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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Our Very Own Venetian

Yesterday marked the opening of The Venetian Macao, just across the Pearl River Delta from us, a short ferry or jetfoil ride from Hong Kong harbour.

"The moment it opened, the US$2.4 billion Venetian Macao became the largest single structure hotel in Asia and the second largest building in the world. Like its sister-property in Las Vegas, The Venetian Macao is a renaissance Venice-themed property featuring stunning replicas of Venice landmarks such as St. Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace, Campanile Tower, and three indoor canals with gondolas and singing gondoliers. The hotel has 3,000 all-suite guest rooms and with one million square feet of retail space, which is more than any shopping mall in Hong Kong, The Venetian Macao now becomes a major destination for the region's top shoppers. The casino floor, at 550,000 square feet, is the largest in the world and is home to 870 table games and more than 3,400 slot machines.

The facility also features the 15,000-seat Venetian Arena, which will make its debut by holding the hotel's star-studded Grand Opening event later this evening. In the coming weeks, The Venetian Arena will play host to a pair of NBA exhibition games and a match-up of tennis greats Roger Federer and Pete Sampras. The arena's seating capacity and state-of-the-art equipment instantly make it the top entertainment facility in the region.

The Venetian Macao also has 1.2 million-square feet of meeting, convention and exhibition space, more than twice the amount of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The facility features the largest pillar-less ballroom in Asia and has the catering facilities to provide a five-course banquet for 15,000 guests. Early next year, the 1,800 seat Venetian Theatre will open featuring an original production from world-renowned Cirque du Soleil."

Macau (or Macao) is an old Portuguese enclave which was ceded back to China in 1999 after 400 years, as our fellow 'Special Administrative Region'. It used to be a truly beautiful place, with a little piece of old-style Europe transported to Asia. There are still a lot of the European-styled buildings and kudos to Macau for preserving a fair few of them. I lived there for three years when I was very young and remember it fondly, up until the time we had to leave at short notice, when the Red Guard moved across the border and mounted a hostile, though ultimately unsuccessful, takeover. Similar activities were occurring in Hong Kong (1967) but not to the extent they happened in Macau. It was really quite serious and several British Navy ships from Hong Kong were standing in the harbour to evacuate British citizens, as all foreigners were being directly targetted.

It has changed a lot with the advent of Las Vegas style gambling. The original casinos in Macau were locally-run, small-scale and a bit dilapidated but now the place is covered with Las Vegas type establishments. We have, apart from The Venetian, Wynn, Sands and MGM Grand, several Hong Kong-based and similarly over the top resorts. The place is booming. To the point it has overtaken the Las Vegas strip in annual gaming revenues, making it the gambling capital of the world. And with this new addition, they are forecasting Macau will, in 2008, overtake the entire state of Nevada in gambling revenues.

It is causing a state of crisis in staffing, however, as Macau is such a small place (23.5 square kilometres or just over nine square miles!). There is a massive movement of labour over the 'border' with the mainland daily. Additionally, contract staff from the region are recruited for the food and beverage and housekeeping areas of the hotels, and as croupiers in the casinos. When Macau had a smaller gambling focus, there was a different approach to it by the locals, in that it was perceived as something people came to do, not something they themselves participated in as punters. That has now changed and everyone is becoming a gambler. It was tragic to read of two very young croupiers taking their lives last week, because of their own gambling debts. While these mega-casinos may be a good thing for the economy of Macau, they are ripping at the fabric of their unique society. And it will only get worse.

Old Macau:

The old town's centre square (the paving is new and I'm not crazy about it)

...and so beautiful by night

The original barrier gate separating Macau from China

The Guia Lighthouse which still guides maritime traffic in and out of Macau

ruins of St. Paul's - after three fires, this facade is all that is left standing of what was once East Asia's largest Catholic church

One of the original Portuguese-inspired buildings

How many in Macau still live

The Old Protestant Cemetery, one of my favourite places in Macau.

The new Macau:

The Macau Tower and new bridge connecting the islands to the peninsula

The behemoths as they began to take shape


George said...

New is not necessarily better ... love the old Macau .. the new? Looks like any other North American, European destination ... that may be simplyfing it too much but that is how I feel

Fiona said...

I agree George. My favourite parts are the old areas. I didn't go back for about 20 years and that first time back, I could remember my way around. Thankfully most of the new development has occurred on the islands while the peninsula, where the old town is, has huge chunks that have remained unscathed by 'progress'.

Miranda said...

Oh I love the pics....it really is a beautiful hotel. I've only ever seen the one in Vegas.

Anonymous said...

I love the photo of the facade of St. Paul's with only the sky behind it. Seems more like a real church to me, open to the heavens.

freebird said...

Wow! Fascinating and impressive. What an interesting life you lead!

Fiona said...

Miranda - apparently it has all the features of the original in Vegas, just bigger! I didn't go into The Venetian in Las Vegas but I'm certainly going to visit Macau before too long.

Deb - I hadn't thought of that but yes, what a lovely way to look at it. It's really quite special to have just that remaining and they have done a lot of work on maintaining it. The detail on it is amazing :)

FB - I've been so lucky to have lived where I have and to have seen so many different things :)

McKay said...

I similarly loved the old city for its charm (and wonderful food). I am impressed by the scale of the new casinos, but don't care to visit them.

Seeing your pics, I had actually forgotten the square had that squigglely paving. I had to pull up my old pics to check. :-)

Anonymous said...

I love gambling in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Macau.


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