I wouldn’t say I was gripping the seat in terror but I will say that my confidence in reuniting with terra firma at a speed significantly lower than terminal velocity was not too high as we bounced and bumped and vibrated through the chop in a soupy fog that seemed to stretch on forever. Downward and downward, the engines screaming one minute, quiet the next, feeling the Gs as the plane banked and bucked, we approached what I hoped was a landing strip just off the Coati section of Macau China.
The fog cleared slightly as we broke 200 feet or so above ground level and for the first time, I saw the place I would be staying for the next two days. As I sat in my seat, seeing the Las Vegas of the East, I made a silent note to stay away from discount airlines if at all possible. I had flown into Macau on a direct flight from Taipei on Air Macau.
The choice was unfortunate, but necessary as it seems no one flies directly into Macau from Taipei, and coincidentally, no one can seem to get from Macau to Tokyo, my third stop on this odyssey, without taking nearly 24 hours of transit time. So Air Macau it was.
We landed safely and ended up in an airport that reminded me a lot of the small airport on Grand Bahama island, rather than the typical “International” airport I usually fly into. No gantry way for us, instead a truck with stairs was wheeled to the side of our Airbus A321 and we disembarked the old fashioned way, the way people did for decades following the advent of commercial aviation.
Once the waiting shuttle bus was filled and ferried us over to the actual terminal, we stepped through the doors to the 2 people from the local government who controlled the border. We had arrived very late, our flight delayed by several hours due to weather concerns initially, so we were the last flight into Macau that evening.
The not terribly friendly border guard seemed to take his time checking every stamp in my well used passport, never once saying a word to me as he made up his mind whether I was a safe bet or not, and should be allowed into the Macau Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.
Macau, along with Hong Kong, make up the two Special Administrative Regions in the PRC. Both former colonies, Hong Kong being British and Macau being Portuguese and the first European colony in China and the last, having been handed back to China after the famous New Years Eve handover of Hong Kong,
I must not have looked too terribly dangerous to a city that used to be rife with gang violence and only recently being taken back from the local Triads, as the man finally gave me my papers and off I went to find my luggage.
The first real problem that presented itself was that no one seems to speak English at the airport. Not a good sign if you’re entire economy is made on international gambling tourism. So my colleague and I were left in the Arrival hall with no way to get to our hotel over on the Cotai strip. There was supposed to be a shuttle bus, but there seemed to be no busses at all coming or going as we stood there in the wee hours of the morning.
Finally, a shabby looking taxi cruised up and we were taken for a ride, literally, as the man who spoke only pidgin Mandarin with a mix of Portuguese charged us about 4 times what it should have cost for a ride to the hotel. Luckily, my colleague is native Taiwanese and speaks fluent Mandarin, and was able to at least communicate enough with the swarthy looking cabbie to get us to our lodging at the Holiday Inn Cotai Central.
The drive in was no where near as impressive as it should have been, considering we were entering the Gambling Capital of the World, according to the literature I read. Instead of lights and glitter and glitz, we only saw high construction fencing and a confusing series of roads that seemed to twist and turn back onto themselves in circles with some roads looking more like alleyways than legitimate roads.
Images flashed in my mind of being led off to some secret Triad warehouse where Samantha and I would be tied up and held for ransom, perhaps tortured and screamed at by Chinese gangsters as we disappeared forever into the dark underworld of Asias gangland.
Instead, we pulled up to the Holiday Inn, thoroughly exhausted and ready to simply hit the bed. I paid the cabbie 100 Macau Patacas that Sam had agreed to before we left. I handed him a second 100 Pataca bill hoping for change so I could tip him a small amount. Instead, he kept the whole thing and suddenly was unable to even understand my girl’s native Mandarin.
Too tired to fight, I just waived the guy off and shambled into the hotel dragging my bags behind me. I’m sure that’s exactly what he was hoping for