Sunday, March 22, 2009

Macau 2009 Street Scenes I

Notice anything odd about this building? How about no exterior adornment. No paint, no plaster, no nothing. And this an area with plenty of salt-water spray to cause the rebar to corrode. I asked my new Chinese acquaintance, Anthony Wai, what the story was...

From Anthony: "Your question about housing is actually quite an interesting one. The reason is not culture.

For this type of housing, we have a local name for them -- "Salty water house/building". Obviously there is no english translation for such a term, but literally we call them like this in the Chinese language. Most of them were built around 1970/80s era. 1970s is where Hong Kong really starts to take off the ground in terms of economic activities -- before that Hong Kong is merely a very poor fishing port. Because the harbour is deep and wide, it protects the ships very well and therefore trading starts to take off. As a result, many Chinese immigrants (mostly illegal) start to come to Hong Kong to find work.

Housing therefore becomes a huge demand. The Hong Kong people simply cannot build houses quick enough. Therefore they need a way to build houses cheap and quickly and efficiently.

There is another problem here -- the lack of water. Today Hong Kong has no water shortage because mainland China supplies river water which is drinkable under a deal between the Chinese and Hong Kong government, China supplies drinkable water to Hong Kong via some big pipes. But the deal was reached in the early 1990s, and before that, Hong Kong always has a water shortage problem. When I was young, there was a year where my family was given 4 hours of water supply every 4 days. You can imagine what life is like when the weather is not favourable.

Without water, no houses can be build. They therefore build houses using sea water, hence "Salty water house". They are unadorned because they are supposed to be cheap houses. The houses do not need to be protected from the salty air, because they are made out of salty water anyway.

Today we find that salty water houses do not last long, and we need to tear them down. They usually start to have structural problem about 20-30 years down the road. But in Macau there are still many of them. You need to understand that up to a few years ago before they open up the gambling industry to foreign ownership, Macau is a very poor place."

I mentioned this to husband Step who worked in Key West. He pointed out that in Key West they used the local sand--full of salt--as aggregate and had the same problems. However, the old Flagler railroad bridges used only huge masses of concrete, no rebar, so no corroding problem.

More housing structures, one painted, two not. I found the diversity in how the porches were adorned fascinating.

And from Anthony: Our living space here is much smaller compared to the western world, some of these flats you see are less then 400 sq ft. So what you see here is that, the people living here pays some money and find someone to renovate the balcony and use it as part of the living room as well. You can look at it as extending the flat to include the balcony area. The metal bars are mainly for reinforcement, and also to prevent the kids from falling down to the street while playing. Because everyone finds a different guy to do the job, so every balcony differs. The balcony is not designed to do this, these are all illegal structures (imagine when there is a fire, the fireman cannot rescue you through the balcony) but the government is not doing anything about it, there are too many of these. It has also happened before that someone put a washing machine on the balcony and the balcony fell down altogether. It must be a heavy machine.


And many, many thanks Anthony for your fascinating input!

Macau 2009 Street Scenes II

4 different levels, 4 different porch grill approaches.

Painted wall scene. Interpretation from my friend Anthony: The words there say 'everyone enjoys a clean city together'. The kid in the middle is tying up a garbage bag. The arrows are meaning that if you take care of garbage it will lead to a clean city for everyone ( the arrow leading to the right) , if not you will go to jail (arrow leading down).

Lots of scooter action. More from Anthony: Sometimes behind a big casino (e.g. Wynn), you will find hundreds of scooters belonging to employees. Scooter is a main form of transportation in Macau. The scooters you picture there, they are all parking illegally. Last year the government tried to enforced illegal parking for scooters, the Macau people almost went to demonstration. Apparently they need to have 10 times more parking spaces for scooters, there are not enough of them. If you walk around the older part of Macau, many streets are very narrow. One of my Macau friend bought a Mercedes Benz, but sold it less than a month later. He said the car is too big, he could not get into many of the streets and the older car parks. I do not have a car myself so for once I thought about getting a driving license for scooter, it will take me 18 months to get ! a crack at my first driving test! This is a scooter town. Also note that China-HongKong-Macau is building a 3 way bridge so that people can drive from one place to another. Huge project, expected to be finished by 2016. I cannot imagine what will happen in Macau, their infrastructure will not be able to cope with in the influx of vehicles. There will be total chaos here.


Every balcony different. Photos are worth clicking on to get the larger view.

Parking options.

Macau 2009 Mount Fortress

The Macau Museum [history and culture] is actually inside the cities largest fortification, Mount Fortress. [This is a google maps satellite shot. You can see the fortress walls in the upper left quadrant.] It was a pretty neat museum, I wish we would have had more time. I'd definitely go back again.

Museum entrance.

Looking out from the fortifications at the top at the Grand Lisboa Casino.

Have a coke and a shrine.

City view from the top.

Flame of the Forest. A beautiful blooming tree I saw several times in Macau. Must have an edible fruit because it was also teeming with little birds that I never managed to capture [wait until next year and the new camera, aha!]. I think I've also seen these in Florida.

Macau 2009 A Ma Temple IV

The temple interiors abound with interesting tableaus. Fruit and chrysanthemums are common.

To the fishing goddess...

These are huge, ornate, incense sticks. I thought to bring one home but wouldn't have been able to get it in my suitcase.

Lotus-shaped candles.

Macau 2009 A Ma Temple III

Interior temple. Hanging from the ceiling are incense rings. Amazing things.

More incense rings. Some can burn for months.

The red tags are the prayer requests or remembrances.

the color of prayers
neat spirals framing the world
aflame with intent

neat coil after coil
scented record of prayers
and gray ash like snow

Macau 2009 A Ma Temple II

Another view, first floor interior courtyard. Note the snake plant and frangipani. Florida fauna :)

Every ceremonial structure I saw in Macau and Hong Kong used ceramic representations of bamboo to build the roof. Bamboo can mean many different things, but longevity is a traditional meaning.

And the protecting lions!

If you can, note the round entrance in the background of this shot. I saw round entrances at a Buddhist temple in Hong Kong, this may have been the Buddhist structure.

Looking back down on the first floor courtyard. Note the ceramic tiles crafted to look like bamboo on the roof.

Teensy little birds were everywhere. Sparrows?

Macau 2009 A Ma Temple

The first tour bus stop was Lotus Square. The Golden Lotus Sculpture was presented to Macau by China, marking the transfer of sovereignty. The gold building in the background is a casino.

The second stop was the A-Ma temple. [Be prepared for a deluge of pictures.] Official history has it that the temple was originally built in 1488 during the Ming Dynasty to commemorate Mazu [a sea goddess who protects sailors], but I suspect it was a place of worship pre-dating the 1488 structure. Why? Recorded history of the peninsula goes back to to 200BC and without a doubt fishing was a major activity even then--and so was the impact of typhoons. And...

[Looking out at the square in front of the temple. It's a popular destination.] One of the most interesting things about the temple is that it's actually a series of small structures devoted to different deities and faiths winding up a hillside. This reminds me of an idea in Neil Gaiman's American Gods: A Novel that there are places of power that attract and often become the site of worship. [In America, as we began to worship the car, these places of power became roadside attractions.] So, taking the two things together I suspect the A-Ma Temple was a place of worship from the time humans got there.

Interior courtyard, first level.

Many interesting shapes and textures.

Check out the broom.

Entrance, another angle.

Macau 2009

I've traveled to Macau the past two years on behalf of my main client, CyberArts. There's a tradeshow at the Venetian Macau--the Asian iGaming Congress--that we participate in. Last year I took two days and explored Hong Kong, this year I had one day of touring in Macau. It takes a least 24 hours of travel each way [counting layovers, etc.]. A long damn trip, but I do catch up on reading.

Macau is in Southern China and is part of the Pearl River Delta. It's a peninsula approx 40 miles from Hong Kong. Settled in the 16th century by the Portuguese, it was strategically important and faced many attempts by the Dutch to capture it. Which means that for a tourist there are lots of cool forts to look at [more on that later]. Macau, like Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China. Meaning, they are chinese but keep their local government.

Macau used to be three islands, but is now two. [The marked regions are Macau, the land mass directly to the left is mainland China.] Coloane and Taipai were joined by fill to form the Cotai Strip, where the huge, new hotels are going. [I wonder how well that will hold up to a direct hit from a monsoon.]

Although a World Heritage Site, Macau is known mainly for the gambling. Macau surpassed Las Vegas in gambling revenues in 2007 [of course, Lost Wages has diversified to become an entertainment destination, and gambling revenues are only about 50% of total revenues, but still]. Macau became so popular a gambling destination for the Chinese that the Chinese govt recently limited visits to Macau to once every three months. [There's a lot more to this story, but some other post, I think.]

[This photo is from Macau Tripping.]The Venetian Macau is currently the hugest of the huge casinos in Macau--it's the fourth largest structure in the world. It's an all suite hotel, the smallest suite is 750 sq feet. I have to say, the rooms are pretty nice.

But the view, not so much. The Cotai Strip is like Vegas. There's no there, there. In London [and Barcelona] the view from the hotel is of a real city with history and culture.

Another gi-normous hotel under construction.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bad Ass Bluejays

Bad-ass blue jays. Don't like crows or hawks very much.

and not very afraid of them.

but evidently, neither are cardinals.

it's the tree he sings in every night. I guess neither crow nor hawk was going to stop him.

This was in a tree across the street from our house. Even though we only live about a mile from downtown, our neighborhood has an astonishing amount of wildlife.