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Macau

Written by  Marian Goldberg

Asia-Macau
Macau, with its famous “Cotai Strip”, is often considered the Las Vegas of the East. Nevertheless, I went to Macau for five nights; stayed at the Sheraton Macao (www.sheratonmacao.com), the largest hotel in this entire Special Administrative Region of China, and did not gamble once! Instead, I discovered the destination’s cultural and familial side and learned that it’s a great place for international corporate meetings.

Macau is unique in its balance of historic Portuguese and traditional Chinese culture. The culinary scene is a major draw, with opportunities to experience authentic Chinese, Macanese and Portuguese cuisine, as well as international specialties by top-rated chefs. A must try Macanese favorite is African Chicken, fusing coconut milk with African and Indian spices.

I also took part in a Portuguese cooking workshop at the romantic, white brick and stone Pousada de Coloane (http://www.hotelpcoloane.com.mo). Just a 15 minute drive from the Sheraton and the bustling Cotai entertaining and luxury shopping scene, the Pousada is a world away in its tranquil setting with spectacular views of the Cheoc-Van beach and the verdant mountains beyond. My foray into the local Chinese cuisine was the hotpot restaurant Xin, located within the Sheraton complex. In conjunction with the Sheraton’s theme of “sharing” our group shared an assortment of dim sum. However, in line with the Sheraton’s other theme of “personal choice,” each diner chose his or her own ingredients: vegetables/fish/meat, broth, noodles and sauce and added this to his or her own bowl of boiling water, which we cooked ourselves at the table with
our friends.

Culture and History
Beyond food, my cultural explorations continued on a fun-filled educational day with an “iPad Discovery tour” of important edifices and UNESCO world heritage sites including: the Ruins of St. Paul’s Church, Camoes Garden, the Protestant Chapel, Mount Fortress, Lou Kau Mansion, St. Domingos Church, Santa Casa da Misrecordia, Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple, A-Ma Temple, Leal Senado, and Rua da Felicidade.

The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church, a complex that includes what was originally St. Paul’s College and the Cathedral of St. Paul, is probably the most recognizable landmark in Macau’s UNESCO designated Historic Center. Upon ascending 66 stone steps to the top of a hill, my companions and I marveled at the intricately carved stone facade that was created between 1620 and 1627 by Japanese Christians in exile from their homeland and local craftsmen under the direction of Italian Jesuit Carlo Spinola. Images depict both Christian and Oriental themes. Christian depictions include: the founders of the Jesuit Order, Jesus’ conquest over Death, and a dove with outstretched wings crowning the very top. Standing out among the Asian imagery is a woman stepping on a seven-headed hydra, described in Chinese characters as “Holy Mother tramples the heads of the dragon.” There is also an associated crypt, which when discovered during excavations from 1990-95, contained the architectural plan of the original building, religious artifacts, and relics of the Chinese Christian martyrs and monastic clergy, including the founder of the Jesuit college in Macau, Father Alessandro Valignano. Although I didn’t do it, tourists can also climb along a steel stairway to the top of the facade from the rear for another perspective of the city.

At the far southwest of the Macau peninsula is the Taoist A-Ma Temple, one of the most revered Chinese sites within the UNESCO Historic designation. Built in 1488, it is dedicated to Matsu, the goddess of fishermen. The temple protrudes out from the side of a hill with views of the water. Travelers can wander among the rocks to discover hidden shrines. They can also join locals in burning incense with prayers for health and good fortune.

Modern Macau
In addition to history, Macau has a thriving contemporary scene, which can literally transport you to new heights. Macau Tower (www.macautower.com), which at 1,109 feet is the tallest structure in Macau and the 20th tallest tower in the world, offers Skywalking, Skyjumping (slower paced Bungee jumping), and Bungee jumping (two hour wait!). Skywalking is the tamest, where participants move around the ledge of the ediface, strapped to the revolving tower overhang and to each other. Even scaredy-cat me tried it and proudly wore the orange t-shirt proclaiming “I got high
in Macau!”

For a modern “down to earth” entertainment, visitors shouldn’t miss the Cirque du Soleil-style House of Dancing Water (www.thehouseofdancingwater.com) experience. Water appears and disappears as music, lights, colors and acrobatics dazzle the audience in a HK $2 billion ($258 mil US) production.

Business Travel
Macau is a perfect convention destination. During my trip, there was an international gathering of Cisco employees staying and convening at the Sheraton. In addition to the Sheraton’s nearly 4,000 guest-rooms and 150,000 square feet of meeting space, this hotel and all the others on the Cotai Strip are incredibly accessible from Hong Kong Airport. You can literally fly non-stop from practically any place in the world to Hong Kong and take a one-hour ferry connection right from the ferry terminal at the airport! I flew non-stop (15 hours 50 minutes) from Newark, NJ on United. Cathay Pacific flies non-stop from JFK.

Finally, what impressed me the most were the opportunities and activities for children. The Sheraton has Dreamworks themed family guest rooms with bunkbeds, little chairs, and character pillows and tooth brushes. They also have character themed lounging stations at the Sala pool. Even more excitedly, they offer Shrekfast, which is breakfast with Shrek and Fiona, Kung Fu Panda, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and even doubles of the cast of the new movie How to Train Your Dragon II. Every child gets a themed gift backpack filled with toys and treats and all the buffet food stations are themed as well. I can’t imagine that anyone coming to Macau for a convention wouldn’t want to take his or her young son or daughter along.

The Sheraton Macau, which opened on September 20, 2012, was developed by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. For more information on travel to Macau visit the Sand Cotai Central website at: www.sandscotaicentral.com or contact the Macau Government Tourist at 646-227-0690, www.macautourism.gov.mo

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