Thursday, April 19, 2012

Episode 9: Teaching and Tarts

"How many eighth notes are there in three quarter notes?"


"No. How many eighth notes... wait, yes. That is correct."

The names of musical notes make no sense to me sometimes. To demonstrate abstract thinking in a first grade classroom, ask a question regarding the names of the notes and how many beats they get. An eighth note gets half a beat. Not simple. Explain the function of a dot after a musical note. Explain how to sing well. Explain how to play piano well. Things that musicians like myself take for granted have the responsibility to teach.

"Mr. Gus, the doctor said I have a fever so I may not be in piano class."

"Thank you for telling me, Marco."

"It's raining outside- do you have an umbrella?"

"... No."

... ...

"Then you must run."

Never in my life would I think to run from the rain. It was pouring outside. Is this the Pacific Northwest? I laid in bed that night with the thunderstorm. I know I wake up for nothing, not even for the alarm at times. The thunder woke me up I felt like a dog on a thunderstorm night.

I contemplated the idea of taking my regular bike ride after school. I reluctantly built up the courage to and gladly biked into the rain. My destination was Coloane. Lord Stow's Bakery. To try the best Portuguese Egg Tart in Asia.

Lord Stow's Bakery
Est. 1989
1 Rua de Tassara
Coloane, Town Square, Macau
7:00-22:00, 365 days a year

I was sopping wet. My rain jacket and waterproof pants were thoroughly soaked through and through. Lord Stow's is 22 years and running. I frantically looked around- bread, pastries, cheesecake... mango cheesecake? That's going in my tummy. No egg tart? Then, as I almost gave up hope, an egg tart mirage appeared at the cashier's. Thank God. It's was still raining outside. Need food. Dinner at Nga Tim Cafe. Feijoada and Chinese beer is good post wet bike ride meal except that I still had to ride home.

Dessert. And my my, what a delicious Portuguese Egg tart it was.  Though I had eaten many an Egg Tart, and more over, a Portuguese Egg Tart, it won me over. Maybe it was the rain. Maybe it was the struggle to get here. Maybe it was because it was right after dinner of Feijoada... nonetheless- Lord Stow's Egg Tart lived up to its reputation.

Little did I know there's a Lord Stow's Bakery right next door in the Venetian.

Until next time.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Episode 8: The Land of Money

"Money flows in to Macau, and out of Hong Kong."
-Marco, Macanese bartender 
One could sense the sparkling energy in the air.  It was the grand opening of the Conrad Hotel. It also completed a significant step in what the Cotai Strip will look like. There was a tightrope walker earlier in the day that walked the impressive distance between The Venetian and Conrad. It was hot and humid, clouds hugging as if protecting Macau from a volatile monsoon. All I could see was money. Money, money, money.

I've gotten used to biking on the left side of the road, even in roundabouts, which are my favorite as it resembles as a symbol that chaos and harmony can exist together. I locked my bike behind some inconspicuous bushes. The migrant workers are known for stealing bicycles here. Whoever stole my bike headlight got a pretty nice headlight. 2 watts, 130 lumens, all from 2 AA batteries. Not in my defense, it was a clip-on. Shame on me. At least my conscience is clear.

The Venetian Hotel with migrant worker housing in the foreground

In the lobby I sat with my camera, embarrassed, like I was some hotshot journalist covering a momentous event in Macau. It was a momentous event indeed and I was waiting for Anne who worked in the Venetian, the largest casino in the world. We were to explore the wonder of what billions of dollars can do. A Macau photographer and artist was on exhibition, documenting the rarely seen culture of the Himalayan people. In reality, since the inception of the Venetian in 2007, it is the biggest event for Macau Cotai Strip this year.

Development of the Cotai Strip is pretty amazing. The world is convinced Macau is the gaming capital of the world. Or at least Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation is. He, single-handed, made more of Macau. Macau too small? Add dirt. Christened "Cotai," it is a literal and physical portmanteau of the reclaimed area between the Coloane and Taipa islands, now essentially one big island. Profits for 2011? $33 billion USD. Just use $4 billion and make this:

Tower 1: Conrad
Towers 2 & 3: Sheraton and Holiday Inn

Inside the brand new Conrad Hotel
Even the little ones want to be part of the festivities!

It seems the Special Administration Region of China is doing quite well. Mainland workers from Guandong and Zhuhai make anything and everything for cheap and easily bring them across the border to Hong Kong and Macau. International businessmen do their businessmen activities. They come and go. They earn money then come to Macau and gamble. Mainland Chinese come to gamble. It accounts for half of this country's economy and does ok even in our global economic crisis. It raises the question where these mainlanders get the money to "healthily" gamble since I've read and heard that pathological gambling is an arising dangerous problem.

People post pictures of The Venetian? I post pictures of The Venetian.
Though one may conclude that Macau is a destination for tourists and money spenders and has no room for the people, living here gives me evidence otherwise. Oscar, one of the teachers here, is published with the help of the Macau government. If a Macau citizen is unemployed, they will provide housing and find employment for them while they are without a job.

Oscar and his Easter Pet. Quite an artist

One of the residents here said that the Cultural Centre with even host an event for you! The Farewell Concert might actually happen. And to find a job for the summer. Any bike shops hiring? Time to get cracking.

Until next time.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Sometimes I forget I'm in Asia. My mind is programmed to expect English out of everyone's mouth, then I hear some incoherent Cantonese and become frighteningly aware that communication may become a problem.

"Where's the bathroom?"
"I want this on the [picture-less Cantonese] menu."
"Please," no, I mean " Thank you." No, I mean "I don't understand." Alas.

Sunset view from Ocean Park. Moi moi.
My roommate Jesse unfortunately had to leave us (for the U.S.) so he and I left early Monday morning before Easter for Hong Kong. It's amazing how fast the ferry boats travel to and from Macau and Hong Kong. Taking about an hour to travel across the Pearl River Delta, it puts the Puget Sound ferries to shame! Ocean Park was our destination and it took a shuttle, a ferry, a bus, waiting in line, and a bunch of walking to get there. The park is the direct competitor to Disneyland and it surely surpasses (from what I hear) Disneyland in being THE theme park for Hong Kong. Not only does it have rides, it contains aquariums, atriums, and pandamariums unique to China. Though I'm not a fan of keeping animals in captivity unless they're endangered, if it's a display of educating the public on why they're endangered and what you can do to help, that's fine with me. They had employees explain the place these special Chinese species had in the world. Pictures to follow.

The next day our destination was Ngong Ping on Lantau Island, home of the biggest Buddha statue outside of mainland China. The Po Lin Monastery there is a big tourist destination and I start realizing the commercialization of religion, especially the of the East. We were to take the cable cars, but missed the last one by half an hour by the time we got there, our usual foolish luck when we decide to go adventuring. So we take a bus that goes up and down the mountains, something that at the time was deathly terrifying, but now it's impressive. Or the other way around? Or both at the same time?

Gus & Jesse. Ngong Ping. Miss you bud.
Since Jesse's flight was in the early morning, we decided to stay up all night. Plants vs. Zombies, Gran Turismo 5, and Facebook were on the agenda and fulfilled our need to stay conscious for an estimated total of 30 hours.

The rainy season quickly approaches and the best way to be baptized was through torrential downpour. I forgot I'm not in Seattle. This was my Spring Break, so I stayed inside and played even more Gran Turismo 5. Cars used to be my thing, but when it became clear they're rather expensive, I gave up my dreams. Bikes are the same, but much more affordable, though some may not agree. GT5 became my escape from the world, my geeky pleasure that I now admit publicly, to you and the interwebs. I appreciated the opening credits start to finish how cars are made, tastefully laden with Prokofiev's 7th Piano Sonata, last movement. They also had Lang Lang tracks; I abruptly and happily omitted him from the playlist. His technical brilliance may be impressive, but has little musical depth. An interesting post was written Chinese pianism and a contrast of Classical music by the East and the West. A virtuoso graduate of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, he's sponsored by Adidas, played at the Beijing Olympics, and is supports advocacy of classical music education for youth. Maybe my musical embargo on Lang Lang is a little harsh. I'll give him another listen after his concerto campaign of Beethoven, Bartok and Prokofiev.

Living alone now has its perks and non-perks. No one does the dishes anymore nor do I have anyone to cuddle with... kidding aside, it reminds me that nothing stays the same as much as we like things to and that's what is beautiful about life: it can get better or worse, but that's all perspective, and in the end, life is just a box of chocolates.

Until next time.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Wet Monday

Back in the day post-Easter celebrations happened for a whole week. Spring Break for 2 weeks anyone? Yes please. On a day I thought I had little significance, Easter Monday, also known as Wet Monday, existed as a vague acknowledgement to my Catholic faith. The most interesting tradition in Eastern Europe is when boys wake up the unmarried girls with a bucket of holy water and strike their legs with decorated tree branches. I'm sure one can imagine to see how this tradition actually started. Mischievous boys.

Watch out! Used without permission. Sorry.
Ate (cousin in Tagalog) Jeannie first told me about it as it's an official celebration in Hong Kong. But not so in Macau. That won't stop me! Unfortunately, I don't think I'd make many friends if I followed through nor would I have any idea how to get into a girl's room unnoticed. In Southeast Asia, it is now the start of the rainy season and we've recently been reminded of such things that rain does exist in Asia. And it's only the beginning.

The gang outside of Macau/Se Cathedral
Coming back from playing organ at Macau Cathedral last night and a nice Easter dinner, the group walked home sopping wet. It was welcomed because Macau is not Seattle. Everyone had their umbrellas out but tonight felt much like home. I spent my Spring Break/Holy Week bonding with family in Hong Kong, eating what locals eat, met up with an old friend from Beijing and going to church.

Chesca dressed up and braided all pretty for Holy Week.
But ultimately, I spent the break inside playing Gran Turismo 5, admiring how cute and intelligent my niece Francesca is, and literally taking a break. I tried braving Hong Kong by myself, though without my roommate Jesse (more on that later), it was as if Hong Kong told me "No." I went a couple blocks in relatively ok rain gear but decided to find a coffee house after the rain became more than a heavy downpour, read Richter's biography (courtesy of Ludmila) and enjoyed some coffee to stay awake.

For the record, despite the implication of Wet Monday, it is sunny and dry. Hopefully I didn't jinx it. Dreams don't become goals until telling someone, so I will say it: I will bike across the Northern Tier of the United States this summer. I might skip over some of the middle of U.S. because it's flat, boring, and probably a waste of my time from what I hear. But who cares? If you do have experience with this part of the U.S., let me know through this blog, Facebook, Twitter, iMessage, or Skype, and I'll personally discuss this part of the U.S. with you.

Until next time.