Hong Kong Exchange, Travel

Macau, Chinese Lanterns and the Best McDonald’s Ever

It’s been a while since I last posted! I’ve been busy preparing for three presentations due by Wednesday, but now I finally have some time to recap the past week and a half.

Last weekend I made a spur-of-the-moment trip to Macau. I wanted to try to visit while we had the week off for Chinese New Year, but I didn’t know anyone else who wanted to go. Then on Friday, Sam said his plans for the weekend got cancelled, so we could head over together. The next day, we were in Macau, and it turned out to be a great day trip!

Macau is similar to Hong Kong in many ways: it was colonized by Europeans (Portuguese, this time), it’s rather small, and it’s also kinda sorta owned by China. But there are some differences. Whereas Hong Kong has considerable green space to the north, Macau is only a city split in two parts and connected by a bridge. The northern half is called Macau, and the southern half is Taipa. But together, they make up the territory of Macau. Whereas Hong Kongers want to remain as independent as possible, it appears the Macanese are more willing to fall under China’s umbrella.

Sam and I took an hour-long ferry from Hong Kong Island to Taipa, then a bus up from Taipa to Macau. The trip was odd because while I had to show my passport to enter and exit the territory, I was treated at the border like a Hong Kong resident because of my student visa. I’m totally cool with being considered an honorary Hong Konger, for the record. I didn’t get a passport stamp; I got a small sheet of paper like a receipt with my entry info on it called an “arrival card,” not a visa. Politics are fun.

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Macau is the world’s most densely populated country or territory, over three times denser than fourth-place Hong Kong. Similar to Monaco in second and Singapore in third, it’s somewhat cheating since it’s just a city. It isn’t even one of the densest cities, but good luck finding an legitimately-sized country as dense as an average city. So, Macau wins. It’s also considered the Asian Las Vegas and the gambling capitol of the world since it’s filled with casinos. Of course, I couldn’t go in since I’m not 21 yet, but there are plenty of opportunities to try my luck if I decide to go back in a month or so. The casino designs ranged from classy to downright gaudy and came in an impressive array of shapes, sizes and colors. While the casinos are the main attractions for most visitors, Sam and I spent much of our day in the historic part of town.

We stopped by a small restaurant to eat Macau’s famous pork chop buns. The dish was simply a pork chop on a bun, but the chop was so juicy and flavorful that it didn’t need any condiments. For as basic as it was, the sandwich was absolutely delicious. After lunch, we wound through the maze-like streets to St. Dominic’s Church and the ruins of Saint Paul’s, both of which were constructed in the 1500s. Both sites, especially the ruins, were beautiful. Historic Macau reminded me a lot of the French Quarter in New Orleans, but without a grid layout. The Portuguese architecture certainly stands out along the backdrop of high-rise casinos.

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After that, we went to the top of Fortazela do Monte, where we had great views of all parts of Macau. Here, the contrast really stood out: historic ruins and aging apartments stood against modern, gleaming casinos. It was certainly something to behold. After coming down from the fort, we got some egg tarts for dessert and went to one of the countless local bakeries for souvenirs. The most common Macanese souvenirs are foodstuffs. I’m not quite sure why. But seeing as I love food, I can’t complain. I bought a pound of chili pepper pork jerky glazed with a honey sauce. Unlike American beef jerky, this pork jerky isn’t tough or fully dehydrated; it’s still a little juicy and easy to chew. And oh my goodness, the flavor is to die for. I wish I could bring some back for everyone, because it’s the best jerky I’ve ever had.

We milled around town for a bit longer before catching an evening ferry back to Hong Kong. All in all, it was a great day filled with beautiful historic sites, perfect weather and good companionship.

Fast forward to Monday, and I visited McDonald’s Next, which I lovingly refer to as The Coolest McDonald’s In The World. To be fair, other McDonald’s around the world are similar to this one, but this location is the pioneer. McDonald’s Next is a concept restaurant that opened in Central district in late 2015. The highlight is its Create Your Own salad or sandwich option. At the front of the store are touchscreens where you can order standard menu items or customized ones, and I of course chose to make my own from the bun up. Aside from the standard toppings, this McDonald’s also lets you slap on things like fried eggs, tomato-jalapeƱo sauce, grilled mushrooms and more. Those who order specialty items get the added luxury of having their meal brought out to them, so I took my table marker and sat down.

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The restaurant itself is very modern. Clean, white lights hang in rods from the ceiling, the service counters are made of stainless steel, and the kitchen area is paneled with rich, red translucent glass. All the available specialty condiments and toppings are in a glass display for everyone to see, and modern pop hits play over the speakers. Aside from typical booths and square tables, long wooden and steel islands fill the space. Everything looks fantastic. Even the food presentation was top-notch, as my burger came on a wooden paddle, the fries came in a shiny metal basket, and I even got a full set of silverware with a moist towelette, since the monster burger would likely be messy (and it was).

As you can see in the pictures, I didn’t mess around with my order, because YOLO. I spent about $10.50 on my combo, but it was worth every penny. You heard it here first, folks: I ate the best cheeseburger of my life at a McDonald’s. That’s a sentence I never thought I would write, but it’s 100% true. The patty was juicy, the bacon had just the right crunch, the veggies were fresh, the sauce-to-burger ratio was perfect, and the toasted bun held it all together expertly. I was thoroughly impressed.

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After dinner, I walked across an overpass to a park area along the waterfront and took in the beauty of Hong Kong’s skyline(s) at night. One unique aspect of the city is that its dense downtown area is sliced in half by Kowloon Bay, essentially giving Hong Kong two equally brilliant skylines. The corporate office buildings on Hong Kong Island (where I was) are more glamorous, while the ones in Kowloon (where I live) are more uniform apartment buildings. Both sides are breathtaking, and the views just continually blow me away. I also took the time to finally figure out some of the different settings on my camera. It was long overdue, but I found the best way to take nighttime shots, and in the process I stumbled upon the settings for those cool pictures where passing cars become neon light blurs. That might be my favorite kind of photo to take now.

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Fast forward yet again to Friday night, and the Chinese New Year festivities finally came to an end with the Chinese Lantern Festival that I mentioned in a previous post. Some of us international students went to the festival in Tsim Sha Tsui, which included a couple large lantern displays, various performers, and some craftspeople showcasing skills in shoe embroidery, metalworking and more. It was a beautiful way to close out the celebrations.

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Now it’s time to juggle between some international travel and a flurry of assignments due this month. At my university, March is the busiest month for most students. Rather than having midterm exams like in the US, students here can expect to have papers and group presentations for most or all of their classes due in March. Then, the schedule quiets down again until term finals in May. As I mentioned earlier, I have three group presentations to give this week. But after that, I’ll spend the weekend in Hualien, Taiwan, which should be a nice nature-oriented getaway. Hualien’s main feature is its national park and the Taroko Gorge, so I’m looking forward to the experience!

Thanks for reading!


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