Tuesday, 15 July 2008
Money makes me mad
If only we could blow Grand Lisboa Casino into the South China Sea
Fifty First Timer No.20
Gamble in a casino
One ambition I have held for years has been to visit a casino and place a bet. Where better to achieve this ambition than in that world famous gambling paradise Macau. This former Portuguese trading port is an hour’s ferry trip from Hong Kong and was high on my lists of ‘must visits’.
We caught the ferry from the exotically named China Ferry Terminal in Kowloon. This Sunday morning the streets of Kowloon were almost deserted, but for a few stragglers all heading in the same direction as we were. The terminal lives up to its name; it is possible to travel from there to over fifteen different destinations in mainland China. The Macau ferry has frequent sailings but the cheap seats on the next ferry that Sunday morning were taken, so we couldn’t leave for another hour. Starbucks is quite a good place for breakfast though!
Macau was hot, hotter than Hong Kong and because the ferry disembarks a good half hour walk from the main thoroughfare, our tempers were beginning to fray by the time we reached town. This wasn’t helped by the walk through Fisherman’s Warf, a tourist amusement park, the epicentre of which boasts a fake mountain which looks more Utah than Pearl River.
The walk took us past vast concrete and glass creations; the hotels and casino of this Chinese Special Administrative Region. Our guide book led us on a walking tour mobbed with tourists, so we ditched the tour and wandered the quite side streets. I marvelled at the incense burning in almost every doorway, if shrines could not be bought a drain pipe would suffice as a suitable alter. Throughout my journeys in this area I was struck by the arrogance of past colonialism and their suppression of individuals’ rites to worship as they please. I am glad that Bhudda is still strong in the Macauan’s hearts and is pushing forth among the cathedrals and churches and casinos of those other religions.
The heat was intensive and a beer was soon required, but not forthcoming. Even back among the Starbucks, McDonald's and Haagen Dazs, we found no Carlsberg. Then I spotted a young man in an upstairs window that over looked the square supping a beer. There!
We found the door way to café E.S. KIMO round the corner in a crowded market street. Beers taste so much better when you have been deprived. We also ate a Korean Egg sandwich (an omelette on white bread) and a fresh fruit salad which we were appalled to notice was drizzled with Heinz Salad Cream but it tasted rather good.
The biggest and most vulgar casino in Macau is Grand Lisboa Casino. This gold monstrosity rises up like an Imperial standard at the edge of cowering colonial streets and hails the start of the casino studded highway back to the ferry terminal.
Before we could enter the casino we were subjected to a bag search and a pass through an airport security screen. We were then thrown into a hall crammed with tables of baccarat and poker and roulette. The back of the hall beckoned, with flaunting bauble and bells, the fruit machines sang.
Shiny escalators floated us to higher floors where the stakes rose with the altitude. I could see on the seventh floor a high stakes area, cordoned off, admittance by invitation only. Most of the gamblers were middle age, Chinese men, although a high proportion were haggles of young women. Smoke and expensive perfume choked the air and made me gag or maybe that was caused by my disgust at the indiscriminate waste.
I gaped as one man threw a thick bundle of Yuan onto the table and then shrug as it was scraped into the sealed cache of the croupier. Why had I felt so guilty in China, languishing in my expensive hotel in Guangzhou? At least I was giving something back in terms of tourist revenue. This debauchery was indecent.
I had lost my taste for gambling but I was there, so with my grubby twenty Hong Kong dollar note in hand, I perched at a fruit machine and did what I had to do; loose it in three presses of a button.
I would now like to visit a Glasgow casino for comparison, but I can be certain I will never be in danger of becoming an addict; I am too canny for that.
Chinua Achebe, Home and Exile
I have only recently discovered Chinua Achebe and am now a fan. A couple of months ago I read the excellent Arrows of God a novel based around the nineteen twenties. Home and Exile is a non fiction essay originating from a series of the lectures given at Harvard University. I bought the book thinking it was an autobiography. It isn’t, although there are a number of pleasing autobiographical anecdotes.
I was delighted to find that Home and Exile examines African literature and argues that African literature should only be written by Africans. He cites the African writing of the past, written by Europeans, as distorting the perception of the continent and portraying the African as primitive, heathen and stupid.
It was quite a shock to read his comments because I am currently writing a novel with an African character and although I do not presume to describe her homeland or her upbringing, Achebe’s comments have made me rethink my approach.