There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Saturday, 26 November 2016

Macau (2), Mainly Taipa and Coloane: Part 4 of Hong Kong and Macau

This is the second of two Macau posts describing a longer visit than our 2010 daytrip (click here for that post) and covers entirely different ground.

We stayed overnight at the comfortable Mong-Ha Pousada, a training hotel for the hospitality industry in the north of the Macau Peninsula. The breakfast choice was extensive, if entirely western - though the only teas available were Earl Grey and green.
Hilary and Brian, our friends and, in Macau, guides, had suggested we visit Taipa and Coloane, but as our bus stop was outside the Kun Iam Temple, we dropped in there first, and not just to shelter from the drizzle.
Kun Iam temple, Macau
Kun Iam, known as Guanying on the mainland or Kwun Yam in Hong Kong, is the Chinese representation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Mercy, so this is a Buddhist temple (it is not always obvious!). It was founded in the 13th century, but the current buildings date from 1627.

With three main pavilions, courtyards and gardens, it is a large complex and we wandered round looking at the statues…


Kun Iam Temple, Macau

… the shrines where people come to pray…


Shrine, Kun Iam Temple, Macau

…the artwork…


Kun Iam Temple, Macau

…and the gardens.


Kun Iam Temple, Macau

In one garden an oriental magpie robin posed on the head of a lion. The twelve species of magpie robins are neither magpies nor robins but flycatchers. The oriental magpie robin, the national bird of Bangladesh, is common across the Indian subcontinent and south east Asia.


Male oriental magpie robin (the female has a greyer head and breast)
Kun Iam Temple, Macau
Catching the bus outside the temple we set off for Taipa. The Portuguese colony of Macau originally consisted of the Macau peninsula and two islands to the south, Taipa and Coloane. In 2005 Taipa and Coloane were joined by filling in the narrows, forming 5km² of new land known as Cotai. Four new land reclamation sites are being built north of Taipa and there is a larger fifth area east of the peninsula.

Macau, a peninsula and two once separate islands now joined by (the unmarked) Cotai
Crossing one of the two bridges connecting Macau and Taipa we arrived in Taipa Village. After the bustle of the densely populated peninsula, the village had a relaxed, deceptively rural feel, though it, too, has its high-rise apartment blocks. We alighted beside a pastelaria which looked in every way Portuguese except for the name over the door.

Pastelaria, Taipa Village
Nearby was a Nativity Scene. Christmas is celebrated all over the world, even by non-Christians (we all like a festival), but this was a more meaningful tableau than Santa in a Yangon shop window (photo at end of that post) or singing about ‘dashing through the snow’ in the 30 degree  heat of Bangkok so maybe its is the work of Macau’s Christian population (5% of the total). The nativity has a two-humped Bactrian camel, common throughout much of China, instead of the single-humped dromedary of the middle east, but we have seen worse errors in Myanmar; a nativity scene with pigs – unlikely occupants of a Jewish stable.


Nativity scene, Taipa
In this well-wooded and well-maintained district we climbed a set of steps to the Colonial Houses Museum, a row of five houses built for well-off Portuguese families in 1921.
One of the houses in the Colonial Houses Museum, Taipa

A couple of the houses were open,…

Inside a Colonial Museum House, Taipa
…furnished to show the comfortable lifestyle…

Inside a Colonial Museum House, Taipa
… of the Portuguese in Macau in the first half of last century, while another contained a historical exhibition.
Inside a Colonial Museum House, Taipa
The houses were originally on Taipa’s south coast, but now overlook a lake beyond which is Cotai, with the Venetian hotel and its campanile easily visible.

Looking over the lake from the Colonial Houses Museum, Taipa

Catching another bus to Coloane took us through Cotai.

A closer look at the Venetian Hotel, with the Rialto Bridge as well as the campanile
Central Macau has some serious casinos, but the Cotai Strip (built and named by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation) has a line of fantasy casino/hotels with many of the same names (including the previously glimpsed Venetian Hotel) - and all the same good taste - as Las Vegas.
Fake Eiffel Tower outside the Parisian Hotel, Cotai Strip
Lynne and I drove through Las Vegas once (in 1983), we thought it a shocking waste of good desert and found no reason to get out of the car. I am not sure the Cotai Strip can be called a waste of good sea, but I rather preferred it when fish lived there, but then I am not a gambler, and don't see why anybody else should be either - not that it is up to me how other people spend their money and leisure time.
The architectural nightmare that is Studio City (and the inside of a bus window), Cotai Strip
Lord Stow’s Garden Café is on the south west corner of Coloane.
Lord Stow's Garden Café, Coloane

Andrew Stow started his working life as a pharmacist in Nottingham and became a baker in Macau, not the most obvious career progression. He opened Lord Stow's bakery in Coloane in 1989 and it quickly became an institution. The bakery’s success led to more cafés and then a franchising exercise so Lord Stow's Bakeries now occupy several upmarket locations in various East Asian countries, but the original was, and is, this relatively humble looking bakery in Coloane. Sadly, Andrew Stow died of an asthma attack in 2006 aged 51 and the company is now run by his daughter and sister. Several stories are told to explain why he was known as ‘Lord’ Stow, none of them involve him actually being an aristocrat.

Before he opened his bakery, Andrew Stow visited Portugal where he discovered the delights of pastéis de nata (literally ‘cream pastries’ but really a type of egg tart). Back in Macau he attempted to reproduce these, but without the aid of a recipe. Lord Stow’s Egg Tarts were an instant hit with both locals and expatriates (Brian and Hilary had been charged with obtaining a supply for their Hong Kong resident son and daughter). I have been a devotee of pastéis de nata for more years than I care to remember; a perfect day in Portugal can take many forms, but must include a café con leite and a pastel (singular of pastéis) de nata at 11o'clock. I have extolled their virtues in this blog before.
Pastéis de Nata, the Portuguese original 

We had to wait for a table, but in due course we placed our order and soon a plate of Lord Stow’s Egg Tarts arrived. Compared to the Portuguese originals they are plumper and a brighter, even lurid yellow…
Lord Stow's egg tarts, Coloane
Lord Stow wins on looks, but the proof of the pudding – or in this case tart - is in the eating. Lord Stow's mille-feuille pastry is exemplary, as good as any artisan baker in Portugal, and way ahead of supermarket tarts, but the contents are disappointing. Whether he could not replicate the Portuguese original or decided to go for an English-style egg tart because he preferred it, or believed it would sell better in Macau, I do not know, but it is slightly softer and much, much sweeter - indeed sweet is all it tastes of. In the Portuguese version vanilla is the dominant flavour and the filling is more subtle and complex and, for me, by far the better product. I am sorry, Lord Stow, but seekers of perfection in cakes and pastries should always look to Portugal before England. This is, of course, just my humble infallible opinion.

I might add that I have previously enjoyed Hilary’s excellent homemade pastéis de nata, proving that delight comes from the application of skill to the right recipe.


Coloane mostly looks smart and modern, but near Lord Stow’s café there are outbreaks of old style local housing.

Old style local housing, Coloane


A five-minute walk took us to the little yellow chapel of St Francis Xavier in a square of typically Portuguese cobbles. The chapel, built in 1928, is behind an earlier (1910) monument commemorating the defeat of  pirates.
Chapel of St Francis Xavier and monument to the defeat of pirates, Coloane

Hilary and Brian thought we might be interested in the relics – an arm bone of St Francis Xavier and the remains of 26 foreign and Japanese Catholic priests who were crucified in Nagasaki in 1597 - but the chapel was closed, which saved us the disappointment of discovering the relics had been moved to more central museums.

We took a bus across Coloane to Hac Sa beach on the east coast, a fine strand but hardly inviting on this cool, drizzly November day.
Hac Sa Beach, Coloane

By the beach is Fernando’s Restaurant, another Coloane institution of the same vintage as Lord Stow’s Bakery. 'An expatriate favourite... its casual cheerful atmosphere is probably the closest you will get to a Mediterranean bistro without boarding a plane.’ (Rough Guide 2003 edition). We were, I note, much closer to the Mediterranean before we boarded a plane to start this journey.
Fernando's, Coloane

Fernando is famous for his extrovert behaviour (some say eccentricity) and his restaurant is renowned for its good food, red check table cloths and reluctance to take bookings. We arrived well after two, but it was still crowded – well, it was a Saturday lunchtime. Fernando instantly recognised Hilary from previous visits (well he said he did though Hilary was sceptical to say the least), and we found a suitable table.

After perusing the menu over a beer, I chose suckling pig and Lynne cuttlefish, two very Portuguese dishes while Brian and Hilary went for the more locally influenced prawns in clam sauce with fava beans. There was no wine list, just a walk-in cupboard full of bottles which Brian and I duly walked into. Comfortably surrounded by quality Portuguese wines, Brian selected a red for himself and Hilary, and I found an appropriate white.
Fernando's, Coloane

I was not over-impressed by last night’s Macanese dining experience, but Fernando’s happily lived up to its reputation. Lynne was delighted with her cuttlefish, my suckling pig was as succulent, porky and garlicky as any in Portugal and Brian and Hilary were well satisfied. Fernando’s I would cheerfully visit again.
Lunch over, it was time to head for the ferry port. With no convenient bus route, we stood by the beach and waited for a taxi to drive by, which took a while – it really wasn’t a beach day.
Our taxi was driven by a man upset to have missed the Macau Grand Prix and determined to make up for it. We survived the white-knuckle ride, negotiated the formalities and boarded our jetfoil.
If the weather in Macau had been poor, in the Pearl River Delta it was dire. The seats were comfortable, the cabin warm and I had just had a large lunch and couple of glasses of wine so, inevitably, I started to drift off, the last thing my sleepy mind heard was people clearing their throats, at least that is what I thought.
When I awoke we were waiting to dock in Hong Kong and many throats were still being cleared. I was glad to have missed it. We thanked Brian and Hilary, arranged to meet on Monday for a trip into the New Territories and headed back to Kowloon.
Waiting to dock in Hong Kong
Dinner that evening consisted of cocktails and a few peanuts on the hotel’s (covered and heated) rooftop terrace.


Friday, 25 November 2016

Macau (1), The Macau Peninsula: Part 3 of Hong Kong and Macau

This is the first of two Macau posts describing a longer visit than our 2010 daytrip (click here for that post). It covers little of the same ground.

As in 2010 we started from Hong Kong, leaving our Kowloon hotel at 8.15 for the Sheung Wan jetfoil terminal. We had not previously travelled to Central on the MTR at rush hour – an interesting experience which brings you into crushingly close contact with your fellow travellers.

Arriving early, we drank coffee and waited for Brian and Hilary, friends for the last twenty-five years, and Hong Kong residents for two decades before that, to arrive from Ap Lei Chau. They were early too, so we caught the 9.45 ferry.

On a bumpy sea, jetfoils feel as though they are bounding from one wave crest to the next and just missing, but despite the continuous lurch and crash we completed the 65km journey in the scheduled 55mins. Construction of a Hong Kong-Macau bridge-tunnel-bridge started in 2009 and should have been completed last month (October 2016). It will cut the journey time to 30mins but although we saw pylons aplenty, there is much work yet to do. [update: it was completed Nov 2017 and should open July 2018].

The journey across the Pearl River Delta to Macau, which consists of a small peninsula and two joined islands, Taipa and This is an old map, Macau is no longer Portuguese and Hong Kong airport is now on Chek Lap Kok Island

Macau’s raison d’être is gambling and shuttle buses wait to whisk punters from the ferry port to the casinos. We are not gamblers – I completely fail to understand the attraction – but we hopped aboard the Grand Lisboa bus anyway. Deposited in the hotel basement, we made our way through the casino, wallets unopened, to the waiting world above.

The Grand Lisboa is one of 19 hotels/casinos owned by the Stanley Ho organisation. Well into his 90s Ho probably has little control over the businesses he founded while his three surviving ‘wives’ (polygamy is technically illegal) and many children, own or squabble over his billions. Ho related businesses, including the jetfoils that brought us here, reputedly employ 25% of Macau’s workforce. Businessman, philanthropist, politician and (allegedly) gangster, Ho is also an art collector and the hotel lobby displays some remarkable pieces, including several large, intricately carved ivories - it is antique ivory… but even so…

Grand Lisboa, Macau
This photo comes from our sunnier 2010 visit, but it hasn't changed
A short walk took us to the Largo de Senado, the heart of Portuguese Macau. Little remains of Macau’s Portuguese heritage (for colonial history see the 2010 post) but the Largo looks the part (like the Grand Lisboa doesn’t).

Largo de Senado, Macau

In 2010 we visited on the 15th of November, a warm sunny day, unlike the cool 25th of November 2016, but being that little bit later meant we could enjoy the Christmas decorations.

Christmas decorations, Largo de Senado, Macau

Nearby a new shop was opening. A couple of dragons had been invited to dance…
Dancing Dragons, Macau

…to the rhythms of their youthful percussionists…
Youthful percussionists

…until all were satisfied that good luck had been guaranteed.
Good luck is ensured, the shop is opened and the dragons rest

Continuing north, past a small fish market…
Fish market, Macau

…and the façade of São Paulo Church (see 2010)…
Sao Paulo, Macau

…we encountered shops dispensing samples of the salami-like meat, which we tried in 2010 and again this year. I still wonder why anyone why anyone would think sweet salami is a good idea.
Sheets of sweet salami. A good idea?
After a snack lunch we continued to the Old Protestant Cemetery. The Portuguese did not permit Protestants burials in their Catholic Cemeteries and the Chinese wanted no foreigners in theirs, but prods – British, American, Dutch and Scandinavian – continued to die. Clandestine burials along the boundary wall separating the Macau peninsula from China were the only solution until 1821 when the East India Company bought a plot of land to create a Protestant Cemetery. It is no longer in use, but remains well maintained and is a very pretty place.,
Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
Pride of place goes to George Chinnery…
The grave of George Chinnery, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
…a London born artist who left for Chennai in 1802 aged 28 and spent the remaining 50 years of his life in Asia, the last 27 in Macau. He painted portraits of the rich and powerful, both Asians and Europeans and as the only European painter resident in Southern China in the mid-early 19th century, his depictions of the life of ordinary people and the landscape of the Pearl River Delta are especially important.
Macau Street Scene with Pigs by George Chinnery (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum)
Also buried here is the missionary Robert Morrison who compiled a Chinese dictionary for foreigners and translated the bible into Chinese….
Grave of Robert Morrison, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
…Captain Henry John Spencer-Churchill, RN, Winston Churchill’s great-great-grand-uncle, and American Naval Lieutenant Joseph Adams, grandson of John Adams and nephew of John Quincy Adams.
Grave of John Henry Spencer-Churchill, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
Most poignant are the simple, laconic gravestone of young men, often sailors, who died, far from home, from accidents and disease. Dates of death before 1821 indicate their remains were moved here from earlier unofficial interments.
Older gravestones, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau

Hilary had been keen to show us this cemetery and, as Lynne says ‘you can’t have a proper holiday without a good cemetery’.


We moved on to the A-Ma Temple, in the south western corner of the peninsula, a bus ride away.
As regular visitors Brian and Hilary were able to introduce us to Macau’s remarkably efficient bus system. Routes are well mapped and each stop has a schematic for its particular route with the stops named and fares clearly shown. The stop are displayed and announced on the bus in Chinese and Portuguese. The one small difficulty is that drivers do not give change, but Hong Kong dollars, notes and coins, are accepted at parity with the local pataca so we managed to scrape together the exact money for our fare.

The bus dropped us outside the temple, a series of shrines straggling up a rocky promontory. Built in 1488, A-Ma predates the city which may have been named after it, Ma-ge (The Pavilion of Ma) the first Portuguese arrivals were told when they asked where there were.

A-Ma Temple, Macau

A-Ma (The Mother) known on the mainland as Mazu (Maternal Ancestor) or more formally as Tianhou - Tin Hau in Hong Kong - (Empress of Heaven) is the Goddess of the Sea, a deification of the allegedly historical 10th century Fujian shaman Lin Mo.

A-Ma protects sailors, and several rocks have been decorated with fishing boats.

Painted Boulder, A-Ma Temple, Macau

Some sources describe the temple as ‘Buddhist’ though ‘Mazuism’ occupies the grey area where Taoism blends into Chinese folk religion. The temple has Buddhist and Confucian elements, but such distinctions are of little importance in southern China - any gods will do, as long as they bring good luck.
Shrine, A-Ma Temple, Macau
In this spirit of ecumenism Lynne bought some incense sticks…
Lighting Incense sticks, A-Ma Temple, Macau
…and offered them with due reverence.
Placing incense sticks, A-Ma Temple, Macau
We climbed to the highest point of the temple, lit some more incense sticks and descended.
Shrine at the top of the A-Ma Temple, Macau
Walking back towards the Mandarin’s House we passed the ‘Moorish Barracks’ a strange hybrid of a building erected in 1874 to house an Indian regiment the Portuguese brought from Goa to aid the Macau police….
Moorish Barracks, Macau
…and the little Portuguese style Largo do Lilau, in one of the first Portuguese residential areas. Its spring was once Macau’s main source of drinking water – 'one who drinks from Lilau never forgets Macau', as the saying goes.
Largo do Lilau, Macau
The so-called ‘Mandarin House’ was built in 1869 by Zheng Wenrui. His son, the far-sighted political reformer Zheng Guanyin (1842-1922) lived here while writing his masterpiece ‘Words of Warning in a Prosperous Age’, a book which influenced, among others, Lu Xun (we met him in Beijing in 2013) and Mao Zedong.
The Mandarin House, Macau - it doesn't look much from the outside
It was the largest family house in Macau, but in the mid-twentieth century the Zheng family moved out and the house was let – sometimes to as many as 300 tenants and  living conditions became poor.
The Mandarin House, Macau
The Macau government acquired the house in 2001 and carefully restored it.
The Mandarin House, Macau
I have always admired the way the Chinese create oases of peace amid vast bustling cities and this house, with its spacious and beautiful rooms, exudes quietness and calm.
The Mandarin House, Macau
Part of me would like to live in a house so sparsely but elegantly furnished, but lacking the self-discipline I know I never could.
Macau is still divided into its original Portuguese parishes. We continued towards the centre through the streets of São Lourenço…
Sao Lourenco district, Macau
….and dropped into the mother church. One of Macau’s oldest churches, São Lourenço was built by the Jesuits in the mid-16th century. The exterior received a 19th century make-over, but the interior remains calm and unbothered by baroque.
Sao Lourenco, Macau


Nearby, the neo-Classical Theatre of Dom Pedro V, built in 1860, was one of the first Western style theatres in a East Asia.
Theatre of Dom Pedro V, Macau
The theatre has seen periods of neglect, but is currently open, in good repair and well-used.
Inside the Theatre of Dom Pedro V, Macau
It was now late afternoon, so we took another bus up to Macau’s northeast corner and checked into the Mong-Ha Pousada, a former army barracks, now a training hotel for the hospitality industry.
Our room was pleasant and we had a rest, a shower and shared a bottle of wine with Brian and Hilary before heading back towards the Temple of A-Ma for our evening meal at La Lorcha where they ‘endeavour to offer [their] customers the best dining experience they can have in Macau bringing a centuries-long cuisine resulted from the combination of Portuguese sailors with the local Chinese community.’ (from their website, grammar and spelling adjusted). This is, I presume, the definition of Macanese cuisine.
Lynne and I started with octopus salad, Brian with the caldo verde he enjoys so much in in Portugal (and Hilary’s starter is hidden behind a very familiar bottle of Dão). So far so Portuguese.
Dinner at La Lorcha, Macau
Like us, Brian and Hilary are no strangers to Portugal, but they knew Macau first and approached Portuguese food from that direction. For Lynne and I it is very much the other way round and we thought we had made very Portuguese choices for the main course too, pork and clams (eating clams for the third day running was an error that was nobody’s fault but mine) and ‘African chicken’, assuming it to be chicken piri-piri by another name.
We were wrong, ‘African chicken’, chicken covered in a peanut, tomato and chilli sauce, is a Macanese speciality. Whether it really has African origins or was invented in a Macau hotel in the 1940s is open to debate, but it is said (by The Guardian, among others) to be ‘Macau’s favourite dish’. Lynne’s verdict - ‘all right, I suppose.’
We were disappointed by the meal which seemed uncharacteristically heavy by Cantonese or Portuguese standards - and by the rather surely service. Tomorrow we eat at the legendary Fernando’s, so I will withhold my judgement of Macanese cuisine until then.