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Two Bridges and A Million Tiny Lights

We left our room at the Hotel Central in Macau and headed down to the cycles. There was still plenty of space left in the sky for the sun to traverse, so we headed out in search of adventure. The traffic was thick with tour buses and taxis, as we rode back toward the hotel district. Our first mission was to buy bottles of water, but each shop that we stopped at seemed to sell water for a more ridiculous price than the last. Perhaps my idea of realistic pricing had been skewed by our time on the mainland, but I was aghast, rendered unable to bring myself to purchase that life giving and most basic necessity.

Instead we rode on, thirsty, pounding across the cobblestones, onto the smooth wide boulevards of Macau, past casino after giant glittering casino. There is a certain kind of architecture, use of a special kind of gaudy building materials, a certain relation of dimensions, which it seems is reserved exclusively for casinos. It’s somewhat distasteful, but also come-hither in a certain shameless way. Regardless, a landscape clustered with casinos is nothing if not interesting to wheel through. We decided, however, that the intensely casino-ed part of town might be, like Las Vegas, better experienced at night. So we rode on, stopping briefly for a delightful selection of famous Macanese egg tarts with iced coffees.

The island of Taipa lay in the distance, shrouded by ocean mists and connected to us by three elegant bridges. It was there, we decided, that we might be able to gain some perspective on this strange and expensive city in which we had found ourselves. We chose the central, and seemingly the shortest of the three bridges and headed out.

As soon as we left the spotless glass, giant chunks of pink marble, hideously golden, metallic painted shelters of the casino district, we found ourselves subject to quite a strong wind blowing off the Pearl River delta. In addition to the strong wind, the road had become rather narrow, and as we climbed onto the central bridge, the shoulder we had been riding on disappeared altogether. In a last-ditch attempt to avoid being killed by one of the many buses that flew by us, we decided to ride on the narrow and very high walkway that ran along our left side. This was much safer, but left us subject to a fair bit more wind, and was studded periodically with nasty obstacles, many of which required us to stop and hoist the bikes over or around them.

Once we made it over the crest of the bridge, we had gravity on our side, so I hoisted my speed TR over the two-foot drop back onto the road. From there, I did my best to cover the remaining distance in the smallest amount of time possible, riding in the center of the road, pushing with all my might against the headwind, trusting in the downward slope of the road, and hoping that my speed was close enough to that of a slow car to avoid too many nasty interactions with nearby traffic.

On the other side of the bridge, we pulled a left and began to ride along a much more relaxed seaside road. To our left, separated from us by a long thin stretch of salty marsh and a decent chunk of deep blue water, was the heart of Macau. Glowing and blinking in the afternoon sun. It was such a strange-looking city, full of bizarre buildings; it was easy to deem it nothing but a place to worship money and games of chance.

There had to be more to this place, we thought, so we rode on, toward the heart of the island. Here we found some more familiar Chinese characteristics: large blocky apartment buildings, noodle shops, and construction everywhere. In contrast though, it was strikingly clean, and the roads were all brand new and delightfully smooth. We could see what looked like the center of town in the distance, separated from us by a large cluster of identical concrete 20-story apartment buildings. Unfortunately, for all we could tell, the only way to get to the center from where we were required traversing a scrap metal yard, which it seemed would dump us onto a section of gravel roads through the back yards of these large apartment buildings. Since the dogs in this part of the world tend to be small and docile, we decided to head in.

It was a maze. As we crunched along on the speed TRs, we ended up many times staring at a peeling blue-painted sheet metal dead end. The thirst we had ignored earlier was beginning to return with a vengeance, and it was with great delight and not a tiny bit of desperation that we finally found the correct path and bounced off the gravel, over a curb and back into traffic. Luckily, right there, on our left was a circle K, the same chain convenience stores we had so often used in Bali. They were happy to sell us water at what I could at least consider to be non-predatory pricing. We bought six liters, and drained three of them there on the spot.

Refueled and full of new life, we headed out to explore this new island.  Though neither of us had any interest in gambling that evening, we nonetheless discussed the rules of various casino games, throwing around ideas about how one might hack them, given, for instance an unlimited number of plays or an unlimited amount of money. Could you develop a strategy that would be increasingly likely to make you money, or at least to break even for you in craps? What about roulette? We pulled the Speed TRs over near the island’s airport and sat down in the grass to work through our ideas on the Martingale system with a bit of paper.

Unsurprisingly, we found no such advantageous method. So we wheeled on, circumnavigating the island, through sections of dense urban residential structures, large open parade grounds, more casinos, and even a rather Providence-Rhode-Island-esque busted industrial section. As we made our way through the industrial section and found ourselves once again back at the bridge where we had started, we felt pulled toward the center of the island. It was mostly a large hill, on the side of which clung a fair bit of forest, a few parks, a cemetery, and what looked like a long snaking stretch of road.

But how to get there… We kept wheeling back toward the airport in search of an entrance. We tried a few paths, but once again found only dead ends. The sun was sinking low, and we began to discuss returning to the mainland for dinner when we passed an unassuming and very steep lane. We shrugged and gave it a shot.

Sure enough, this one poured onto a slightly larger road and that onto another. Then we were climbing on the main road. The purpose of this rather large, smooth, and spotlessly clean thoroughfare, it seemed, was to provide access to a large park and nature preserve on the top of Taipa’s central hill. The park was dedicated to the many ethnic groups in China, and as we rode, the sides of the road were decorated with statues dedicated to each ethnicity. Under each statue was the name of the ethnic group and a caricature of that type of person.  An ornately dressed woman represented the Naxi, while the Han man carried a trench-digging shovel.

The road was steep, and the sweat was pouring off of us as we climbed toward the top of the hill. I pulled ahead of Scott as he stopped to photograph some statues and we became separated. When I reached the top of the paved section, I kept riding, onto a packed dirt path, which wound its way around the crest of the hill and into the forest.

The sun was falling low in the sky, and the insects around me began to sing the approach of the night. The concentration of insects was, in fact, so great, that as I rode, they would hop across my path pinging against my spokes with a sound not unlike the country western spittoon.

At the end of this dirt path, I found myself at an outlook of sorts. It was a fascinating view. The sky was torn between light and dark. A fierce gray-blue rain was falling on the city of Zhuhai, which was just barely visible in the distance, while a golden ray of sun was spilling over Macau, which did its very best to reflect most of it back at us in radiant polished glass and gaudy golden splendor.

Soon the insects bouncing off of my legs on their miscalculated trajectories became an annoyance, and I began to wonder where Scott had ended up on his trajectory, so I turned back. I found Scott back at the trail head, gazing out at a similar view. We climbed back on the cycles, and allowed all that potential energy to convert to momentum, whipping down the hill and back onto the main thoroughfare at frightening speed.

The rain had moved from Zhuhai toward us and was beginning to fall in great cold drops, as the sunset spread orange and purple through the sky. We decided to take a different bridge back to the mainland, in hopes that it might have a larger pedestrian walkway, or even a decent shoulder on which to ride. And it was in search of this bridge that we worked our way from roundabout to roundabout, traversing the city of Taipa like Chinese checkers, and eventually following signs to the bridge.

It was a much larger bridge, which meant that cars had more lanes of traffic with which to avoid us, but we were still forced to choose between the shoulder-less traffic-filled road and a rather obstacle-laden, narrow, two to three foot high pedestrian walkway. It was raining now for real, and the sunset had faded into a dim pre-night orange gray. We chose the walkway.

It was the right choice, for the area on which we rode turned out to be much larger than initially anticipated, and even widened as we went. Cars whooshed by, and rain spattered against our helmets. All the while, Macau grew larger and larger, and the casinos began to light up with thousands of neon lights and LEDs. It was a glowing, pulsing, otherworldly light show, and we had the best view in the house.

I was suddenly forced to screech to a halt when I saw a large discarded television set looming, just barely visible in my path. It was perhaps the closest that I had come to a cycling accident on the whole trip to date. Crunching into that television would have no doubt knocked me off the three foot high path on which we rode, and likely encouraged the crushing of my body by a car. But let’s dispense with the macabre that could have been.

Back in Macau, the rain began to fall in buckets, quickly soaking us to the bone. We feared for camera and telephone as we darted through the narrow and traffic-clogged streets of Macau. The city was lit with that kind of surreal light that can only be produced by thousands of tiny moving and flickering sources. Traffic was mostly in a rain-related gridlock, and as tiny shadows danced on the periphery of each real shadow, we splashed across the pavement onto the cobblestone streets of the Hotel Central’s neighborhood.

We stumbled, sopping wet, and giggling uncontrollably into the lobby. It had been a great wheel.

By the time we had changed into dry clothes, the rain had stopped and we headed out in search of dinner. As we strolled, the streets glistened delightfully, reflecting the vast array of lights all around us. We ended up at a small Macanese restaurant, where we ordered dumplings, some eggy scallion pancakes, and a plate of sticky sweet pork. It was all quite delightful, and we chased the entire meal down with two ice-cold Tsing Tao beers.

We spent the rest of the evening wandering the streets of Macau, walking in and out of casinos, and studying the strange world that surrounded us. In the casino section of the city, every other shop is a jewelery shop, suggesting that when one feels they’ve hit the jackpot here, they immediately go out and secure the winnings in the form of gold or jewelry. Perhaps because such things are easily smuggled across borders? Regardless, it shows a more earnest attempt to use gambling to generate money for more than just one’s self. If I remember correctly our visit to Las Vegas during the AsiaWheeling planning process, that is far from the typical move in America…

Macau might be a place better described through images and video, so perhaps we should conclude this post with a brief gallery of our evening touring the casinos of Macau.


  1. Henkes | August 15th, 2010 | 12:04 pm

    Woody, are those your shapely legs in the Louis Vuitton stilettos? My how this trip has changed you!

  2. Mark/Dad | September 8th, 2010 | 2:12 pm

    To read that potential energy was converted into momentum makes me think it has been too long since your last mechanics class!

  3. Woody | September 8th, 2010 | 9:04 pm

    @ Mark/Dad

    Fair enough.

    It would be saver to say, then, that it was converted into kinetic energy and heat?

    Or perhaps that it was converted to square of our momentum divided by twice our mass… but that skips the heat…

    Thanks for keeping us on point!

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