Macau 1996 - 1998
First steps on the road...
Following on from my six years in London, I touched down in Macau in late November 1996. If my early trips to France were pretty overwhelming, this time, I was well and truly out of my depth. So many new, wild and crazy experiences, all of which taught me so much and...
Macau in 1996 was still Portuguese and very much a backwater with a definite wild side. Despite it being a colony since 1557, the Portuguese had no desire to do too much to Macau (with the 1999 Handover looming), and the Chinese had no rush to move in. For those of a delicate nature, please excuse the sordidness of these early stories, but Macau was very much like that back then. I was young, single, homesick and very much guided by my new friends and colleagues. If was was to settle in, I had to go with the flow.
After a few days settling in to my new hotel, my first night out in Asia saw a few of us head out after work. We started off with a few beers in some pub or other before proceeding to 'Jai Alai' - an entertainment venue which featured a strip show made up entirely of Canadian girls. As a 24 year old, I was in awe - these girls were absolutely stunning and (during many visits in my time there) I fell in love several times a night. There were several rows of seats and while the front row gave the best view, you were also obliged to tip generously at the end of each performance. The girls collected their tips in various ways, most of which were imaginative and rather intimate. After the show, the next port of call was the Lisboa Coffee Shop, a cafe in the basement of the old Lisboa Hotel. Not only could we carry on drinking, but they sold a mean hot dog and fries which was often the go-to option for the late night nibbles. The coffee shop was also the gathering place for many 'ladies of the night', who we'd invariably get chatting to. We were locals too, so our conversations were fairly tame as we all knew there was no business to be done. I do remember that first night chatting to some Russian girls and reverting to French - my default language which I turned to when English was off the table. Strange, but all good fun.
After three weeks in Macau, new expats had to leave to get a new stamp in their passport. So, with the weekend off, I got the early evening Jetfoil to see Hong Kong for the very first time. Seeing Hong Kong for the first time by boat was pretty breathtaking as the whole of HK island opened up before my eyes as we approached the harbour. No photos, but I'll always remember that sight. Once through immigration, I was meeting my old college mate at the Lamma Ferry Terminal for a weekend on at his place on Lamma. Unfortunately I waited at the wrong terminal and with no mobile phones back then, we missed eachother. So I took a short walk along the harbour front before heading back to Macau. Although my first visit didn't go exactly as planned, I fell in love with Hong Kong that night and it's been a big part of my life ever since.
As anyone who has lived in the Far East knows, Chinese New Year is a very special occasion. I've seen a fair few of them by now, but that first one in February 1997 was the most memorable of them all. In the weeks before CNY itself, firework stalls used to open up on various pieces of wasteland around Macau. Anyone could go along and buy any size of firework and set them off in a designated spot. With no control of who and when you could set off your fireworks, it was a war zone. You would tentatively approach the designated spot with bangs going off and rockets whizzing past you. It was so dangerous, but so much fun. I remember one massive rocket I set off - I lit the touch paper and backed off only to see it slowly topple over and shoot off into crowds of people. No damage done though. There was also a specially-built frame for the firecrackers and if someone bought the largest of them all, a massive cheer would go up as everyone stood back and let the guy have his moment. This would go on for about two weeks before CNY itself and would of course ramp up to a climax over the first three days of the new year. At the hotel, we would hang up about 10 sets of massive firecrackers at the main entrance and light them all at the same time. The noise was incredible as everyone cowered nearby and brought in the new year together. Unfortunately that level of reckless fun is no longer allowed but I'm just glad I got to experience it one time.
Phuket Trip - ? 1997
Guangzhou Trip - November 1997
Phuket 2 - ? 1998
Manila 10s - ? 1998
Handover & Parachute Jump - return to HK