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Sorry that our Hong Kong adventures have taken so long to write out on the blog…blogging becomes much less fun in mainland China when the site is behind the firewall and therefore operates at a snail’s pace. The show must go on though. We headed to Macau on a beautiful day, not really knowing what to expect at all. We got on the turbo ferry which was a confusing process and were dropped off on the other side of Macau, nowhere near the city center. We hopped in a cab and got dropped off in the Largo de Senado, the center of the town with a strong Portuguese feel to it. Like its nearby counterpart, Hong Kong, Macau was occupied by a European empire: the Brits in HK, the Portuguese in Macau. Lots of people in HK are still Brits and speak English, but there are very very few people of Portuguese descent in Macau, and less than 1% of the city can speak Portuguese. The signs are still all in Cantonese and Portuguese though, and the city looks and feels very European. Again like HK, Macau was separate from China until 1999, when it became a special administrative region of China, which means China still makes money off of it and will protect it with its military, but Macau still maintains its own government and currency, the Pataca. You also have to have a passport and go through customs (same with HK). The city center was JAMMED with Chinese folks, primarily because it was a holiday weekend in mainland China. There also wasn’t a casino in sight, which I was very surprised by. It was mostly beautiful European style buildings and sidewalks in the center, and then the normal, ugly Chinese buildings a couple blocks away. We walked around for a bit, admiring the Macau tourist specialties, mainly large sheets of beef jerkey which Erin said was the best she has ever had and cookies. We needed food though.

Macau is also famous for its blend of cuisines from Southern China and Portugal. We went to a pretty authentic looking place which turned out to be a very nice restaurant, but neither one of us was particularly impressed with the food. It was good but not noteworthy, and I of course still missed my mainland China prices. Erin did a little shopping and then we headed up to the old Portuguese fort, which offered amazing views of the whole city, and then down to the ruins of St. Paul’s cathedral. These ruins are probably the most famous landmark in Macau, even though all that remains is the facade of one end. The weather was great and the city was energetic and bustling, so it was fun to walk around the crowded streets (even though constantly having people walk right at you because they are not looking or are transfixed by your white skin is getting old). We did a little more shopping in a tea house that I read about beforehand, grabbed dinner at a great noodle place, and then it was time for me to get my gamble on! WOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Macau is the center for all Asian gambling. The Chinese are ingrained with notions about luck and horoscopes, so gambling is something that they really love and unfortunately read WAY too much into. I wanted to play a little poker, so we headed to one of the biggest casinos in the city, the Grand Lisboa, a really cool looking casino with the best poker room around. I don’t know why, I like casinos and it was fun just being inside the place, and when we got to the poker area, I saw that there was a tournament starting shortly. So I decided what the heck, you are only in Macau for one night, why not? 60 people were in the tournament, with a mix of people from all over the world, but primarily older Chinese guys. I have played a lot of poker, and after a few minutes I could tell that I was one of the best players in the tournament, and felt like I had a good chance of making the top 7, which were the people that made money. Nobody ever had any idea what cards I had, partially because I only had to show my cards twice and was playing a very aggressive style. After a few hours, there were 14 people left, and I had just won a very big hand and was doing very well. Unfortunately, the two times I had to show my cards at the end of a hand, both as a 3 to 1 favorite to win the hand, I lost. That is poker though, and although it was hard to get myself to stop thinking about having the most chips had I won even one of those hands, the dream was over. I finished in 13th place, but it was a good time overall, just a very painful ending. Wah wah, everyone loves reading about me losing in poker right?!

Erin and I felt impressed with Macau, and I can really see why it has become such a popular tourist destination. There is a lot to do other than gambling and it is only an hour away from HK. Good food, architecture, weather, and, oh yea, gambling! What could be better? I was glad we got to see it, and some Americans that Erin met while I was playing told her that if I came back around Chinese New Year, I could probably make many thousands of dollars raking in the dough from the innocent Chinese guys whose horoscopes told them they would have good luck and get rich this year (they said they were not very good and made between $5-10k each). Might have to come back someday…

We left Jinan today, to head for the place where we will be living for the next year; Tangshan.  It is a little sad to leave Jinan, because I (David) liked the city, people, and other teachers that we had met, and started to have a pretty good feeling for the city.  Oh well, it only took about a week, so it shouldn’t be hard to do again!  We said bye to our best friend in Jinan, John McClymont, hopped on the bullet train to Tangshan, and were off.

There have been a couple new developments in our life since my last post.  We met our manager, Eddie Diaz, a big, loud Puerto Rican New Yorker, two days ago.  He is a pretty typical New Yorker, which means he is one of the most controversial people in all of China!  He met us wearing a Harley Davidson biker Jacket, and a USA flag hat, which I found hilarious, and seems like the kind of guy that would do just about anything for you if he likes you, which is good for Erin and I (I think).  We also met the other teacher who will be in Tangshan, who also happens to be named David.  He is an American from Spain, who studied and lives in London.  He claims to be American, but has a British accent, so the students will be very confused by the differing accents.  He has three passports and seems like quite the world traveler, a nice guy, and laid back enough to not lose his mind over the past few days.  So that is our little Tangshan teaching group.

Another little tidbit we have noticed about Chinese culture.  They are OBSESSED with luck, and bad omens and stuff like that.  One thing in particular that we have noticed is how certain numbers are considered lucky or unlucky.  The number 4 is the most avoided number by far.  It is considered unlucky because the word for 4, si, is also the word for death.  So that makes some sense.  However, telephone numbers, license plates, even hotel or apartment prices will be lower if they contain lots of 4s!  The converse of this is the number 8, which is the luckiest of the numbers.  Again, prices for things containing lots of 8s, or adding up to 8, literally cost more.  A telephone number of 888-8888 would probably cost several thousand US dollars, whereas a telephone number of 444-4444 would be just about free.  I found this suprising because so much of the culture is based on logic and reasoning, yet they do other things that have no logical basis whatsoever.  As a logic loving American, I find it pretty annoying to have to be cautious of using the number 4, but hey, put me on the 4th floor of every hotel from now on please!

Alrighty, I think this is about it for now.  We move into our new apartment today.  Have a lot to do and learn about Tangshan, but we also start teaching tomorrow (Friday).  We really have no idea what we are going to teach, because we haven’t been told, but it will be interesting to say the least.

This is a post I wrote yesterday, so another one will be coming soon…

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