Bejing is like a Sichuan Face Changing ritual, a routine in Chinese Opera in which a performer waves his cape and changes brightly-colored masks instantly, as many as 20 times in a few minutes. How it is done is a secret passed on through generations and the subject of a poignant 1996 film called “The King of Masks”. To the disgust of traditionalists, however, outsiders have picked it up to the point where it now almost a lounge routine.
Its original symbolism was scaring away wild animals.
Macau is now boffo, big wicket, the wiseguys at Variety Magazine might say. When I first ferried across from Hong Kong in the 1980s, Macau was a Portuguese colonial backwater with mid-sized plans to restore its architectural heritage. It did so beautifully. But plans became more than a touch grandiose after Portugal ceded it to China and in 2010 Macau belts “Look at me now!” Money fleeing Las Vegas is placing its bets here. Macau is out Vegasing Vegas already in gambling revenues and if you look at the otherworldly palaces rising from under the construction cranes, it may outbuild it as well.
I stayed for a week last month at The Venetian, a hotel-casino that makes the one in Las Vegas look like a Motel Six, witnessed the preview of a spectacular US$250 million water show called “The House of Dancing Water,” similar to Cirque du Soliel’s “O” but more engaging, I think, went to visit the family jewels (the Ho family, who controlled gambling in Macau for decades) including a 216 carat diamond, took a stroll through the old Portuguese quarter under the glow of holiday Chinese lanterns and ended the night with a bang at the Macau International Fireworks competition.
I spent a day at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. You really have to get there early to see the whole thing and have time for a lunch break. I missed the planetarium, but will return soon.