I had never ever been interested in going to Macau but this time there was, at least apparently, no other choice. Back in 2007 I had experienced the nightmare that it is to arrive in Hong Kong with a bicycle and I wasn't willing to repeat that, let alone now there being two of us. The only reason why we had to go through Macau was because that's the place where the cheapest flights for the Philippines take off from, they are indeed really cheap. That, coupled with the fastest issuing of the Philippine visa at the cheapest price in the region and the fact that, opposite to Hong Kong, you are actually allowed to cycle in Macau, it made the place hard to resist. What I didn't know at the time of arranging the flight is that we would fall into a trap and as the saying (in Spanish) goes, the cheapest ends up being the most expensive in the end.
It took us 12 exhausting hours to complete the 135km that separate Guangzhou广州and the city of Zhuhai珠海sitting across the border from Macau. The road was pretty much a continuation of what I had been experiencing the days before arriving to Guangzhou广州, an endless continuum of factories and evil traffic. Many of those images that can be seen in some investigative reports in the west about the poor working conditions going on in china can be seen live here, right from the road. Or what it is actually more terrifying, one can only see a small bit of it and that very small bit is already terrifying itself. Factories filled with lines and lines of workers probably sitting all day there working double or triple shifts, their housing sitting either right above or right next to the factory. It is only left to imagination what living like this must be like, in this industrial megacenter of the planet. The lives of the very people that work anywhere from 8 to 18hs a day to make real those objects that not only the very few in the world will be able to consume but also those super cheap mass market products that find their place somewhere across the globe. It is a saddening experience and it brings me down to see the degree of inequality that the Gods of the economy of our days promote and strive so so so hard to defend.
It took us only 40 minutes the next day to cycle to the border where from the very beginning, problems started to arise. I walked my way to the Macau immigration officer booth to have my passport stamped. He obviously welcomed me with that typical ass face that these guys are so hardly trained to hold in front of their “customers”. While I stand on these queues I can't always help but wonder how many years of ass face training these dummies have to go through to become so numb and bitter....
Anyway, I got there, handed him my passport and he went:
- mmm...Argentina? Where is your visa?
- Mmm my what? What visa? Do I need a visa for Macau? I get 90 days free in Hong Kong and I need a visa for here (ie this shitty place that I'm about to get to?)
- Yes, Argentines need a visa.
- (WTF you gotta be kidding I thought to myself) So I went, alright, hold on, no problem and I pulled out my joker card, -the one that I always use when my main passport fails-and I handed him my Italian passport. There you go, I will use this one, I'm sure I don't need a visa as an Italian.
And unlike the rest of the planet where some coherence is preserved for certain things, he suspiciously looked at it up and down and from beginning to end, called his superior, consulted each other and they go:
- You can't use this passport, it doesn't have an exit stamp from China. You should go back to Chinese immigration and have it stamped.
I took a very deep breath, very very deep breath and I refrained myself from starting a conversation about the idiocy of what he is suggesting me to do and I gently replied:
- Sir, I reside in China as an Argentine, not as an Italian. How do you think Chinese immigration will put a stamp on a passport that has never ever had any trace of having been in China? Especially when I just stamped my own passport, the one that has my resident's visa in the country.
I heard silence instead of a coherent response and I went AAAUUUUUUMMMM..... Unfortunately, these guys don't have any single gram of the brain left for anything other than some memorized “logic” written in some stupid book with instructions, therefore they both pretty much arbitrarily concluded that I wasn't allowed to use my Italian passport and that either I used the Argentine one or I should go back to China. Only 3 days away of our flight to the Philippines I was already imagining myself having to run back to the nearest city in China where I could get a stupid visa for this stupid pseudo-country, when the officer interrupted my thoughts and said:
- proceed to that window please and get your visa.
They stole 18 usd from me but at least I was admitted in the wonderful shit world of Macau. I had a bitter taste in my mouth already and my predisposition wasn't good. We cycled straight to the Philippine consulate. Riding across the narrow streets of Macau with a fully loaded bicycle in such heavy traffic was anything but a pleasure. At least, unlike Hong Kong, It is legally possible to do it here. Aside from its urban design, I found Macau to be a very bizarre place. It used to be a Portuguese colony and all the street names, parks and public buildings are written and indicated in Portuguese, however there isn't a single person who either speaks the language nor is able to even pronounce or recognize the sounds of the words. In Portugal driving goes on the right hand side of the road, in Macau it goes on the left as in the British colonies. The rest of the country/city is an amalgam of old buildings jammed together and falling apart, pretty much like in some districts of Hong Kong, and in a few areas that I reckon, might represent 0.1% of the city, one can see, at least cosmetically, the hints of some distant Portuguese past. But Macau isn't famous for this but for being the Asian capital for gambling. In fact, it is said that the earnings of Macau's obscenely onerous casinos surpass Las Vegas' by far regardelss of the fact that Macau is a fraction of the size of Las Vegas. Macau is where Mainland Chinese go to unleash their thirst for squandering. Gambling is forbidden in China. The entry of Chinese people to Macau is limited to a few times a year for only a few days, as it is the amount of money they can officially spend there gambling. This reduces but doesn't stop people from squandering big time. Not only we already felt that we were already in a hideous place, since both of us despise squandering, but the hardest part was about to come, finding a decently priced place to sleep.
The only cheap accomodation in the city is found in the old quarter, with the caveat that, cheap in Macau means 40usd per night and above for a filthy double room, which needless to say was severely destructive for our low budget. Hostels don't exist and Couchsurfing members there seem to have forgotten that the whole idea behind that organization is being hospitable to others and not blatantly ignoring their requests. So we were only left with the pensions but all the pensions are brothels. After going around and around for a long time we gave up and settled with the cheapest brothel in the area at an outrageous 33usd per night. For that we got the following: 4m2 (43sqft) compartment, tucked along a long line of other compartments, 5mm thick plaster walls that wobbled like paper, foam mattress filled with holes like Gruyere cheese and filled with extra bed bugs, suspicious stained sheets, run down self-standing lavatory, no windows but two horizontal cuts, one above and one bellow facing the reception to provide for 24hs cross ventilation and finally, exquisite red light to relax the eyes an forget a little about who you are with. It was one along a long line of compartments next to a spooky hallway. Amenities included shared toilet with exquisite shit hole flushed by bucket. Ours was next to the reception where the girls, who were actually very nice to us, took turns to offer services 24hs a day. They were noisy as hell all the damn time, gossiping, yelling, debating about frivolous stuff most of the time, chewing sunflower seeds non-stop almost compulsively making a the cracking sound extremely annoying. They would be sitting half-naked all day and they would jump out of their chairs yelling “massaaage massaaage” every time they would see any potential client coming upstairs. But the best of all would come every time a customer would buy their services. Our wobbly walls would start shaking and literally swinging from side to side in a sort of “enchanted house” way, and the moanings “oh oh ah ah ahhhh oohhh uuuhh uhhhh” would be the sounds of the spirits bewitching the place. It was a truly unforgettable experience. There wasn't a single quiet time at any time. Walls shaking frequently, moanings, the girls yakking histerically 24hs a day. Despite being mostly unable to fall into deep sleep for more than two days it was a very funny experience. The ladies were of all ages and they all came from rural villages of all over China in search of a better life? Income?. Whatever the case was and prejudices aside, they were very friendly with us every time they saw us passing by and we would even chat with them for a while, but even after kindly asking them to stay a little more quiet during the night they paid little attention to our request.
By the time we finished our stay in this shit piece of land called Macau, one of those horrifying places I will make my best efforts to never have to return to, we were dead tired and sleepy. I would've never ever gone in the first place had it not been for the convenience of the flights, but one thing I learned by the end of our stay is that it would've been probably cheaper to have flown out of a place in a more expensive flight but having saved staying in a cheaper place with a lower cost of living. With our budget severely affected but happy like pigs in shit for leaving, we cycled our way to the airport towards the warmer lands of the tropic, the Philippines.