macao, or i told you so

I had been told time and time again over the past week – by total strangers even – to avoid a planned side trip to Macao, the former Portuguese colony which returned to the fold of the Chinese motherland in 1999 as an autonomous Special Administrative Region similar to Hong Kong. Yet hearing it described variously as a hole, a pit, and a cesspool only made the prospect of a visit that much more tantalizing: if Macao was truly a vision out of Dante’s ninth circle, well, I needed to see the spectacle for myself. A speedy ferry from Kowloon or Hong Kong island made it a no-brainer for a day trip. Plus, the proliferation of big-time casinos clustered at the northern end of the peninsula means winners and losers can be shuttled back and forth through the night with all the ease of a taxi. If Macao was really that dreadful I could just up and leave. Well, surprise, despite the gluttonous display of wealth the casino end of town is a pit. Duh. (Was I expecting the Fremont Street experience?) But there’s history here, too, and a European-influenced heritage that I’m determined to see.

 

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puttin on the ritz

From the vantage point of Hong Kong island, across the water from the Kowloon mainland, the International Commerce Centre tower which houses the new Ritz-Carlton juts out of Victoria Harbor with all the subtlety of a Louboutin stiletto. It’s as imposing as it is incongruous: the world’s fourth-tallest skyscraper stranded in the middle of a barren parcel of reclaimed land called West Kowloon. In a few years it will be the centerpiece of the city’s “cultural quarter,” with high-speed trains linking mainland shoppers to a host of new museums, concert halls and malls all entwined and master planned by Sir Norman Foster. But until then it remains a bit of a desert oasis – at once removed from the surrounding city while still very much embodying its ethos – with the Ritz its ultra-stylish sanctuary in the sky.

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