The Former Concessions

The border between China and Macau must be the most congested in the world. Considering that the Portuguese returned Macau to the Chinese in 1999, it also seems a bit unnecessary. People start lining up before dawn. Bleary-eyed stragglers start gate hoping and shoving their way to the front all in the name of what we imagine to be a rather severe and desperate gambling addiction.

Standing amid the colonial architecture of Largo Do Senado you can blur your eyes and imagine you’re in Europe. Standing amid the flashy casinos on Avenida Da Amizade you can blur your eyes and imagine that you’re in Las Vegas. Walk a few steps in any other direction and you could be nowhere but China…hole-in-the-wall dim sum joints, red gates and lanterns and absolutely no English spoken. In fact our first taxi driver had never heard of the name Macau (apparently the Portuguese name) and our second taxi driver had no recognition of the official posted Portuguese street names. How quickly China can engulf and assimilate a foreign culture! Just look at the Manchurians and Mongols, for less modern examples.

Continuing our “One Country, Two Systems” tour we passed through more superfluous immigration formalities to Hong Kong. We nodded in agreement at stuffy British-style signs such as “Passengers shall be patient and queue in an orderly fashion as directed.” If you’ve ever been to the cluster#%@& that is Asia, I expect you are laughing now. If only there was a similarly stern sign condemning spitting.

We settled ourselves into the crumbling tenement (have you ever seen Candyman?) that was in our price range.  Our bathroom appeared to be an old phone booth, oddly attached to the foot of one of two twin beds, each oddly attached to each side of the wall.

Our room clearly had no charms to hold us, so we set out into the city. The ferry across the harbor is breathtaking and since I’m partial to ferries anyway, I was in heaven. Our budget then allowed us to ride the tram back and forth in order to get a sense of the city…surely anything as ambitious as restaurants or bars was out of the question.

What struck me most was that you never have to step foot an a street, never have to wait at a crosswalk, never have to deal with traffic. You can navigate central Hong Kong entirely on well-signposted elevated pedestrian walkways! No getting hit by a bus!

After spending the next day admiring the views from The Peak, strolling through the shaded parks on the hill behind the city and “commuting” through the Mid-Levels escalator district, I deemed Hong Kong an organized and livable city. Although the dozen people crammed into the room across the hall from our “hotel room” slaving away in what was clearly a sweatshop may disagree. Thanks, Wal-mart!

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