Think about this. A coin is a chance at change.
It is a bit funny because coins are literally change.
These are the heavy jiggle makers that we Gentlemen hate having in our pockets, it’s the annoying germ-laden currency we can’t exchange at the airport. They are absent mindedly thrown at pan handlers without much thought.
It is now 6.16pm at the Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon Terminal. I haven’t showered and my heavy backpack is burrowing a deep dent in my clavicles.
Cantonese signs abound
and people are milling about.
I really need to pee.
It’s a 16 hour flight from Toronto to Hongkong– after narrowly getting out of Montreal in the middle of yet another snow storm and the de-icing taking a good chunk of the safety net i scheduled to smoothly transit between YUL-YYZ, we ran yet again just in time to see the last few people boarding the AC16 i’m trying to get into.
A Traveler’s angel cloaked in a navy blazer and afflicted with laryngitis took my boarding pass- scribbled on it and told me to get in line. She wrote 8B. I’m in! After weeks of uncertainty i would be happy to be seated at the jumpseat beside the toilet just so i could finally get to my Shang-ri La. But lady luck granted me a seat away from the Proletariats and on with the coiffured capitalists of Air Canada’s Classe Affaires, on a rushed, handwritten boarding pass that looked like it was forged by a 7 year old.
I was able to exchange a few Canadian Monopoly money at the HKG airport– enough to buy me a roundtrip bus ticket to Kowloon and for a few incidentals, but not enough to buy myself out of trouble should i encounter an altercation with the Hongkong Triad. Lugging a 10 kilo backpack, tired and restless from not sleeping a wink, i was economically fueled by the unlimited dumplings i had during my plane ride– Now i couldn’t wish for anything more than the sweet embrace the open road beckons.
I would call it Chaos but it’s just a regular weekday night at the Turbojet Shun Tak Centre terminal. I walked by the tempting food stalls and saw a Currency exchange station where i traded some of my HK$ for enough Macanese Pataca to buy 2 keychains and 10 postcards. I still haven’t peed yet but it’s almost boarding time-
I’m seated by the boat’s window basking in Hongkong’s neon glow, towering lights that screams for attention but my illiterate eye turns into meaningless meanderings.
I have a thick 5 Pataca coin. I don’t know how far it can go. But i kept it in my pocket, because the Casino buses that ferry the overworked salarymen of Hongkong, together with the hordes of tourists along with the occasional lost soul looking for redemption are free.
The pulsing lights of Cotai strip that attracts people like moths to a flame aren’t dimmed down by time. It shone as brightly as it did on 7pm until 1am. A city that was built with fevered dreams painted white and polished bright.
I’ve learned quite early on that if you don’t smoke, then China smokes you. There’s a perennial stench of cigarette smoke everywhere and if the smog doesn’t push the last nail down your lungs then it’s the middle aged gentleman beside you rapidly lighting up one Baisha stick after another with no apparent regard for polite company.
It will take me only 1 day and 764 miles before i fully embrace this cultural quirk.
It’s 9.15pm and the last ray sunshine has long been exhausted by the cold winter air, a weary yet fiery traveler like me is too late to see the Ruin’s of St Paul, or the Sun Yat Sen Park even just the Senado Square. But i knew this was coming and i wasn’t too late because the tour i planned for this night is a feverish excavation of Macau’s legendary fare- I’m combing through the casinos like a mad pirate in search of the glorious black X.
I don’t know why or what for and I certainly wasn’t loaded enough to gamble, but i have a 5 Pataca coin that scorches my pocket and urges me to walk the streets paved with gold and dreams, where people with so many stories once walked and i’m just picking up a trace of the memories they left behind.
“Just like everybody else does”.
Lisbon is the name of a capital city but the Portuguese will say it as Lisboa, and it is such a quintessential part of Macau that even as i walked around a nameless underpass a lady urged me to take her numerous pamphlets all bearing Lisboa’s incomprehensible information. This ostentatious building was to be the North Star of my journey. Long before the Lisboa Casino was built during the 60’s by Stanley Ho this Special Administrative Region of China and former colony of Portugal has been what it is since the 1850’s.
A playground for the escapists and the forlorn.
The cherry for being the biggest casino in all of the world would have to be the Venetian Macao, with its depressing artificial sky and high arching walls it was surreptitiously designed so that one should not realize the time passing while you are too busy feeding the Casino Enterprise your hard-earned/ hard- inherited/ hard- stolen money.
And my cherished 5 Pataca coin will join their profit margins too as i purchased what i went to Macau for- A slot machine key chain and 2 sad flimsy post cards.
Give me a double shot of Hennessey VSOP and show me the nearest craps table.
Game face ON.
I may be many -holics. but a gambler i am not. I take too many risks with my life just being myself that no premise of easy money can phase me. The only bet i would like to make would be a 764ft leap off the Macau Tower, but my ridiculously thought out schedule would not permit that trivial whim.
So walk and walk i did until all the lights make no sense anymore and my feet refuse to cooperate.
At that moment of complete helplessness did i realize that i’ve successfully found the X.
The X is a state of mind that an adventurer reaches when you don’t know where you are, what the hell you’re doing much less why you are there. It’s the beautiful emptiness of a garbled state of mind. That life is a variable- an algebraic mystery that you couldn’t care solve because you are breathing in that moment.
Then you just laugh and say f*ck it. I hailed a cab.
I was blessed with a cab driver who smoked the entirety of my trip and speaks zero English, but we played Charade- I said ferry to Hongkong making gestures like the sea and he promptly drove me off– to the Airport. Mistaking my signs as an airplane taking off, we then sped off again after i showed him my Turbojet ticket.
This time he did take me to the ferry terminal. I thanked him with much Pataca and he just nodded and lit another stick.
I didn’t know what i was expecting, maybe fireworks as i close a chapter on my last steps in Macau.
Standing in line and unwary of the world i see all the people around me waiting for the 3am ferry that will take us away from the Disneyland of the Disconsolate. They are the losers, those who went to Macau on a Monday night hoping to get a night with lady luck and dreamed on until the small hours of the morning. But their sweet reverie will not carry on until the next morning and they need to go back to cold Hongkong where they will work another day.
I need to ask one of them how the hell i could go back to the airport.
While boarding, i chatted up a fellow about his boarding pass that looked like an airline ticket and asked him how his looked so fancy while mine resembled a flimsy 7-11 receipt sheet. He said that Casinos will sell you ferry tickets at a 10% discount and that he bought it there– he mentioned a name but it was in Chinese.
I will call this Gentleman Z, a full fledged China man who works in Hongkong during the day, he went to Macau that night and stayed until 3am where i chanced upon him and then asked how to get to the Airport, which turns out is very conveniently located beside the Shun Tak Center, he said he will be walking the same direction as me and while a normal person will take some sort of precaution i fully trusted his advice and simply stared at the blackness of the strait for two hours, mindless of the fact that i’ve been awake for close to three days now.
Moxie is an excellent fuel.
Mr. Z narrated bits and pieces of his life while i tried my best to understand despite his accent. He took me exactly where my Magic Airport Bus #21 is parked and while i do have to wait 20 minutes until it will arrive (the bus was just there but the driver wouldn’t open it til departure time, leaving me to freeze my butt outside while he sits in the back streaming shows on his phone) i’m safe– and travel-centrically-satiated, for me that feeling is tantamount to winning a slot machine jackpot.
Makes street lights shine like diamonds.
I said goodbye to Mr. Z and left him a Lindt chocolate bar, in the auspicious color of Red to give him luck and my sincere wishes that he’ll be happy. He may not have won in the tables that night but isn’t luck something that comes out in the most unexpected of ways. During my solitary bus ride to the HKG airport i finally saw the fireworks for my night and felt surreal that in 7 hours i’ll finally reach Shanghai.