Further adventures in glamorous international travel

Having arrived in Macau, the romance continues. First was immigration, where the lines crawled as officers stamped arriving passengers in with the indifferent sloth that seemed circa Vietnam, 1996. My immigration officer painstakingly inspected every stamp in my generously stamped passport. It’s Macau. There are only two reasons why I would be coming: The GSM Asia Congress or to gamble. And it ain’t to gamble.

Still, Imagethief has always believed that if there is one overarching indicator of a destination’s civility it’s whether the taxis are metered. On that count, Macau is the pinnacle of gentrification while Kuala Lumpur, for example, which has much to recommend it aside from its Taxis, is Gomorrah. There was some language struggle with the taxi driver, but between his Cantonese and my Mandarin I got to the hotel. The five minute drive cost a walloping 38 patacas, a pataca being the Macanese currency, for all intents and purposes a Hong Kong dollar with a silly name. In fact, “pataca” will now replace “zloty” as my general label for ridiculous currencies, e.g. the plummeting US pataca.

On further reflection perhaps that’s unfair. The pataca is at least holding its value.

So the taxi driver got me to my hotel, but I rather wish he hadn’t. The name, “Grand Waldo”, should have tipped me off. Seriously: Grand Waldo? In the shadow of the grandeur and surreal artificiality of the Venetian, the “Grand Waldo”, or “金都” to use its pretentious Chinese name, compensates by having the gaudiest exterior lighting in all of Macau. And that’s saying something. I had actually noticed it from the airplane on the way in, never dreaming that this was where I was headed for.

The lobby had a touch of desolation about it, a moody silence punctuated by breathy snapping of a nailgun as some evening renovation work was carried out. At the desk, three attendants went through a check-in routine that was even more laborious and sluggish than Macau immigration.

When I arrived at the desk the woman who was supposed to serve me was distracted first by the need to send a fax to someone, which task took about five minutes, and then by the arrival of a disgruntled man who wanted to complain at length about the crappy service. He was eventually foisted off on the assistant manager, but as I went through check in I listened to his litany of complaints. It ended with him canceling his stay in leaving in search of another hotel. Not a good sign.

Nevertheless, I toughed it out. My room was reasonably sized, and artfully positioned in an armpit of the building such that the maximum amount of the scintillating external lighting shined right in. Fortunately there were blackout curtains.

There was no CNN or BBC, but it did have Fox News (did you know that curvy women have smarter children and Virginia is the state with the most personalized license plates?) and, thank heavens, Al Jazeera (gunfire and political tension between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza, major fire in London). It also had Portuguese soap operas featuring attractive, heavy-breasted women in various states of emotional turmoil and scanty dress. That was worth something.

I dialed room service. I’m pretty sure I dialed correctly because I pressed the button labeled “room service” on the phone. This led to a Kafkaesque phone nightmare in which I was transferred no fewer than six times before I got someone who was prepared to take an order for a club sandwich. 82.5 patacas after tax. The man who brought it to my room wouldn’t allow me to sign for it. I had to pay cash. He didn’t offer to make change for the pataca C-note I handed him. He just grinned and pointed at himself. I was so amazed by this display of chutzpah that he was long gone before I realized he hadn’t left the receipt for me.

An hour later the phone in room rang. “Hi, I was staying in room 620* before, and I think I left a blue comb in there, in the small bathroom.” (It’s a suite.) “Can I come and get it?” This sounded a lot like, “Businessman gets rolled in Macau hotel” to me. I said I’d check in the bathroom. Sure enough there was a blue comb in the bathroom with bits of gel stuck to it. I told the caller to come on down and put the chain on the door.

So he had checked out of this room and into some other room in the hotel and left his comb. Housekeeping had flipped the room, but somehow not noticed the grungy, used comb in the outer bathroom. Meanwhile, this guy was so attached to his plastic comb that he turned up his nose at the one included in the room amenity kit and came back for his.

The icy tendrils of paranoia began to creep up my neck.

At any rate, the comb owner was apologetic enough when he showed up at my door, and made no attempt to roll me or sell me a blow job (which does rather distinguish him from a hotel experience I once had in the aforementioned Kuala Lumpur, but more on James Bond Massage and Fullsex Escort Service and the Cantonese hookers I had to pay to go away some other time).

So it’s all quiet now, and at least the broadband works, as I type here in the glow of Al Jazeera (which isn’t half bad).

I have, however asked my coordinator to look for another hotel for tomorrow night.

*Not my real room number. Like I said, tendrils of paranoia.

Update: Hanging on my room door this morning: The Oriental Daily News, which appears to be a Hong Kong gutter rag that, judging from the layout, is designed for a readership devoted to hard hitting stories about police shootings and starlet misadventures. Still, I suppose it gives you something to read while you yank the crank on your one-armed bandit. You could just about finish a story in the time the wheels take to come up, “Bull’s eye”, “Clown” and “Dog riding a tricycle” or whatever symbols they put on slot machines these days (Imagethief is not a gambling man). I guess the name “William Moss” and the US passport didn’t tip them off.

In all its pomp...

In all its pomp…

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