Takayo and I had been married almost a year when we flew into Macau, China from Shanghai. It seemed like the most appropriate place to spend our first anniversary: We got married in Vegas, and both of us have tendencies toward short, crippling bouts of gambling. After stuffing our fake Gucci bag with pressed shirts and dresses, we set out for five days of decadence in the world‘s biggest gambling center.
Mainland China is one of the most homogeneous places you can live. The first thing we noticed about Macau, however, was that it may be one of the most linguistically confused places in the world. It was a Portuguese colony until 1999, both the first and last European one in China. Jump into a speedboat and you can get to Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong within the hour. The municipal signs are printed in three languages, and casinos won’t accept Macau money. We found this out at our hotel, the Grand Waldo.
We rushed down to the casino after checking in, passing a pawn shop in the corridor between the casino and the lobby. Shinny, slightly used Rolex and Omega watches filled the storefront. How bad does it have to get before you look to your wrist and say, ‘well, I guess I could hock this and keep gambling.’ That’s what I thought as we skipped on by.
In terms of gaming, the casino was not unlike one of the Old Town ones in Vegas; just a bit more subdued. We both fork over an orange bill, 1000 Macanese Patacas, to the cashier for Hong Kong dollars. To warm up, I fed some money into a slot machine and began pecking away at the buttons. There’s no waitresses fetching drinks, and no other gamblers around me but Takayo. I hit the cash out button and, instead of receiving a printed voucher, five dollar coins began raining down into the drop box. There’s a fat plastic cup sitting next to the machine, so I scooped up the coins, heaving under its weight on my way to the bar.
It was about nine o’clock, too early for the freaks to come out (if there were any), but it also seemed too late to leave the hotel after traveling all day. I walked around the casino to study the dealers, double fisting - a four-pound cup of change in one hand and a Heineken in other. I play ‘Johnny Appleseed’ at the roulette table. 7, 19, 25, and 13 for good luck. The dealer spoke English, but seemed a little too uptight to hold a conversation. People had told us before we left, “Don’t go to Macau expecting Vegas.” When the ball fell on an even, the dealer scraped my chips off in a pile. Little by little, my cup became considerably lighter. $950 HK in change down the tube. I had enough to buy another Heineken at the bar.
There was a show on stage, most likely a Philippine band. They’re the only ones ballsy enough to follow “Highway to Hell” with an ABBA tune. Takayo was across the gambling hall somewhere, hopefully having better luck that me. But probably not. The machines were rigged, I figured, and everyone was in earshot of the band. Don’t expect Vegas. Ain’t that the truth. Ah, well, as the gamblers say, there’s always tomorrow.