Monday, September 28, 2009

Putting it all on red

Being back in Bangkok is rather enjoyable - like a blast of fresh air, although after three days I am convinced that the normal environment is one of cold dry refrigerated air and the unnatural environment is that sultry damp sweaty feeling you get when you go outside. The city would be more enjoyable if it had a little less concrete and more greenery, less traffic and more space for people to enjoy. Mind, there's plenty of space in the air-conditioned malls. So we do a bit of shopping - kit ourselves up for China with guidebook, phrasebook, chopsticks and matching Mao suits knocked up by an Indian tailor down the Khao San Road - whilst we wait for our visa application to be processed. We also happily catch up with Fiona and Gordon and staying with them for a few nights feels like a real indulgence. They don't look at us as if we're mad when we explain that we've been looking for bicycles for cycling across China. Our plan is to visit for a couple of months, then return to Bangkok in order to visit Burma. We'd then return to Bangkok and with bicycles head up through Laos and into Yunnan. At the moment it's just an idea, but we get very excited when we pass an old shop in Chinatown with a display of Brookes' leather saddles. They look a little like some Victorian torture implement - which is in fact what they are. Anyway, we will be returning to Bangkok.........Our onward flight is to Macau - another cheap deal from Air Asia, Malaysia's answer to Easyjet. Like Hong Kong, Macau is part island, part peninsular. Since the Portuguese returned it to China in 1999 it has become China's Vegas - as a 'special administrative region' (n.b. no connection with SARs) with some autonomy, the authorities have invested heavily in developing the city as a gambler's paradise. There's a whole one-arm bandit's worth of glitzy, showy hotel-casinos littering the water front and filling in the marshy swampland is the showiest of them all - the Venetian. This complex is beautifully modelled on the canals, palaces and piazzas of Venice. Very tasteful it is too. Anyway, the plan seems to be working - Macau's casinos apparently take more money than those of Vegas. There's quite a lot of folk who like to gamble in these parts. We check out the roulette, the crap shooters and another table with furry dice inside a plastic dome in the centre where it looks like people are playing my favourite game when we were kids at Aunty May's, called 'Frustration'.The city itself has an odd European feel thanks to the Portuguese, not just in the array of well-preserved old colonial buildings and churches, but also in the layout and upkeep of the modern parts. It probably helps that there's only a population of half a million here. It's not really China, but we knew it wouldn't be. Our first evening we are passed by a van blaring out an election campaign message. At the weekend there are municipal elections. There are posters showing teams of candidates all glowing and shiny and probably air-brushed for the voters. Most shop and street signs are in Cantonese and Portuguese, the two official languages, so we can get around without a problem. Apart from good cheap food joints there's also some great bakeries. We don't need our phrasebook here, they are used to seeing tourists. On Sunday morning we head to the border gate with China. Strange really, that only now are we entering China proper. The border controls are uneventful. However there are thousands going back and forth - the busiest border we've been at. Out on the other side it doesn't look so much different - a bit more litter and a bit scruffier. We find the bus station and are quickly on a bus and on our way to Guangzhou, China's third largest city. China, at last.

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