Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kala's piece in the great new mag H.I.P.P. (or, Happy, Intelligent, Progressive Parenting) helmed by mag journo Gina "Mojito" Abuyuan (if not the drink in hand, then you'll spot her via her shoes). Like my piece following this, the actual text in the mag bears Gina's edits which has made things obviously better. If you didn't get the maiden copy of the mag last January, better find one, or you can chew on Kala's article on the nice lurch that opened year 2009 of our eternally fuzzy-fabled lives.


March 2009, maiden issue

"One of the most profound things money can buy (outside an actual education, and lots of books, and what you give away) is the deep, existential pleasure of seeing something new, or tasting something you won't forget, or glimpsing a parallel universe that helps define your own world. Because those are the kinds of experiences that stay with you, and sometimes change you, in a way those purely abstract investments won't."

- The Case for Culinary Travel, Even Now
by Raphael Kadushin

Travel for my husband and myself is a shared passion. Eleven years of married life has generated for us a fair share of adventure, thanks to hard-earned money spent not for a big house or a brand new car (the familiar family spending accoutrements) but on leisure time experiencing new places, tasting new things and meeting people from different cultures. We've gone backpacking in Europe and Asia together (sometimes with family). Lately, more by accident rather than design, we have been going away for a few days together during the first week of a new year.

This year, it was Macau - not such an obvious choice for a couple's destination. The place is usually associated with Macau Tower (where one can experience one of the world's highest bungee-jump) and a new reputation as the Las Vegas of Asia. Our trip was a gamble, but then the odds turned out perfect. Bright lights, big city - the place has a lot of bling but if planned well, these will turn out to be just gravy. More than the multicolored lights of the casinos - there are heritage ruins, museums and quiet cobblestoned plazas. It provides all the elements of a great escape for us: interesting sites, good eats and slow time.

Macanese cuisine

Macau is an intriguing blend of Chinese and Portuguese culture, resulting from 450 years of colonial occupation by Portugal. The street signs are still in these two languages, and the combination is particularly expressed in their food. Macanese cuisine is a mix of Portuguese and Chinese ingredients that only makes sense once it’s in your mouth. It combines ingredients and spices from Portuguese trading ports from around the world, including turmeric, coconut milk and cinnamon.

Lunch at O Porto, arguably one of the best restaurants serving Macanese food was a treat arranged by a good friend. The dishes included Portuguese sausage, chili prawns, bacalao, clams, flank steak and a desert called sawdust pudding (it was quite good – like shaved marie biscuits with cream). It was all we could do to stand up after the meal, we could have taken a nap right then and there.

At Littoral (cited in the Hongkong/ Macau Michelin Guide), we ordered African Chicken and Macanese stew. Washed down with Portuguese wine, the food was delicious and new. We arrived at the place ten minutes before they opened at twelve noon and there was already a line forming.

The beauty of food in Macau is not only found in its restaurants. We arrived late our first night, and we were hungry. According to our Pinoy concierge, all the restaurants nearby were probably closed. But hotel food was not an attraction, so we went out and found ourselves in a small and bright eatery – and by pointing at a menu found ourselves eating spicy fried small fish and yang chao rice all washed down with Tsingtao beer. And there was that noodle place where what I thought was chicken (looked like it in the picture) turned out to be frog. My husband found it delicious.

The pedestrian street towards the St. Paul's Ruins - the most famous sight in Macau - was a veritable feast as sellers did their best to get you to have a free taste of their almond cakes, egg tarts and other pastries - the quintessential Macau pasalubongs. It was fun buying an egg tart or two from the shops to eat while walking. Sidewalk fare was irresistable and included a variety of dimsum, Hongkong style fishballs and crepes. These stalls usually had spanish style benches in front where one can sit down and enjoy the food.

Although it does not feel that there is a busy bar scene outside of the casinos, we tried what the locals call “bar street”, where we drank European beers while watching a great Pinoy band playing to an international audience. But never worry, in Macau, there is usually a 7-11 in every corner where a good range of typical of Asian lager is available. Walking around, you are bound to find wine shops along the way with a good selection of Portuguese wine.


Macau seems to be on track of escaping the fate of many modern cities, where the old is completely wiped out by monotonous medium and high-rise buildings. It has a well-preserved historic center, a UNESCO world heritage site knitting together twenty-five architectural legacies, plazas, churches and forts intertwined in the daily fabric of modern life. Walking is the best way to explore this area. With a map (grab a free one at the airport) and guided by the well-placed signs, stroll towards Largo de Senado or the Senate Square, for centuries the center of Macau city life. The cobblestoned square and the surrounding streets are lined with Mediterranean-style buildings, filled with shops to suit anyone’s fancy. Macau is a duty-free port, so shopping can be a good deal here.

Climb a grand sweep of steps to see the ruins of St. Paul’s up close, and join the throngs of people taking pictures. Built in 1602, the church and its nearby school burned down in 1835, leaving only the church’s stone fa├žade. Across is the Monte Fort which houses the small but excellent Macau Museum. A visit here at the beginning of your trip will give you an overview of Macau’s history and culture. Before you leave, visit the garden at the top of the museum where you can see the remaining walls of the Fort and a great view of Macau.

We managed to again walk uphill to the highest point of Macau, the Guia Fort. Built in 1638, it was originally used to defend the border against China. If you don’t feel like walking up a steep slope, you can take a taxi or take the small cable car to the top. Inside the fortress stands the Guia chapel and lighthouse. The chapel is dedicated to Mother Mary which features frescoes with both western and chinese themes. The lighthouse - dating from 1865 - is (according to the brochures) the first lighthouse on the Chinese coast. Only three stories high, its whitewashed walls, clean lines and green door look starkly Aegean against the blue sea and sky.

The center of Macau is small enough to get lost in without losing your way. You will find unexpected surprises outside what is written in the guidebook. We entered side streets and stumbled upon beautiful buildings, faded churches and tiny plazas. Taking a break from our walk we stopped by a gelato place (I had raspberry and rhum flavors while my husband got yakult(!) and ginger) and found ourselves facing the Lou Kau Mansion. This beautiful old house is one of the world heritage sites and made me fall in love with courtyards all over again!

Outside of the historic center in the island of Taipa are five beautifully restored Portuguese mansions – homes that belonged to Macanese families in the 1900’s. Now collectively called the Taipa museum, it showcases the Macanese Eurasian heritage and lifestyle. The mansions face a bay across the huge Venetian Hotel and Casino – Macau’s past looking at it’s future. A short walk away is the quaint Taipa village, a small community of narrow lanes and multi-hued two-story colonial houses. It's filled with restaurants and shops, and yet it’s a quiet place to walk around in and explore throughout the day. On our last night we had a great dinner there at O'Santos, a Portuguese restaurant. After eating, we went out looking for a place to drink and ended up sitting along the sidewalk talking as kids chatting in Portuguese and mothers conversing in Chinese walked by.

Of course, we had to go to the casinos. If high end shopping is your thing, all the global brands are in Venetian, Lisboa and MGM Grand, intent on luring willing gamblers away from their winnings. The Venetian was a candy-colored, sparklingly clean copy of Venice. But it was the Lisboa Hotel and Casino (owned by Stanley Ho of Manila Bay floating casino fame) that was particularly spectacular, it feels like the set of an old James Bond movie - a Chinatown Jackie Chan meets Hollywood Glam Palace look. This is really grand old bling - with diamonds, emeralds and huge jade and ivory sculptures on display.


Encounters with countrymen were frequent - as it happens whenever one visits another country nowadays. In our hotel, in the various restaurants that we went to, we got to meet and talk with Filipinos who were always gracious and generous with their time and advice. Kababayans are always reliable advisers of a place - where and what to eat, where the internet shops are and how to get to the sights. According to some, the pace in Macau is less frenetic than Hongkong and there are more opportunities to move ahead. I am sure that our migrants experience a host of problems, and it is problematic why our government refuses to pursue national economic development anchored on developing work opportunities in-country rather than relying on remittances - but that is another story.

Couple travel

After years of traveling together, my husband and I have reached a certain agreement to ensure peace: I take charge of the route (I am better with maps), he orders the food (he is a foodie and always knows the best thing to eat). We travel at a different pace - he prefers slow and meditative, taking time to write down notes of ideas that come in; I am essentially a tourist - intent on getting to the next sight. We've found a sort of middle ground - we both wait for each other. He patiently waits for me while I shop!

Traveling has helped us get to know each other better, without the worry of work, daily chores and children. Outside the noise of daily life, we know that we continue to have fun in each other's company, laugh at each other's foibles and enjoy each other's interests. Travel renews our ties by adding to our store of silly memories.

So go to Macau (or any other place for that matter), not so much for an adventure, but to find time for yourselves. #


Photos by Redster


Anna Maria G said...

"store of silly memories" aylavet! ;) - anna banana

Yvonne said...

lovely! I was at Macau with the kids 2 summers ago. I guess, the place takes a different flavor when you are traveling with a lover. ;-)

Faith Agustin said...

Hello Kala, I have been meaning to touch base with you, this is Chit Agustin(I now go by the name, Faith Agustin-Catindig) We went to UP-Manila College of Nursing together, I graduated a year ahead of you. We mostly hung out at AS after school. I live in the Bay Area now. I saw an article about you and your husband in one of the home and lifestyle magazines when I went to visit the Philippines a few years ago. I have since followed your husband's blogs and i have to say I am hooked. I didn't know you also write. This particular article hits home because my husband and I also love to travel. I hope to hook up with you if and when I go back and visit this Philippines again. Here's my email address: