Travel 2008 – Macau, Days 5 – 7

Wednesday, 11th/Friday, 13th November 2008 – Macau, Days 5 – 7

As ever Wednesday was the day it all kicked off with the traditional photo opportunity/PR stunt held at Fisherman’s Wharf in the afternoon. First though there were some shopping-related errands to run. Glyn wanted to look at the shiny new Apple store to see if he could get any accessories for his iPod and Lynne and I wanted to go and look for model cars, new shirts/jackets and some white port. That meant we were keen to locate the New Yaohan department store’s new premises, since the old New Yaohan is now a building site. As it turned out the Apple shop and the new New Yaohan are pretty much next door to each other over on the Nam Van Lake complex. In the end Glyn bought a case for his iPod and then we decided that we needed iced coffee and for that we needed to visit the Singing Bean Cafe, a somewhat eccentric establishment where they claim that playing Mozart to the coffee beans makes for a smoother coffee (!).

They also serve the scariest cake portions I have ever seen, and in fact two year’s after the event Glyn was still spooked by the sight of the cake display. Instead we settled for an iced coffee and a custard tart each.

I love the iced coffee you get in Macau, served with a jug of very creamy milk and a jug of sugar syrup, it’s just the thing on a hot, sweaty morning. After that we wandered through Leal Senado Square, and along the road leading to the ruins of Sao Paulo, only to discover that the model shop has vanished, as had all but one of the shops selling Chinese shirts, blouses, jackets and dresses – probably mostly to tourists given the sizes in stock. Anyway, a brief foray into there was most rewarding with two jackets and a shirt for Lynne, and two shirts and two jackets for me.

From there we decided to go over to the old Protestant Cemetery, and St. Anthony’s Church, neither of which we had been to despite having made hefty inroads into the World Heritage sites on Macau.

It was very peaceful up there, apart from a bird (some sort of Oriole I think) which refused to show itself properly, but which had a lot to say for itself even so.

Oh, and the cemetery revealed some interestingly mangled English on some of the gravestones, as well as the rather alarming one for a Lewis Hamilton…

Additionally, the Morrison Chapel (originally built in the early 19th century to serve the requirements of employees of the British East India Company) at the entrance to the cemetery revealed that the Anglican congregation in Macau had a woman chaplain as early as the 1940s, and an Oriental woman at that. I didn’t realise the CoE was that forward thinking back then, and I’d really like to know more about her. We then strolled across the street to the Camoes Garden, which we also hadn’t seen before but had time for nothing more than a cursory glance at the entrance area. It’s most impressive and we must go back next year for a proper look round.

And then we had to get ourselves down to Fisherman’s Wharf, where the PR event was scheduled for 2.30. We settled in for a cold beer while the organisers set everything up, and then watched in amusement as various drivers demonstrated that they had chosen the right sport and that they made dreadful basketball players. It was entertaining for them too, as photographers were allowed to sit under the hoops, a consequence of the locals failing to understand the very simple plan Nikki had drawn up which had free standing hoops – instead they’d attached them to a hoarding so the only way you could see the players’ faces was to lurk under the hoops. It was stressed that this was entirely at our own risk if we wanted to take photos from there, and I had the bruise on my knee to prove it after a direct hit from Jaime Alguersuari! Ah well, the risks of photography…

Afterwards I had a chat with Mika Maki and discovered that basically we’ve had the wrong Finn all season; Atte Mustonen is a fake, I reckon, whereas Maki is the real thing. As mad as two boxes of frogs though apparently harmless at first sight.

Anyway, the F3 drivers won for once, with the bikers doing worst as ever!

Once they’d all gone, we had another beer at the cafe, having discovered that Yvonne had arrived from Australia earlier than we’d been led to expect. We made a potential plan to meet her at the Convention Tower that evening for the buffet dinner and the fireworks display being held to celebrate the start of the Grand Prix.

The buffet spread was much the same as in previous years, concentrating on sections of Chinese food (and why is there NEVER any crab left), Indian food, Portuguese food, and a seafood counter as well as sushi and sashimi freshly cut for you by the chef.

Glyn was suffering his usual affliction when it came to dessert and his bits of fruit kept accidentally falling into the chocolate fondue – but what can you do…

I had a variety of cute little sweets and then, as they were closing up, we left and had the usual undignified fight for a cab after the food festival crowds decided they didn’t want to wait in the cab rank and would instead hail the cabs before they could get there. This resulted in a brief argument with a small official who seemed to think it was OK for the locals to do that but not for me to try it. Then he tried to push me – As I was about twice his height he’d really picked the wrong person to shove…

Thursday got off to a good start, not too early, with a trip to the Melco Hairpin to start the day. I like going there for the very first session simply because it’s such fun when the drivers encounter it for the first time. If you don’t get the line absolutely spot on you get stuck against the barrier on the outside, and just to help matters along there’s a nasty bump on the inside that means you’ll have at least one wheel off the ground at a fairly critical moment. As a photographer it’s great because you really could reach out and rap the boys on their helmets as they go round – and if they have clear visors fitted, you can see the whites of their eyes!

We got there to encounter a very friendly security guard, and were joined not long afterwards by a bunch of familiar faces, loaded up with camera equipment and ready to start the day. The inevitable moment soon arrived when someone thought we shouldn’t be standing there, and he vanished off down the hill to get clarification – and was never seen again. I can’t help thinking his subsequent discussion went one of two ways, with the most likely being:

“Sir! There are lots of photographers standing on the outside of Melco!”

“Are they young?”

“No, Sir.”

“Then they clearly know what they’re doing. Ignore them!”

The alternative version may have started the same, but then deviated:

“What pass have they got?”

“A media pass and a Press on Course stylish flourescent green plastic tabard!”

“And what pass do you have?”

“This.”

“Ah… They can stay there. You can’t!”

At least this year they didn’t fence the area off before seeking clarification (which is what happened last year). After that we went back to the hotel, got organised for the day, and caught the lunchtime shuttlebus to the jetfoil terminal (and thus to the paddock via the escalator which has the advantage of meaning you don’t get run down by the traffic on the main road).

We spent the afternoon in action in the press office, watching the first qualifying session and writing and filing our report. After that we retreated to the hotel for a shower and clean clothes, cursing the final hill as we dragged the laptop trolley up it. We opted to eat at the IFT restaurant that evening, which is always a good experience gastronomically and simply an experience where the service is concerned. Because it’s not long after the start of term most of the students are very new, and are therefore hovered over by the tutors and the maitre d’ to make sure they don’t commit any truly awful errors. It’s got to be tricky because what the restaurant is aiming for is fine dining, European-style, with students who come from a very different tradition. It can lead to the odd misunderstanding but it would take a very hard heart to hold it against the students; they’re willing, keen and incredibly attentive. And the food is something special too…

We started with a glass of white port each as an aperitif, then moved on to Bacalhau Risotto with Wild Mushrooms for me:

Seared Scallops with Portuguese Black Pudding and Pomelo Confiture for Glyn:

Lynne had the Terrine of Foie Gras with Verjus Jelly, Red Onion and Quince Jam:

I followed this with Pan Fried Venison Fillet with Truffle Spätzle and Port Wine Sauce, as did Lynne:

Glyn ordered the Beef Tenderloin with a Gratin of Wild Mushrooms and Cream Potatoes:

Dessert was a Blueberry and Rhubarb Crumble with Créme Brûee Ice Cream which, to this Yorkshirewoman, needed to be more crumb and less crust, but which was still delicious.

There was also Red Berries Créme Brûee with Egg Tart for Lynne:

It was just a shame they couldn’t do the tasting menu for three people, it was only available in multiples of two.

Friday we had a slightly later start, and then – despite the press shuttle bus driver insisting he couldn’t take us there – we took the cameras to Hospital Bend (by cab – the bus driver was insistent the closest he could get us was the Lisboa and it’s an uphill slog in the heat from there – however we struck it lucky with our cab hunting as there was one just drawing up behind the shuttle bus as we needed it – and Jonathan Cochet climbed out. I thanked him for bringing us our taxi!) Once at Hospital were settled in amidst a pleasant garden under a bus shelter that kept the heat off us nicely.

There were lots of huge butterflies, and equally large dragonflies (with what looked to be very velvety bodies) but no burning tin tops to my mild disappointment.

There was a startling view of the new Grand Lisboa from there, which we had time to fail to appreciate:

Due to the general incompetence of the local competitors the session was so badly delayed that it ended up happening after lunch, which was delivered to the marshals on a truck that almost didn’t make the next bend, to the derision of the marshals.

Anyway, we figured there wasn’t a lot of point going back to the press office so we ended up watching the next lot of locals out, the cars including a Honda NSX that appeared to have eaten a 1970s F1 car, all apart from the airbox.

During the lunch break the very sweet security guard kept worrying about us being in the sun, especially Lynne whose redhead’s complexion seemed to really worry her. She should probably have worried more about the F3 drivers!

After the session we walked back down the hill, locating a hitherto unknown (to us anyway) short cut that spat us out near the Holiday Inn, and lo-and-behold there was another handy cab, just when we needed on. We went back to the paddock via Fisherman’s Wharf and the Talay Thai restaurant overlooking the water and the ferry terminals. We decided lunch might be a good idea at this point (and I wasn’t sure I could face the porklion sandwiches in the media lounge – whatever a porklion really is; I’m assuming pork loin, but prefer the mental image the misprint conjures up). We ordered iced tea, iced coffee, prawns in a red curry sauce…

And a seafood hotpot:

Afterwards it turned out that one of the prawns may have been off (damn the fortune teller – he was right about my stomach!) though it’s possible that the problem had started before that as I wasn’t feeling too clever while we stood out on the trackside.

Anyway, we made it back to the press office for practice and the subsequent press conference, before again heading back to the hotel to shower and change. Tonight’s invitation was to the 15th anniversary of the Macau Grand Prix museum. They were also launching a three dimensional map of the circuit. I still wasn’t feeling too good so had to forego the canapes, confining myself to two Gaviscon tablets and a glass of red wine and a piece of beautifully chilled melon to try and take the taste away!

As far as I was concerned that was the end of the evening. We got a cab back to the hotel, and I went to bed with a litre of water. The other two raided a nearby supermarket and had Japanese sweets and nuts and cold beer for dinner.

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