Zhuhai to Macau and Back Again

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We set out from Guangzhou the following morning fairly early and rode alllll day long, partially because we had 140km to cover and partially because we happened to choose China’s slowest restaurant for lunch. It’s not rare even for pretty nice, moderately complicated dishes here to come out quicker than a quarter-pounder would back home, but due to a lot of menu mishaps and a long kitchen wait, it took us at least two hours to eat. That’s a lot of dead air to fill for two Chinese guys who don’t speak English and one American who can’t even say “So, what did you order for me?”

The nameless guy split up from us at about 5PM and headed home; Achan and I continued until he handed me off, not unlike a toddler, to my next care-taker: Number 9.

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I had met Number 9 (I don’t really know his real name, but his nickname in Cantonese is Gao, which means both the number nine [jiu in standard Mandarin] and “dog” [gou in standard]) sometime back in October one day while riding with Mingyu and Achuan (not to be confused with Achan). We were on our way south from Beijing, while 9 was on the opposite side of the road, cycling up from Zhuhai. “We” talked for about ten minutes, by which I mean that the two Chinese guys spoke to one another while Mingyu and I listened. Still, we swapped phone numbers and email addresses and I told him I’d stop by Zhuhai later on my way south. It took me about four months, but as I am a man of my word, I made it happen.

I just happened to arrive on Valentine’s day, so 9 took me out to “Gangnam Style” bar for happy hour. The drinks of choice were: beer, Jack Daniels mixed with green tea, and some sort of phosphoresectent green cocktail served in a rack of test-tubes. I remember winning a bottle of wine for dancing the Cha-cha with a girl named Se7en, scoffing as a man bid up the auction price for a boquet of 50 or so Ferrero Rochet chocolates to $120, and failing in my attempts to woo a cute young lass. Probably because my clothes reeked? In any case, no pictures of these shenanigans exist, because it was raining outside and I didn’t bring my camera with me.

We slept at a friend’s house and headed back to 9’s the next morning for…another Lunar New Year party? I had already experienced one LNY fair in Hong Kong about 5 days before, as well as a brief family reunion in Shantou almost a week before that. Still, the party is two weeks long, from the first new moon to the first full moon I guess? All I know is that we returned to a house swarming with relatives. In fact, so many that the cooking and eating all had to be done outside.

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9’s gorgeous older sister (married and with kids) invited me to her table to eat, but I was forced to sit with the guys.

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After we ate, the men went right back to doing what they had been doing before, and what they would continue doing for most of the next 72 hours: playing cards. They were playing when I left for a day trip to Macao the next morning, and still playing when I came back about 12 hours later. Still playing (they had moved the table inside) when I went to bed at midnight and still playing when I woke up the next morning.

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I was allowed to play at the ladies’ table and racked up dome debts pretty quickly. Who the hell ever heard of 3 being the high card?! Definitely a messed up game that can’t hold a candle to the Roy family staples of Cribbage, 500, ad Oh Hell.

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Off for a cycle ride in the park in the afternoon

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And got my first sighting of Macau. 9 advised me against going, as the following day was the last Saturday of LNY, but I felt compelled. I didn’t really anticipate liking Macau, but how can you pass up a free passport stamp when it’s less than 10km away?

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So, yeah, the next morning I waited in the immigration line for two hours.

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Only to plod slowly around on the other side.

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A pretty interesting monument – the church of St. Paul all burned down thanks to a fire in either the kitchen or the barracks, or maybe in the barracks’ kitchen, leaving only this facade. The LP says this building is regarded as the greatest monument to Christianity in Asia. Really?

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Where’s the Myclist?*

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I mostly found Macau pretty uninteresting. Big buildings, lots of skyscrapers. A few pastries here and there and a bunch of Portuguese restaurants out of my price range. My wanderings did bring my around this fenced off area. At first I thought it was a construction site that had been eco-vandalized,; I was pretty excited. At least there are a few kindred spirits here in this big dumb mess of money and metal and concrete and casinos and suits and cars.

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Then it dawned on me that the “no” above was probably Portuguese for something else, probably “of,.” So, this appears to be a legit Eco-zone in the middle of about fifteen differnet casinos-under-construction. Oddly enough, my enthusiasm vanished entirely and immediately. Call me a cycnic, but what’s the point of protecting one square mile if you’re going to develop another hundred? Just leave stuff the f*ck alone!

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After another two hours at immigration and one on the cycle, I arrived home, tail between my legs. 9 was right. Nothing to see in Macau, just a few pastries to eat. He suggested we do something better the next day: go visit Guishandao, an island that several of his friends had grown up on. We hopped a ferry and rode about 80% of the way back to Hong Kong. It was like heaven – sunny, quiet, peaceful, tiny. And free! A friend in the Marines set us up with a room in a hotel that had set a few rooms aside for government officials.

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That’s Agam (Agan?) in the back, driving us out to his dad’s little fish farm.

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We did a little work, checking for fish, crabs, and oysters.

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But mostly just tooled around on the boat. 9 asked me, “When was the last time you felt like this?” He comes out to the island whenever he needs some time to himself, whether to think or to get away from thinking.

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Afterwards, Agam’s family treated me to dinner. That fish there in the middle had come from the farm just an hour before.

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Then to another friend’s to play more cards! This game was actually alright. Everyone gets five cards; if any three of them add up to ten or twenty or thirty, then you take the sum of the other two cards and look at the ones digit. Whoever beats the dealer gets cash, whoever loses to him loses it. A sumof 8 earns double, 9 earns triple, and 0 earns quadruple. A hand with five 10s/face cards wins quintuple. 9 wound up coming out 10 bucks ahead, but only after a long climb out of a twenty-dollar-deep hole.

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The next morning we went for a little tour of the island, including a secluded beach where I imagined myself living for a week, just eating and reading and playing frisbee and picking up trash and listening to the waves roll in and out. How nice that sounds.

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Then we headed back to the mainland and I hopped a night bus to Nanning.

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This big lump of cute was on the bus.

There were so many things I didn’t mention, though. Like how 9 had friends everywhere. We had dinner and drinks with different people every night for five nights in a row. We’d be walking or cycling somewhere and he’d run into someone. He kept saying to me: “all I care about is my friends. I don’t care about money, I just want funny.”** He talked the talk, too: the whole time, he didn’t let me pay for a single thing. It’s moving enough when an entire family is taking care of me, or when a friend buys me a meal or two over the course of hanging out for a day. But for five days straight? From a guy who doesn’t work? I even learned towards the end that he hadn’t even gone to high school! I wonder if the mooching stars have aligned for me so well this trip for the express purpose of showing me what a giant stinge I am…

I promised that if he ever went to America, my family and I would take care of him. And that if I happened to still be abroad, all of my very generous friends back home would do it instead. Right? Right?

*4th row from the top, 5.5th triangle from the right.

**Forgive the corny formulation. For one, he had next to no formal instruction in English, learning instead by watching movies. Second, confusion about fun/funny is pretty common, at least among Asian speakers.

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One Response to Zhuhai to Macau and Back Again

  1. Chris says:

    Sure your family would take care of him, we’d love to teach him 500 or Oh Hell.