Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Weekend Foray to Macau

This past weekend, Michael and I went to Macau.  My inspiration was to see a performance of Swan Lake by the touring St. Petersburg Ballet Theater, which (unlike my mistaken initial impression) is not actually the formal ballet troupe of St. Petersburg, but rather a professional traveling troupe.
It was my first time in Macau in over three years and I have to say that my overall impressions have not changed much.  It is polluted, crowded, and oh so gaudy.  The Cotai Sands hotel group are making money hand over fist and just opened another huge hotel complex (this one called the Parisian) and with it, a beautiful new "Eiffel Tower".  They have a pretty stimulating light show, in case that might be of appeal.

We booked a stay at the neighboring Venetian hotel and casino because the ballet was being performed in the Venetian Theater and we figured this would be the easiest and most straightforward option.

As you will no doubt see from my pictures below, the Venetian is an over-the-top, gilded, fresco'd, plastered monstrosity.   But I guess that's the point, and you have no choice but to embrace the cheese factor!

The place is huuuuuuge with four wings each with floors upon floors and doors upon doors of hotel rooms.  The casino areas were crushingly full but the hallways felt like ghost towns.
We had a quick pre-theater dinner at Portofino an Italian restaurant in the casino.  The food wasn't bad actually!
The theater was the weirdest use of space - a sloping stadium seating arena.  I found it so funny and odd that they served snacks like popcorn and candy and drinks (as if this were a movie).
That said, we had really nice seats in the center section and at a very good height/vantage point.   Everyone was taking pictures at the end of the performance when the dancers came out to encores and applause so I took a quick few too.

The lead ballerina (you can see her on the left in the picture below) was amazing - one of the most precise and disciplined but also expressive and emotional dancers I have ever seen.   For me, this is the quintessential allure of ballet - the ability of the dancers to convey lightness and weightlessness through dazzling techniques that appear both effortless and carefree, despite the grueling, formulaic discipline and highly demanding technical skills.  Oh and the costumes don't hurt either.
I managed to sneak one picture of the casino floor before being frowned at by a guard.  The Macau scene is buzzing but in a very different way than American casinos.  As I've mentioned before, hardly anyone drinks alcohol while gambling in Macau - it's usually coffee and strong tea or water that is being served.  There is absolutely no joy in anyone's expression.  God forbid you want to celebrate a win.

There are some astonishing statistics about Macau's astronomic revenues and meteoric rise in assuming the global gambling throne.  It comes as little surprise, though, if one considers the fact that Macau is the only place in China and Hong Kong that one can gamble at slots and tables (it is otherwise limited to horse racing sports and the illicit) and that it essentially serves as a very efficient way to launder money out of China.  Of course I have no idea if that *really* *actually* happens and to what extent, but I feel relatively confident in making this claim (especially in this era of fake news).  
Our room was a really comfortable suite.  They gave us a pretty high floor and it was very quiet (until they were hammering at something in the morning).

The next day we headed to brunch at a brasserie at the Parisian. We joked while walking from one massive hotel to the other that we had never managed to see both Venice and Paris in one day!  What luck!   
It's just more malls and shops and casinos - nothing really to distinguish one from the other. 

Here are some final scenes from the fake grottos and waterways of the Venetian.  One must commend these resorts for their attention to detail and effort in replication.
 They even built a fake sky.

How do I feel about Macau?  At the risk of sounding completely melodramatic I would say that these two pictures explain it best - it is glittery and pretty when all manner of sins are hidden by the cover of night.  
But closely observe the predatory behaviors of these businesses and the blemishes are exposed in the unflinching light of morning.  

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