Saturday, April 28, 2007


Imposing Gent:

I met an imposing gent in the middle of a park in the middle of Macao literally. He stood there, looking quite imposing (I said that already didn’t I?) and unmoving. I am sure, in his time, he moved and how! I am talking about the statue of the Portuguese sea farer, navigator, Captain, explorer, call him by any name and it fits him for sure. His real name? Jorge Alvares, the first Westerner to reach the Pearl River Delta in the year 1513. Take a look at the photo of this gent and how strange he may have appeared to the Chinese fisher folk who had been living along the Pearl River Delta for millennia perhaps.

Imposing Gent! (Click on all pictures for bigger view)

Fisherman’s Wharf:

Yes, Macao also has one and it’s not quite like the one in San Francisco. This one is a mini Disneyland of sorts with a huge man made volcano, a Roman amphitheatre and Roman themed shopping complex and a few other attractions that run along the outer harbor of Macao starting from just of the Macao Ferry terminal. The ferry terminal brings in visitors and locals from mainly Hong Kong by high speed ferry boats. One can reach Hong Kong this way in one hour, a distance of around 70 kilometers away. What I liked about fisherman’s wharf is that it is a nice place to unwind in the evening, not too many people hanging about, at least for now while the place is still new and unknown. There are neat little watering holes, bars and café’s by the sea with a boardwalk kind of feel. I sat at one that featured Dutch beer (finally the Dutch had invaded Macao!) and a live band that was playing some rather good rock music. I’ll take pictures on my next visit.

Like flies landing on rotten meat:

Sitting by the seaside at fisherman’s wharf, sipping a big pint of beer and watch the ferries go by is a nice way to spend the evening. I sat at a American sounding café’ outside, by the water, taking in the sights of the early night and the astounding part were the helicopters taking off and landing one after the other on the roof of the ferry terminal. There’s a full fledged helipad on the roof and regular transfers, mostly back and forth from Hong Kong keeps the choppers busy. I was told that the flight between HK and Macao takes only a little over 15 minutes. It takes me double that time to go by train to downtown Singapore from where I live! However, I can reach downtown Singapore from my place for a little more than a Singapore Dollar. The helicopter costs HK$1,800 each way I was told (US$230) and that’s no small change unless you happened to be a high roller and then it would be peanuts really.

The high rollers were coming into town; one could only imagine the tycoons stepping off the helicopters to be driven straight to the casinos for a night of gambling. Was James Bond on one such flight? Was it him in the tuxedo with Miss Pussycat or whoever his girl friend was this time around? Macao had this air about it, a James Bond set, in living color. A word about the casinos- there’s plenty of them (oops that’s four words!). There are many casinos here and this year, the news was that Macao beat Las Vegas (you heard me right) in casino volumes (numbers and revenues). Gamblers in SE Asia know where to head, before the Integrated Resorts starts in Singapore starts in 2009 (I guess) but then that’s only one casino and Macao has plenty more options) to choose from.

I’d say that the frequency of the helicopters coming in, with their landing lights on, circling around waiting to land one after another was almost like swarms of flies landing on a piece of rotten meat. There’s nothing rotten about the helipad or the ferry terminal, let me assure you but I in the distance that’s what it looked like. A beer too many perhaps?

The foods quite alright and the options were not limited. A vegetarian can certainly not get lost here for sure and the menu featured western delights, too many to list but starters included the stock tortilla chips with salsa and baked potato skins with cheese and sour cream. Assorted pasta and pizza made up the menu. Any more beer or anymore food and I was certain to fall overboard and become fish feed. A little walk was necessary and in the pleasant evening, it rather felt good. Getting back from fisherman’s wharf is a cinch; taxis at the ferry terminal will get you back to wherever you are staying. Adventurous chaps like me can take the regular city buses that go on the usual hotel routes. Like I said before, it is damn difficult to get lost in Macao.

Inner harbour-looking towards Macao Tower

Inner Harbor:

Other evenings can be spent at the inner harbor and yes there is one such place, with a board walk and café’s lining the waterfront there as well. I have posted photos of this place as well. Along side the inner harbor are various heritage and modern buildings among them, the administrative offices of Macao and an imposing façade of a mansion on a cliff, a heritage building that forms the residence of the Portuguese Ambassador. His predecessors were probably Governors for Macao during the time Macao was a territory of Portugal.

Inner Harbor

One need not walk on the boardwalk of the inner harbor and may opt to walk on the road side because of the enormous and well laid out sidewalks, and still be able to look at the fountains and laser light shows in the inner harbor with the lights of the casinos in the background.

Walk way -inner harbor area

A rather long walk from here leads one to the Macao tower, a place that I did not go to this time. I chose to walk, but like I said before, taxis and busses are available to ensure that you don't overwork those legs, unless you love walking like I do. Local information mentions this tower as the tenth tallest in the World. Perhaps it is and I did not see much sense in going up, just to be swallowed by mist and being unable to get a clear view of the surroundings and into mainland China. That’s for another day for sure. I do have photos posted here of the tower below, on another cloudy, cool, misty day.

A-Ma Temple:

I could not, obviously, complete this tour without paying my respects to the patron goddess of Macao. No, not the one featured before in the first part of this story but another one after whom the country/city of Macao is named. Naturally, I tool another one of those real convenient and cheap city buses to the A-Ma temple, also known locally as the Mak Kok Miu, named after the goddess who is the protector of the sea. It is the oldest standing temple in Macao, over 500 years old. Apparently the Portuguese landed right across from the temple when the sailors came ashore and asked the locals what the name of the place was, the local told them that it was called the Ma kok. Hence the name stuck and the Portuguese contributed for some local language corruption and called this land as Macao.

The A-Ma (Ma Kok) Temple

Another heritage building in mid town Macao

Mid Town Macao

Another view of St. Paul's Ruins

More Canons on the fort

Local Administration building-another heritage structure, close to inner harbor area

There’s more to see and that will have to wait for my next trip and I am sure that I’ll do Taipa and the “country side” on Coloane. Let me round off this rather long piece by saying that Macao was pleasant to visit, not too many hassles, good places to walk around and for those with the desire to play the tables, some very fine casinos indeed that will make sure you go back home feeling light (weight reduction as a result of cash reduction). Next time you do that and go to a casino in Macao, have a vodka martini on me, shaken but not stirred!

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Arriving in Macao:

Recently your’s truly, went on a trip to Macau. It wasn’t for a holiday but there was plenty of spare time to wander around. This piece is about the trip.

Not many have heard of Macao, although there’s even a James Bond movie “Man with the golden gun” made in the seventies shot briefly in Macao and in 1952 there was a movie produced by Howard Hughes (C’mon aviation buffs, you know who HH is) titled simply as “Macao”. The city-state was a Portuguese territory till the hand over to China and is now called as Macau S.A.R. meaning “special administrative region” of China’s one country two systems policy for Hong Kong and Macao. Macao or Macau has a population of a little more than half a million people.

I made an entry through the Macao International Airport on the Island of Taipa. Macao has the islands of Taipa and Coloane and the Macao peninsula. The arrival is seamless, Immigration formalities are a breeze and visa is on arrival for people from most countries around the World.

Even though it was past mid night as I was driven in a cab from Taipa where the Airport is, to the peninsular Macao, there was a buzz in the air and I noticed everything lit up brightly, reminding me that Macao is now considered as the “Las Vegas” of the East. Yes, there is the very large “Sands” casino that you find in Vegas and Atlantic City and wherever else casinos as allowed to operate and yes there are plenty of other large and small casinos even in the Holiday Inn that I stayed. But I’d stop short of comparing it with Vegas for several reasons. For one, Vegas is all glamour, all glitz, middle of the desert exotic casinos featuring exotic shows as well. Macao is none of that except for the casinos bit. There’s a lot more to Macao than the Casinos and that what I’ll touch on in my blog.

The weather was pleasant, in the low 20 degrees Celsius. A brief word on how to arrive in Macao, there are flights from Singapore to Macao on Tiger Airways that’s real cheap and perhaps more options for anyone who’d care to do a bit of research on the net for flights.

Oh, the cab from the Airport to the peninsula/downtown Macao costs around MOP 60 maximum. The MOP was currently converting to the US Dollar as 1 USD = 7.50 MOP. Check the rates before you travel and always have some local currency on hand before you leave for another country.

Portuguese Consul General's residence

View from top of St. Pauls ruins

Museum of Macau housed within the Fort (mentioned towards the end of this piece)


The next morning saw me rise early for a mid day meeting. Having never been in Macao before and not having the slightest clue, I set out early to take in the locality and find my way around. I’d like to mention that all hotels have English speaking staff and are very helpful. Don’t expect the rest of Macao to be the same. I mean the rest of the Macanese people as they are called are also equally friendly but severely challenged when it comes to speaking English. I didn’t know Chinese either and that makes it tough to ask around. But, as I set off on a walk through the roads and bye lanes of Macao, having been briefed by the hotel concierge about directions, I felt that one could not possibly get lost in this place. Signboards are Portuguese and Chinese and all major landmarks have English signposts pointing towards the landmarks. If someone can get lost with a map and a city full of signposts, I’d say the person is challenged directionally and perhaps needs a GPS to find the loo in their own house.

I noticed that the streets were well laid out, not too many people thronging around the sidewalks and that generally the place was neat and rubbish free. I wandered off to the general area that my meeting was scheduled to take place, in a real swanky part of the town to find nice parks dividing the roads with well built underpasses and thoroughfares through the park. There was this illusion of real wide open spaces in a somewhat narrow and small country.

I ended up at the famous statue of Kun Lam on the waterfront. She is also known as Kuan Yin, meaning goddess of mercy. My photos of Kun Lam are a bit dull just like the day was, a dull cloudy cool morning and this sort of weather stayed all the time that I was there. Certainly beats walking around in the hot blazing sun with high humidity and perhaps Kuan Yin’s mercy was on me throughout the trip because of the extensive outdoor walks that I took to discover the popular places in Macao. Thank you, goddess!

Goddess Pictured above

One of the many Portuguese era heritage buildings above

I asked the concierge for bus information and went out to catch a bus to the heart of Macao town now labeled as a “UNESCO World Heritage Site”. Bet you did not know that! The whole area in front of the town municipality leading to the famous St. Paul’s ruins, the Macao Fort and the Macao Museum is a World heritage site comprising Portuguese buildings several hundred years old and maintained like they were built recently. I’d take this to the gambling dens any day.

Canons on the Fort


I took the local bus, they are all nice and spiffy and air conditioned (not that you needed it) and will take exact to be dropped into a box next to the driver. A word of caution here. The local money is called MOP or Macao Patakas. Coins come in 10 cent, 50 cent, 1, 2 and 5 Patakas. The bus fare anywhere to anywhere in Macao peninsula is MOP2.50. However, Hong Kong money is equal here and small change comprising HK Dollar may also be used as legal tender for anything. Be sure you look at the coins you are dropping into the box because the MOP 2 Patakas and Hong Kong 5 Dollar coins look somewhat similar to the untrained eye and you don’t want to drop the wrong coin in. Not that the bus company cares but the box will not give it back to you nor give you any change, that’s all!

I took the back seat, the only empty seat available and asked the chap sitting next to me whether he knew where St. Paul’s ruins was. He looked at me blankly and I then fished out a small piece of paper that the concierge at the hotel had written on, mentioned the name and bus numbers that I could take to St. Paul’s. Staring blankly at the English writing, the man could not help me but was kind enough to pass the paper around. No one could read it and this was another note I made mentally to myself, maybe one should arm themselves with the names of places with English and Chinese letters so that the locals could read and help.

Hearing an announcement on the PA system of the bus, I looked up to find two LED displays flashing the name of the next stop in Mandarin, Cantonese and English. The announcements are not in English, though. Ha! I was now on “normal mode” and sure enough, after some time, the LED display showed “St. Paul’s ruins” stop and I alighted, keeping in mind that all I had to do the next time around was to have exact change for the bus and look for the LED display to tell me where to get off. See, I told you even idiots can’t get lost here.

I’d tell people to take the bus. That’s how you start sampling the lives of the locals. You’d see a lot more and heck, almost anywhere you go, they are a lot cheaper than a cab. For me, the country experience starts from taking local transportation and ends up tasting, within my vegetarian focus, the local food and local beers.


I got off at the town square into the World Heritage Site. A brief look around from a fountain in the square revealed various Portuguese style heritage buildings featuring the Municipality, The General post Office and other government offices. Some curious things that stood out in the buildings that were several centuries old was a large McDonald’s. Yup, that’s what I am talking about, famished westerners can dig into their biggest Macs without having to experiment with the Cantonese local cuisine. Right opposite Mickey D’s is another American icon, just in case you wanted better coffee than Mickey’s. Starbucks, located in another heritage building! So, if you had taken a round the World trip to get here and after 18 hours of flying if you felt like you missed food from homeland, here it was, welcoming the many famished and hungry westerners. You couldn’t catch me dead in there, so I walked around to find alternates.

I trooped into this little Chinese restaurant or perhaps café’ instead and found that I, obviously, could not read the menu. The waitress (and for that matter anyone else in the restaurant) did not speak English but she was clever enough to fish out another menu made for tourists and that had items that could have made your stomach churn if you were vegetarian like me. Listed among pig intestines and other gory innards and unmentionables of assorted animals was also a noodle dish with dried mushrooms. As unappetizing as that may sound, perhaps it was the only dish I could have ordered and I did. And a cup of coffee with milk and sugar. That would help my food go down easier, was my hope. The tables were filled with local yokels and others who I suspect were visitors from China.

Naturally when the waitress came with the food and a pair of chopsticks, every head turned my way, sticking out like a sore thumb (me, not the food), to watch me make a fool out of myself. As it turned out, they lost interest as soon as I dug in with the chop sticks and started eating the noodles like they did. Practicing with chopsticks and noodles for so many years helped me, naturally, and I am glad that I did not make a mess and ended up as fodder for some local jokes. I even managed the slippery mushrooms which now having been floating in the noodle soup, were far from being “dry”. The coffee, I must say, was better than anything that McDonald’s can throw at you. Let me warn all westerners and others - don’t think you’ll get the so-called Chinese take away food that you get in the West, that’s not the real thing.

Me with St.Paul's ruins in the back


Re-charged from the noodles and coffee, I started to wander around the town square, a delight for the eyes with buildings of interesting architecture, a little Portugal in the middle of China so to speak. Following the signs (and I encourage you the reader also to do so when in Macao) and there are plenty of signs there, I worked my way through the throngs of tourists up a narrow road, all closed for traffic and only for pedestrian use. A bit of slope climbing and one comes across the flight of steps leading to the entrance to the ruins of St. Paul. Only the entrance of the church of Mater Dei is still standing as one can see in the picture. The rest of it burned down, along with the College of Jesus for the third time in 1853. It is interesting to walk around the precincts of the old church and visualize the times when it was a spiritual hub.

UNESCO World Heritage Site, City center, Macao

Climbing a small hill, which can be easier by using the escalators that go up and you get to the top of a fort. The fort has its turrets and cannons, aimed somewhat towards the city and the surrounding sea. Apparently this fort was also the place that was the bastion of the Portuguese legions and subsequently housed the Governors appointed by Portugal to oversee their territories. The fort complex also house a small gallery in the complex that depicts the history of the fort and the significant role it played during Netherlands invasion of the territory. Of course the Portuguese won that battle.

The City Municpality, the stop where one gets off for the UNESCO site and St. Paul's

Don’t leave the fort without going to the Museum of Macao, also cleverly positioned within the fort complex. Air conditioned and containing many relics of the past, this is the part where one can catch ones breath and take in some more history. And everybody thinks Macao is only about gambling and has no history or culture. My next part of this trip is coming shortly because there is more of Macao! Stay tuned.
End Part 1

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


I have been away in Macao and almost missed some stories from back home in India. When I got to Singapore, the first news from India that caught my eye was about Indus Airways stopping flights and shutting down. It brought back memories from the 1990's when start-up airlines in India started folding, one after another.

Funnily enough, I had written in December last year that some of the airlines in India are run on ego and not on sound business plan and I had predicted their closure. This included Indus, as evidenced from one of my replies to a comment from a reader. My post got some bouquets and brickbats, as it usually does, with some going on to refute my prediction. I had mentioned that the reasons for my observations were based on pure math and also from knowing that the wrong aircraft for the wrong routes and wrong pricing can never add up to profits.

The writing is on the wall, I had said, sounding more like a doomsday prophet than an aviation professional, and some had questioned my observation about corporate investment in the airline sector.

I had said in my blog then "There's another curious activity going on these days that's also making news. Financial companies, investment firms and other corporate types are buying up small equity shares in some of the Airlines. I don't know why and some seem keen on picking up larger equity. I don't know who is advising these guys and I'll bet there is an army of CA's and MBA's in ties involved. I did hear some sound bites from the "experts" about this and they were saying: "these are very positive a signs indeed, signs of maturity, such an investment lends credibility etc" and all that hogwash these guys come up with. And they get paid a mint, mind you, to say all this rubbish".

I had written about specifically the TATA group having picked up a stake in Spice Jet and that I thought was a mistake. This led to a question from a reader asking why I did not support corporate investment in Aviation business. I had felt that while corporate investment in the Airline sector was a good thing to have, it did not make much sense for a company to invest blindly. TATAs do know a thing or two about Aviation but on the advice of some of their financial consultants it seems, they had found it prudent to pick up some equity in Spice Jet.

So, coming to Spice Jet's current cup of woes, the latest news projects Spice Jet's loss this quarter is up by 395%. Staggering? It would be for any one else but as I mentioned, some one keeps injecting some fresh life in the scene and things keep floating for a longer time.

I have heard that the other Airlines are all keeping a positive attitude - that's good because that's all they can do; keep positive. They will paint red all over the skies with their results this year, notwithstanding bravado statements from the "glitterati" of aviation. The sector is set to lose something like Rs.1,800 crores and that’s no small change! Like I said before, it's been good for the flying public, cheap fares and all. My advice, stop complaining and keep flying. When more airlines fold up, the fares are heading north for sure!

So, we have the first blood drawn in this aviation scenario. Luckily it has not been a bloodbath in terms of an all out price war and the intention of one Airline to see another go down the tubes and fail. My blog on Macao had to wait for this piece, just had to get this one off my chest. This blog appeared first in