfected the art of eating his own words, I said yes when she asked about it this year.

Soon after the tickets were booked, I began to get excited of the trip, our first duo trip since we were married. For me, it was not the prospect of seeing the places we often saw on Hong Kong TV series and movies. But to observe the changes in the two autonomous territories in China.

Returned Territories
The two territories which are conveniently located at the mouth of Pearl River fell into foreign powers in the age of western colonialism. Macau fell into the hands of the Portuguese while Hong Kong to the British.

For more than 100 years, both territories were administered by foreign powers with different ideals and socio-political ideas. The assimilation of local customs and foreign influence thus created in these two territories respectively a very unique and interesting new socio-political identity.

Screenshot from Google Map

Hong Kong
Screenshot from Google Map

Due to political changes on the ground and weakening military powers in the west, both western powers had to return their occupied territories to China in 1997 and 1999 respectively. With these territories returned to China, it would be very interesting to see how both territories have absorbed and taken up the their new identities.

Itinerary Planning
I did a twist in the planning. Apparently, many people planned their trip to Hong Kong with Macau as a side visit. But that entails two ferry trips.

So instead of flying to Hong Kong and visiting Macau by ferry, I planned the first leg to Macau then taking ferry to Hong Kong before returning from Hong Kong.

Note: I realised belatedly that by doing so, I might have placed myself at risk if I fall sick in Hong Kong as the travel insurance I bought didn't cover my stay in Hong Kong. But then again, if I had used the normal route, I won't have similar coverage when I'm in Macau.

So the plan was like this.

We flew via Air Asia to Macau International Airport on 25th May 2019 and stayed there for 2 days.  

Air Asia
Credit - KLIA2 website

On the third day, we took the ferry which we had pre-booked in advance to Hong Kong.  After 2 days in Hong Kong, we flew back to Malaysia on 30th May 2019.

With Agoda, hotel booking is very easy.  A simple search yielded quite a number of hotels in Macau, but only one was within the budget and within walking distance to nearly all the locations we wanted to visit.  A budget inn located on Rua das Lorchas, I was satisfied with the booking until I belatedly realised that the budget inn (Home of Macau) is located on the 3rd floor of the building and offer no elevator service.  I realised this when I tried to obtain a street view of the inn but couldn't find it.

Easy to use booking app. Gone are the days of travel agencies. Download from Google Store here.

Too late, and with the hotel offers no zero-cost cancellation, we had to proceed with it.  This turned out to be a wise decision as it gave us a sense of how the locals live, as the inn was renovated from existing residential homes.  

For Hong Kong, I managed to get Ramada Harbour View Hotel, which proffered us a beautiful view of the Harbour.  And when I found out that the hotel was actually within travelling distance from the Hong Kong Harbour from Macau, I knew I hit the jackpot.  In fact, I managed to get the hotel at a rate cheaper than the Macau inn.

Great view from the hotel room.

An even greater view from the poolside. The reflection is from safety glass they installed to prevent accidental supermen and superwomen showing their prowess. Note the red coloured boat which is Turbojet's ferry to Macau.

Telephone Lines
I tried to be a Scrooge with the telephone line by buying 2 new Digi prepaid numbers.  A sales girl working at Digi Express store recommended us a package called Digi Live, which does not have local internet package.

Till today, I'm not sure if she understood me, or I misunderstood her.  Instead of paying just RM8 per sim card, she had proceeded to register the local internet package for both lines, which cost the package to balloon up to RM43 per number.  

When I mentioned I am going to use the numbers overseas, she proceeded to propose topping up RM30 per number.  Which was actually insufficient as the overseas package was RM25 per number for 3 days.  

So I ended up having to buy a few RM10 mobile top-ups for both numbers.

Connectivity for both numbers were bad, and we got charged further via the service call when we were in Macau and Hong Kong, resulting in 1 number not being able to roam in Hong Kong.  And connectivity was unsatisfactory.  Surprisingly, my Celcom number which had roaming activated in the past was decent when I had to use the number to book my check-in luggage on Air Asia. I didn't need to do any activation as I had updated it before and the best part, I didn't see any large amount being charged at the end of my billing cycle. 

The earliest known settlement in the territory was found as far back as in the Neolithic era. The natural forming coves of the territory gave much needed protection to the population then.

Modern human civilisation then began occupying these areas during the Han dynasty. These people apparently worshiped the sea Goddess Ma-zu, then known as Ah-Ma. Thus, when the Portuguese led by Jorge Álvares arrived in Macau in 1513, they named the place as Macau due to misunderstanding with locals who thought they were asking about the name of Ah-Ma temple, known as Ma Kok (媽閣) located on the island. Hence, the territory became known as Macau (澳门) in the West and Àumén in the East.

Goddess Ma-Zu statue - credit PbDragonWang via wikipedia common.

Location unknown 

Politically, despite being returned to China 2 years later than Hong Kong, the Macau Special Administrative Region Government looks to be friendlier to China. In fact, it was the local Macau population that had pushed the Portuguese authority to return the territory to China after Portugal had undergone the Carnation Revolution.

The benefits from friendly approach to Beijing can be seen almost immediately. They were granted additional land and maritime border to police, and given free reign over their economy. Border controls are still within their hands.

The approach has benefited the local Portuguese community too. In many of former Portuguese colonies which were give self-determination after the Carnation Revolution, they had to leave the colony for their own safety and becoming refugees in their own homeland that many of them stepped into for the first time. In Macau, the local Portuguese are allowed to keep their culture and still stay in Macau. Many of them still keep their Portuguese nationality.

The main languages here are Cantonese and Portuguese. Mandarin are widely spoken due to influx of foreign workers from mainland China. English are widely spoken too to cater to foreign visitors. Tagalog should also be a key language here too due to a large Filipino diaspora in the region.

Macau and Malacca
The Portuguese under Jorge Álvarez were initially welcomed to trade on the island in 1513. In 1515, Malacca fell to the Portuguese led by Afonso de Albuquerque.

A statue of Jorge Alvarév in Macau
Credit to Keiziro via Wikipedia common

In 1516, a diplomatic delegation of Portuguese led by Tomé Pires, a doctor for the Portuguese Royal Family was sent to the Ming Court to establish the Portuguese embassy. Tomé Pires whose records in Malay Archipelago wrote the book Suma Oriental (click here for a digital version) that we had learnt in our history books.

Tomé Pores
Please click here for source

By 1521, angry at the fate of Malacca, the Ming Emperor instructed the eviction of Portuguese from China, which included Macau. Many were executed. But Tomé Pires were spared. He was kept as a prisoner and not allowed to leave China. Differing sources cited he died either in 1524 or 1540, and that he may have taken a Chinese wife.

Today, the only reminder of links between Macau and Malacca is an avenue known as Rua de Malaca.

Rua de Malaca
Screenshot from Google Map

Flying to Macau
As the plane flew lower for landing, glimpse of Mainland China comes to my view. This was my grandpa's homeland. The home that he had to leave due to famine and unrest. Had he stayed, he would have been forced to join a militia, and that would have ended as certain death. If he defied them, like how his brother did, it would have ended up the same.

Seeing the blue sea that he had once plied to reach Nanyang, I wonder what he was thinking. That he had to leave his home? Would he see his wife and son again?

The thought was soon gone when the wheels of our plane touched the tarmac. As the plane slowly taxied to the terminal building, I find it interesting that the airport itself was built on a platform over reclaimed land.

While going through the immigration was rather uneventful, it was interesting to see many plainclothes officers within the vicinity of the airport.

Exiting the arrival hall, we saw a very busy highway. The travel information counter informed us of the bus that we could take to go to our hotel (or rather inn) at Rua das Lorchas. We missed a bus, I recalled it was 4A, and had to wait for another one.

St Paul's Ruin
A must visit location in Macau, this must be the only location that we visited twice in the 2 days we were there.

Wife said she had wanted to visit the location for years since watching in on a movie or drama. So we soaked up the feel on the first day. We were also quite late to reach there on the first day, as the gates had been closed.

The second time we were there, it was to visit the nearby Macau Museum. While we were there, we also took opportunity to visit Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt together with Macau Wall.

Macau Museum
A very well-kept curated museum, they documented Macau's history from prehistoric era to the Portuguese occupation all the way till reunification with China. It is located within the Monte de Forte, so you get to kill 2 birds with one stone. Well, that's an understatement as basically, there's 5 attraction within less than 200m from each other.

Macau Museum of History

Macau Museum of History - Arrival of Portuguese to Macau.  Note one of the characters on the Portuguese side is a Malay, probably from Malacca.

Macau Museum of History - The Golden Chersone

Macau Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt
Within the ruins of St Paul is a crypt containing bones of several Catholic who were interred in grounds of the St Paul Church. The visit here was rather solemn, and I decided not to take any photos within the crypt as to respect the dead. I had some past unsavoury experience of taking photos at another museum in a hallowed ground that didn't turn out well.

But other tourists didn't seem to care and took photos in different poses.

Walls of Macau
This refers to the old section of wall that was built as part of the fort. To some extent, this is similar to the walls of Malacca which had been discovered somewhere not too far from A Formosa.

My wife took photo of me from Wall of Macau. You see the Ruins of St Paul behind me.

Interestingly, a shrine is dedicated to a Chinese demigod known as Na Zha. Legend has it that the population was plagued with diseases. One of the local population dreamt that they should make tribute to Na Zha. Apparently, after they had made the tribute, they recovered from the ailments that plagued them.

An engraving of Na Zha, as depicted in a temple in Malaysia. Credit to ExPsitaccine via Wikipedia Commons

Macau Museum of Art
Not all of Macau is about the past. They do have a very interesting art museum. More interestingly, the museum even have art classes for children, which I got to observe.

Class for children at Macau Museum of Art

Macau is full of casinos. Surprisingly, the only casino that we visited was the Golden Sand casino, and the only reason we visited it was because we needed some coffee and a break. So we stopped at McDonald's to have their McCafe.

The McDonald's crew here is a local who wasn't able to converse in English not Mandarin fluently. I was surprised initially until I realise that the local population are mostly Cantonese and their school system gives more prominence to Portuguese language.

The best part? We did not even enter the grand casino hall.

A McDonald's opposite of KFC in Macau Golden Sand Casino. This was the nearest I came to this casino.

Note: when we told my mum that we went to Macau (I kept the trip a secret until we returned from Macau), she asked me incredulously as she was surprised I visited Macau; to her and many others, Macau is a gambling haven. For me, it is a historical haven.

The Food
Seriously, Macau is a food haven. Portuguese egg feet, century egg porridge, Portuguese food, you name it.

I suggest you check out either TripAdvisor or Google Review before going. Take note of their comments for expectation and recommendation. We tried century egg porridge at 2 different locations, 1 recommended by TripAdvisor, and another no review, we found so much different in term of taste and quality.

This stall for example is located in an alley and came with high recommendation. We were a bit sceptical until we tried it.

Hidden treasure with very tasty porridge

Surprisingly a very clean alley.

They're even a rated outlet despite operating in an alley.

The porridge that taste like from Heaven.

The owner is also very friendly and when he found out that we are from Malaysia, he said "Selamat Datang!".

So if you're interested, check out the location here.

The People
The people are very friendly and willing to help. When we told the inn caretaker that we didn't have much change, he gave us some of his changes for the bus ride.

The drivers there are also very polite and quite willingly stop their vehicles to give priority to pedestrians to cross the road. Do that in Malaysia and your next-of-kin will be notified by grim-faced police officer.

I must note that the roads were mostly plied by public transport vehicles or at least MPV. Very few sedans, as the roads here were narrow and there's not much places to park their cars. And this contributed much to their efficient public transport.

Hong Kong - The History
Hong Kong was founded a bit later than Macau.  

The British managed to obtain a lease on Hong Kong which ended in 1997.  

Despite being granted autonomy, Hong Kong politics seems to be about either trying to secede from China or to deny China from controlling Hong Kong.  Apparently, we were lucky to go to Hong Kong later as apparently we just missed out a political rally in Hong Kong.  We did however, manage to catch the tail-end of the sit-in protest.

The anti-China sentiment seems to be quite strong.  As we had dinner one night, we overheard the shop-owner and his customers had a political discourse about how their freedom of speech is slowly being trampled on by pro-Beijing government. The customer had even quipped if he would be sharing the same cell with the shop-owner if their conversation is overheard by China's Big Brother system.

As I am editing this travelogue, a large scale protest is now happening in Hong Kong.

An interesting part of Hong Kong that I get to learn was there is no consumption tax in Hong Kong.  No GST nor SST. 

There was an attempt to introduce GST at one point of time, but the locals protested against it resulting in the planned introduction being shelved. 

By shelving the GST in Hong Kong, this had forced Hong Kong not being able to restructure its taxation landscape.  With their income tax at 19%, this had probably affected HK SAR government's ability to plan their finance effectively.  So they did the next best thing.  To proceed to continue controlling land that can be developed.  

This had resulted in scarcity of land in Hong Kong.  They even have car parks which are far more expensive than bungalows in Malaysia.  In the end, the people there still suffered.  The rich are still rich as they get premium salary.  But the public, the mass, which are easily manipulated due to lower education, do not get to enjoy the riches their land could have afforded them to. 

Now, enough about politics

Hong Kong - The Travel 
The next part of our trip was to Hong Kong.  

It was raining heavily the morning we were leaving Macau.  With the bus snaking its way across Macau Mainland, I was beginning to worry that we would miss the ferry at Macau's External Port, which is serviced by Turbojet (red line).  Another service provider, Cotai (blue line) is served from Taipa.  

Somehow or rather, we managed to arrive slightly earlier than planned.  I must admit I was a bit rushing that I rushed my wife through the process of checking in onto the ferry.  That caused us not to spend the balance of our Macau currency, around MOP200 to MOP300.  In hindsight, this might be good for us too as now we would have sufficient changes to be used for next visit, as it was quite difficult to obtain MOP changes in Malaysia.  

On the other hand, arriving early to the harbour allowed us to catch an earlier ferry at no charges. 

The ferry ride was quite comfortable as it was a rather large ferry.  It is much stabler than our ferries that ply the Penang - Langkawi route. 

We get complimentary wifi and rather comfortable seats.  I spied at the VIP seats, which was no better than what we have and were only divided by a small curtain.  I thanked God that I had listened to my wife's insistence to take the cheapest available seats, which cost us about RM160 for 2, as compared to RM400 for 2 at the VIP seats. 

The Hong Kong Smile
We found Hong Kong people having a unique smile, or lack thereof.  It is probably due to the living conditions for the general mass.  Working hard the whole day to return to only a birdcage home would definitely be depressing.  

The lack of smile did make me feel Macau was friendlier and more approachable.  

Hong Kong McDonald's
Every few corners, we would be greeted by the familiar sign of McDonald's.  It was a blessing to us as their McCafe was affordable.  

However, it was interesting for us to see how they work. 

Hong Kong prides itself as having a hardworking and very efficient workforce.  Somehow, the few McDonald's that we managed to go to seems to be more laid-back compared to some of the McDonald's I've observed in Malaysia.  

Hong Kong's MTR System
Their MTR system is efficient.  There's no doubt about it.  We even managed to catch our train ride to to Hong Kong International Airport with their very efficient train system.  It was well thought-out and efficient.  Yet, back home in Malaysia, the public transport is being sacrificed for the sake of third national car.  But I digress.

A busy MTR station in Hong Kong
Comfortable train

Hong Kong's Lady's Market in Mongkok
This must be a haven for shoppers, especially ladies.  I lost count how many rounds we took traversing the streets of Mongkok trying to find what we wanted to buy for friends and family.  Surprisingly, I was the more excited one.  But alas, I ended up buying only a pair of gloves for myself, while wife bought a set of clothes with the name Hong Kong emblazoned across their top from a Filipino trader.

Mongkok Skyline from Ladies' Street.

Hong Kong's Harbour Front
A visit to Hong Kong is not complete without going to the Harbour at Tsim Sha Tsui.

The harbour view is what many of us have in our mind when we think of iconic Hong Kong view.

The old and the new, plying the Harbour's waters.

A Chinese jong awkwardly from another are.

Back to Malaysia
Alas, all that is great must have an end.  Thus our journey ends when our flight touched down at klia2.  

As the plane touched down at KLIA2, I thought again of my late Grandpa, as I silently thanked him for making that journey to Nanyang worthwhile.

But that wasn't the end of our journey as we followed up with another driving trip to Penang as to make up to the kids for not bringing them with us to Hong Kong.

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