Thursday, 5 August 2010

Macau's Transformation

When I used to live in Hong Kong, I went to Macau periodically for good food and to add to my 'antique' furniture collection.

No one can resist the Macanese custard egg tarts and roast pig, the quaint alleys and laid-back atmosphere.

It was later that I learned Macau was a refuge for many Chinese during the Sino-Japanese war and also when the Communists took over China.

So for those hoping to reminisce about the old days visiting Macau these days will be in for a shock.

 VIP Lobby of the MGM Macau
The place is trying to transform itself into the Las Vegas of the east and it is well on its way. It only used to be Casa Lisboa with its gaudy yellow and white colours, its bulbous shape and flashing lights that seduced excited gamblers to part with their money.

But now there are many more choices -- MGM Macau, Wynn, Sands, The Venetian, with many new luxury hotels popping up too.

Wynn has become so successful here that it has opened up Encore, an even more luxurious hotel specifically for the high rollers. The VIP entrance at MGM Macau was designed by Pansy Ho, the daughter of casino king Stanley Ho. She used lots of marble and raw jade to create a Moroccan-style lobby that oozes with grandeur. Who wouldn't want to be seen in a place like that?

The majority of these high rollers are mainland Chinese, and the source of all their money is questionable. Nevertheless, they are the ones keeping Macau afloat. Sixty percent of the revenues of The Venetian in Las Vegas come from rooms, entertainment and restaurants. In Macau, it's 20 percent. Many of the gamblers here would rather fritter their money away and then eat a bowl of cheap noodles before heading back on the ferry.

Mainlanders are everywhere in Macau; hotels have had to hire Mandarin-speaking staff to bridge the language gap with Cantonese-speaking Macanese. It was strange having to speak Putonghua to a waitress in a restaurant of a five-star hotel, and to the pool attendant.
Silver showers at the Grand Hyatt Macau

While it was not strange seeing mainlanders smoking up a storm, it was shocking seeing them smoke IN the elevator with the "No Smoking" sign on the control panel. The hotel I stayed at didn't have ashtrays at the elevators and so cigarette butts were left on the marble floor. How classy.

Although there were some Chinese who ate cheaply, there were others who dropped lots of money on expensive restaurants. The chef from Tim's Kitchen which is actually near where I live, got a Michelin star and he was lured to work in Macau. Joel Robuchon has a restaurant in Lisboa hotel. I've heard the set lunch here is a great value, but it's only available on weekdays and you must reserve well in advance.

It's just mind boggling to hear of the tens of thousands of hotel rooms that are available and tens of thousands more being built. Are they all occupied? Who stays in all those rooms? While the labour shortages are still an issue, the government has done little to alleviate the situation, insisting a certain number of Macanese must be employed at each property.

A view of the new hotels from the Taipa ferry terminal
As a result, a number of young Macanese abandon their jobs to become dealers at tables, job-hopping from one new hotel to the next in hopes of increasing their salary each time.

The few young Macanese I spoke to who were born and raised there think it's great to see their hometown boom like this. However, is it too much too soon? Time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. i visited macao two years ago and was sad and shocked to see its change. too much too soon. much of the old sino-portugese cultural atmosphere has gone. in exchange , all the glitters. but i must admit i saw some awesome treasures in the lobby of casino lisboa-antique jade,embroidery, paintings, and the much famed bronze horse head from yuen ming yuen acquired from auction valued at $14 million rmb. i have also enjoyed a lively light and sound and musical water fountain show in other casinos.