Sunday, 9th November 2003 – Macau, Day 2
Still somewhat jet-lagged, we wandered down to breakfast late, having already watched some of the day’s activities on TV in our rooms – most notably the Mini race that they seemed to be having trouble starting, never mind finishing. The idea of racing Minis around here is pretty scary, to be honest.
What appears to be the usual Macau Hotel Breakfast greeted us, with spring rolls, samosas, dim sum and noodles vying for space with bacon, scrambled eggs and baked beans. One of the more entertaining new substances we encountered was kiwi fruit juice, which tastes fine but is a spectacularly horrible shade of green. Later in the week, we noticed that the Manor Motorsport guys were giving it a very wide berth, though their star driver for the weekend (as opposed to the local hero they’d also got), Lewis Hamilton drank at least one glass of it, while they all looked on in disbelief. Now, I know that kiwi fruit have made it as far north as Sheffield, but this was clearly way too exotic for them.
Plan A had always been to wander to the circuit during the afternoon, sign on and/or pick up pre-bought grandstand tickets, and maybe spend some time watching the historic cars and the scooter race. As a result we assembled at noon, changed our minds about hopping the hotel shuttle bus, and decided to walk to the circuit. It doesn’t take long, about 10 minutes, and we weren’t loaded up with kit for once, so it was actually rather pleasant to stroll through the streets. Normally, with full kit to drag along, and given the usual humidity levels, you’d be stupid not to use the shuttle.
On arrival, Bob opted to buy himself a stand ticket and take up residence by the Reservoir for the afternoon, leaving us to go and sign on. As it was our third visit, and as they don’t get too many westerners, especially women, we obviously stuck in everyone’s memories, and so we weren’t too surprised when the ever-wonderful Racquel was hauled from somewhere in the bowels of the press-office to come and deal with “your people”. This year our passes were all ready for us, and Lynne and I found that we had on track photographers’ access, even though this was the first time we hadn’t bothered asking for it (as we hadn’t been granted it the last two years despite asking). Perhaps it’s based on how many years you’ve been attending – something that seems to happen in France too. This meant all three of us had day-glo pink bibs which we had to wear if we went out on track, not good news when two members of the party are redheads! Me, I’m a fake blonde, so I could get away with it. Neither Andrea or Lynne were in any way flattered by the colour…
Anyway, duly given our passes we also got the standard “Welcome” pack which usually contains pens, notepads, guidebooks, posters, programs, and a host of similar things. This year each one also contained a Nikon photographer’s vest, complete with a million pockets, which was very nice indeed, although not something any of use wanted to wear in that heat.
After all the excitement – and some discussion about whether we could have two lockers and two desks between three of us or not because there were over 1000 members of the media expected – we decamped to one of the finest establishments ever to grace a paddock, the Pizzeria Toscana. There isn’t anywhere else to eat in the paddock, the pizzas are terrific, and consequently at lunchtimes during the race weekend the place heaves. It was now after two so we figured it might be quiet enough to get a cup of coffee and make our bookings for the following weekend. We’d just got our iced coffees – which come with sugar water to sweeten them to your own taste rather than sugar which won’t dissolve properly in cold coffee – when the next wave of would-be diners hit. Feeling guilty, we drank up and tried to get our bill. It took a while, but at least while we waited we were able to book our lunch tables for the Thursday, Friday and Sunday, and while we were at it we agreed to have dinner there on the Monday. Just to make sure they could still cook, you understand!
Groaning under the weight of all those goodies, we lurched back to the hotel, dropped off the stuff we didn’t need, and headed back to the track to watch the historics and the scooters as planned. The rain that had blighted the morning – and caused complete chaos in the Mini race – was threatening to come back and it was very gloomy out there. The Historic Race offered excellent entertainment, especially for those of us who are not fans of Frank Sytner, but it was as nothing compared to the amusement value of the scooter race. Touted as an event that the locals could compete in, there were some worryingly professional looking outfits among the 60 riders lined up to take the start. To be fair, there were also some worryingly unprofessional looking ones too, and we weren’t in any way reassured by the marshals tying mattresses to the barriers before the start!
On the way back to the hotel, still laughing about the scooter race, we stopped off at the HSBC bank’s cash machine to try and get some money. Ironically, given that as far as I know the H stands for Hong Kong, the machine was out of Hong Kong dollars, so we’d have to settle for Macanese patacas – not a problem so long as you spend them while you’re there because they’re not accepted anywhere else and you can’t exchange them either.
That night we decided that the Food and Firework Festivals would be our destination. We’d mentioned it at the desk before leaving for the track, and so we presented ourselves at the appointed hour, and were duly shuffled onto one of the rickety orange and cream buses. The bus took us to the Macau Tower where everything was meant to be happening, but then the unexpected occurred. A young woman in an official GP Committee jacket, and clutching a clipboard, met us as we stepped of the bus, and invited us all to follow her.
We were led to one of the many banqueting suites in the Tower (on the fourth floor I think), and were then ushered to a table. We were guests at the prize-giving dinner, when we hadn’t expected to be. A quite wonderful buffet was spread our along three walls, and we were told to be sure and drink all the wine. Well, it would have been rude not to after that! It also provided a first in that one of the dishes on offer was chicken feet and mushrooms. I decided I’d try them as the local Chinese diners seemed pretty enthusiastic about them. There was more meat on them than I expected, and they tasted pretty good, but I found the texture to be somewhat more gelatinous than I cared for and picking the meat off the bones was just a nuisance. Later, we watched the fireworks from the balcony of the suite, before returning to the hotel tired, full of food and more than a little bemused.