This week I officially started learning Chinese characters in a new weekly class. I’ve armed myself with a new exercise book “250 Essential Chinese Characters” and painstakingly copied out the characters for numbers 1-10 for my first lesson (note: numbers 1-3 are just horizontal lines, so it’s an easy start).
As a defense mechanism against my illiteracy in this country, I’ve started “collecting” T-Shirts with mis-written English on them. When I’m out walking, I make a mental note of the often hilarious English errors or word choice that people are (I assume) unwittingly wearing. Some of my favorites include “You know what you did,” “Stain alive,” “While you’re busy making,” and my all-time favorite inspirational phrase “The biggest FAIL is SUCCEED.”
I’m sure Chinese people gain the same satisfaction from poorly-chosen, Chinese character tattoos.
Over the Labor Day Weekend, we went on a short trip to Macau, just two hours away by train plus some extra time to get through Chinese and Macau immigration. It feels like we had two different trips there. One trip involved getting lost on the way to everything, being sent to non-existent tourist spots and restaurants by ill-informed guidebooks, walking for miles in the hot sun, and finally losing my iPhone in a taxi.
Me and our very-trusty map that saved the day countless times
The other was a fun excursion into the interesting Portuguese-Chinese history of Macau, wandering shady Portuguese-style streets, eating tasty food, and getting a birds-eye view of the city from the relatively new Macau Tower. We’re choosing to remember the second trip of course.
We found a historic site! (Ruins of St. Paul’s)
We also loved our hotel, the Hotel Lisboa, which has been in Macau for decades and was like a step back in time. The more glitzy Grand Lisboa beside it is hard to miss, being very large, gold, sparkly, and obnoxious – this helped us avoid getting too lost.
Hotel Lisboa with Grand Lisboa in back
The Macau Tower was definitely a highlight of the trip. Towards the end of our first day, one guidebook sent us to a long street promising Portuguese restaurants. When we headed there we found NO restaurants at all for the majority of the street and then just two at the very end of a 30-minute walk. After that disappointment, I remembered that a friend from the Consulate had recommended the rotating restaurant at the top of the Macau Tower. It rotates very slowly, so you get to see the whole 360-degree view while eating. The dinner buffet was pricey but so worth it, especially after walking for so long. I knew we’d made a good choice as soon as I stepped off the elevator and saw an overflowing dessert table with a chocolate fountain. Plus we caught the Saturday night firework show from 99 floors up! That was an amazing sight. The only downside was that the air-conditioning was turned to “arctic” so even Amaury, who’s always warm, was shivering.
More pics from our first day before my phone was lost
The little Ewok at right was made by my dear friend Jessie. He sometimes appears in my travel pics, when I remember to bring him along.
Another highlight was eating (most of our favorite experiences anywhere involve food) at the “Michelin-recommended” restaurant António– a Portuguese restaurant on Taipa island in the beautiful and historic Taipa Village. This area of Taipa is a well-preserved window into mid-20th century Macau, when the big casinos hadn’t really moved in yet and Portugal still controlled Macau. The streets look European, but the street signs are in Portuguese and Chinese (Cantonese is the main language spoken in Macau). The restaurant is owned by the “renowned” chef António Coelho, who sells his brand as much as his Portuguese food. We walked past the restaurant during our wanderings and seeing all the awards prominently displayed outside the restaurant, made a reservation for dinner.
When we arrived for dinner there was some confusion at first among the waiters on where to seat us. One Portuguese waiter was surprised that his colleague wanted to seat us downstairs in the small dining room there. We sat down at one of four tables- two of the others were long group tables, one already occupied by a Chinese family and the other impressively set but with no guests yet. We ordered a delicious starter of goat cheese with honey and toasted bread and a jug of delicious white sangria. The menu was filled with António’s awards, used as a border around each page. While we were enjoying our starter, Chef António himself emerged in his signature shirt bedecked with these various awards. We knew it was him, because there was this large painting of him on the wall:
Then, a group of 8 Portuguese people arrived with much welcoming and warm hospitality from António. All the wait staff seemed a little on edge- our waiter refilled my already full glass of sangria almost to the brim- but the group appeared to have a wonderful time eating the set menu brought out for them. António didn’t eat anything himself, he just stood around the party talking and soliciting compliments about the admittedly excellent food. He even came and chatted with us a couple times, which was kind and entertaining. A guitarist came round and sang Portuguese songs, with the Chef and some of the party joining in. Unfortunately, my lamb came out completely raw in the middle, so I had to send it back. I sat willing it to come back without António noticing… I’m not sure how I would’ve navigated admitting in front of all those people that my lamb was wrong. Thankfully it emerged recooked and very tasty. Amaury thoroughly enjoyed his stuffed rabbit dish and the night’s proceedings.
Then the Chinese family ordered Crepes Suzettes. With great ceremony, a tableside stovetop and pan were brought out and Antonio had one of the Chinese ladies help him make the crepes involving a great deal of showy alcohol pouring and flames. I have a feeling he doesn’t usually come out and do that, but then again, he was so clearly enjoying all the showmanship, I’m not so sure. At some point, the chef who’d cooked the evening’s meal was brought out and congratulated… I think my lamb probably fell by the wayside during this high stakes evening, so I forgave him for feeding me raw meat.
After eating our tasty rabbit and lamb dishes, the waiter poured us both a complimentary glass of port. As we were drinking it, we noticed that the bottle had an interesting pattern on it. On closer inspection, we realized it was an outline of Antonio’s profile… Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. We were reluctant to leave after such a friendly and entertaining evening, but eventually had no more reasons to stay so headed out into the warm Macau night feeling very satisfied. I thoroughly recommend trying this restaurant if you’re ever there, though I can’t guarantee that there will be such a show when you go.
We’ve had a nice quiet couple weeks back in Guangzhou. Both of us have been a bit under the weather and the weather itself was very rainy this weekend, so we were happily forced to relax inside.
It’s also Mid-Autumn Festival week here in China, so there are beautiful red lanterns everywhere and mooncakes. Our building gave us a beautiful array of mooncakes, nuts, and fruit today. Mooncakes are very dense, sweet cakes with lotus root or other fruit paste filling and sometimes with nuts or, more traditionally, a duck egg yolk in the center. Amaury hates them because they’re so dense and sweet. I find them a bit like English fruit cake, so in small doses, I like them.
Flags and lanterns lining the street
Gift from our building for Mid-Autumn Festival
Amaury has the day off tomorrow for the Festival, so we’re taking a four day weekend and going to Hanoi, Vietnam. I think they also celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival there, so I’m happy we’ll get to see that as well as the city. We’re both really excited about the trip, and I’ve already mapped out some activities including eating lots of street food. Hopefully, we won’t do as much walking to non-existent restaurants there, because apparently, the food in Hanoi is amazing and everywhere. We already have a couple dinner reservations, yum yum yum!
I hope this post finds you happy and healthy, and I wish you 中秋快乐 (Zhōngqiū kuàilè! – Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!)!
I will leave you with one more Zhōng qiū jié traditional wish:
“Dàn yuàn rén chángjiǔ, qiānlǐ gòng chánjuān”
“Wishing us a long life to share the graceful moonlight, though thousands of miles apart. ”