Settling in Macau

The first night in Macau I slept well for about six hours. That is, I woke up at five o’clock. I could not fall asleep again and therefore I decided to get everything that I would need at work from my suitcases. Then I found the letters from my wife and children that I was looking for the day before, but could not find. I immediately started reading them. Halfway I spontaneously started to cry because I realized very strongly how much I would miss my wife and children badly.

I ought to start working on my second day in Macau. What I actually did was mainly talking with my colleagues about both their work at UNU/IIST and issues relating to settling in Macau, in particular the issue of renting an appartment. All my colleagues wanted to help me with finding an appropriate appartment and after work I went with one of my colleagues to the island Taipa, which is part of Macau, to look at his appartment. After that I first took a quick meal at one of the many McDonald’s in Macau and then I walked around to get an impression of the different districts of Macau, but I did not see much difference. It was all not particularly pretty. Appartments in Macau are mainly in high-rise buildings, usually more than twenty storeys high.

Of the people that I saw in the streets of Macau, most came across as Chinese and some came across as Portuguese. Initially I did not realize that the Macaunese people with Chinese roots were relatively short people, like most people from South East China, but after a while I noticed that I towered above all people that I saw in the streets of Macau: they looked up to me for no other reason than my length.

Back in my hotel, I found information about the climate in Macau. The average temperature varies between 15º C in the winter months and 30º C in the summer months, with minima and maxima about three degrees lower and higher, respectively. The average degree of humidity is about 80%. The rainfall is more than 2000 mm per year, of which about 500 mm in June and 500 mm in September. It is mostly clouded.

On my third day in Macau, I occupied myself extensively with looking for an appartment. Vivian, the girl of Xu QiWen, drove me round. She showed me some nice places in Macau that I had not seen during my walk the evening before, but she told me that living there was very expensive. We also visited various appartments. Most of them looked rather dingy or smelled unpleasantly of mildew. The latter is fairly usual in Macau, and finds its origin in high degree of humidity.

Like everyone working at UNU/IIST, Vivian spoke English. However, with her, I experienced during these visits of appartments for the first time that making a smooth conversation in English with a native speaker of Cantonese does not always mean that there is mutual understanding. In one of the visited appartments I tried to make clear to Vivian in a polite way that I was not interested in the appartment at all. However, she understood the opposite and told the renter that I was about to rent the appartment. I found out about this misunderstanding only after we had left the appartment.

I do not know the real first name of Vivian. Like many young people in Macau, Hong Kong and China with Western contacts, she adopted a Western first name for her Western contacts. The Macaunese women from the support staff of UNU/IIST did this as well. For instance, the real name of Wendy Hoi is Hoi Iok Wa. It is a strange phenomenon. A do not know about Western people with contacts in Macau, Hong Kong or China who adopt a Chinese first name for their contacts there.

Vivian also showed me some interesting spots in Macau and helped me buying some fruits on a market: a gigantic grapefruit from China, a big papaya from Malaysia, and two of a small fruit from Thailand that was unknown to me. Remarkable were the sizes of many fruits on this market, the apples, pears and grapes from China were huge as well. Here I mean the following by gigantic: after I had eaten the grapefruit late in the afternoon, I had to skip dinner although I am considered a large eater by most people.

The next day, which was a Friday, I visited still more appartments with Vivian. During the following weekend, I weighted the advantages and disadvantages of the different visited appartments against each other. I also thought hard about the need to visit still other appartments taking into account that continuing the quest for a great appartment for some time could be rather expensive: appartments are much cheaper than hotel rooms. I decided to visit once more the very first appartment that I had visited with Vivian.

The appartment concerned was near the city centre in one of the least noisy parts of Macau and about six minutes walking from the building of UNU/IIST. Dines Bjørner and Chris George, the only people in Macau that I already knew before my arrival, turned out to live very close: Chris and his wife Sue in the next appartment building to the right and Dines and his wife Kari in the second next appartment building to the left. After the second visit and an inspection of the direct vicinity of the appartment I decided to rent it.

The appartment was a partly furnished appartment on the eighth storey of a 31-storey building. I was the first occupant, and everything in the appartment was brand-new. There was already an air conditioner with dehumidifier, which is indispensable in Macau. To make it a fully-equipped appartment, I still needed a washing machine, a cooker, a fridge, and a lounge suite. I bought them with the assistance of Wendy Hoi and Coffee das Dores from the support staff of UNU/IIST. They talked rather long and with emphasis to the shopkeepers concerned. I assumed that they were bargaining about the price. Later I have heard from Wendy that this was only partly true: a lot was repeated a few times to convince oneself that the other person was well understood.

After I decided to rent the appartment there were some negotiations about the rent of the appartment, with the assistance of Wendy Hoi, and ten days after my arrival in Macau I checked out from the hotel and moved in the appartment in which I would live the next two years when I was not working elsewhere for UNU/IIST.

© Kees Middelburg, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kees Middelburg with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Very First Days

On New Years Day 1996 and the next day, the very first days of my appointment at UNU/IIST, I travelled from Voorschoten, the Dutch village where I lived, to Macau. After a heavy good-bye of my wife and children, I went by taxi to Amsterdam Airport. Like the preceding days, there was both snow and black ice on the road in front of the house where I lived. However, the taxi ride went smoothly because the main roads were cleared.

I flew business class with Cathay Pacific from Amsterdam to Hong Kong. It was a more enjoyable flight than I expected, possibly because I had only one earlier experience with business class on intercontinental flights. The plane was a Boeing 747 and my seat was on the upper deck. I was among other things surprised by the fantastic leg room, the relatively fancy meals, and last but not least the outstanding helpfulness of the stewardesses. It was also my first flight on which I could watch a film of my choice on a private television screen.

To illustrate my surprise about the meals, I mention what I got for dinner. I could have mentioned what I got for breakfast instead. I got first marinated salmon with duck liver apple pâté, next a mixed salad and then a main course consisting of fillet of lamb with mustard sauce, rosti potatoes, carrots and broccoli. Before dinner, I got an aperitif with oriental bites to eat; and after dinner, I got small pieces of French cheese, a piece of chocolate cake, coffee and chocolates.

Much more interesting than the meals was the helpfulness of the stewardesses. It was extraordinary. The stewardesses did their utmost, each in her own personal style, but it seemed to me that they got confused if their was any deviation from what is most usual. It was the first of various strange phenomena with a common root that I experienced afterwards with people from the Far East. However, it would still take some time before the communality became clear to me.

The next morning, the plane arrived right on time in Hong Kong. I went by taxi to the terminal of the jetfoils to Macau. There I bought a ticket for the next jetfoil to Macau, and made a phone call to UNU/IIST to pass my departure time from Hong Kong before I went on the jetfoil. The jetfoil departed soon and I experienced for the first time the rather mawkish smell of the instant noodles that many Chinese people aboard the jetfoil were eating.

After a relatively short journey I arrived in Macau. There I went through the usual passport and customs checks. When I had passed customs I went to the meeting point to look for someone from UNU/IIST. I immediately saw Dines Bjørner, the director of UNU/IIST at that time. We left the jetfoil-terminal building. I had not been outdoors since I entered the buildings of Amsterdam Airport the day before. My first thought on leaving the jetfoil-terminal building was “Macau is a Turkish bath”.

Before my journey to Macau, UNU/IIST had given me detailed directions concerning the travelling from the airport of Hong Kong to the UNU/IIST building in Macau. These directions took into consideration the possibility that I was not able to make a phone call to UNU/IIST after I had bought a ticket for the jetfoil in Hong Kong. In that case there would of course no one near the meeting point in the jetfoil-terminal building in Macau. Therefore the directions were accompanied by a picture of the address of UNU/IIST in Chinese characters to show to a taxi driver. Clearly, I did not need that picture.

Dines instructed a taxi driver to bring us to the hotel where I would stay until I had found an appartment in Macau. Arrived in the hotel, I set down my suitcases in my room and I freshened up, while Dines was waiting for me in the lobby. We went on to UNU/IIST without a break, again by taxi, in an attempt to reduce jet lag. At UNU/IIST I was introduced to those who worked or were in training there.

At that time the people from the academic staff included Dines Bjørner from Denmark, Chris George and Richard Moore from England, Tomasz Janowsky from Poland, Dang Van Hung from Vietnam, and Xu QiWen from China. The people from the support staff included Margaret Stuart from Scotland, Tian Siyuan from China, and Alice Pun, Anna Chiu, Coffee das Dores, Michelle Ho and Wendy Hoi from Macau. The people that were in training at that time were from China, Vietnam, South Korea, Mongolia, Philippines and India.

After a lunch with a number of my new colleagues, Dines showed me some spots in the middle of Macau. Later I got an advance on my salary with which I went to a bank to open an account, and by the end of the afternoon I went to my hotel to take a rest. Back in my hotel room I first quickly looked for letters from my wife and children which I expected to be hidden in my luggage, but I did not find any letter, and then I gave my wife a call to tell her that I arrived safe and sound in Macau. After a nap of one hour, I went by taxi to Dines’ appartment.

Taxis were very cheap in Macau. That may be the reason why many foreigners in Macau took a taxi even in cases where the walking distance is a few minutes. I myself seldom went by taxi in Macau after the first day in Macau. In the cases where I took a taxi, such as this evening, I always needed a picture of the destination address in Chinese characters because my Cantonese was not very well understood by the taxi drivers in Macau.

At Dines’ appartment, I had a few drinks with Dines and his wife, and after that we went to a Portuguese restaurant together with Chris George. Dines and Chris were the only colleagues at UNU/IIST that I already knew before my arrival. At about eleven o’clock, I went back to my hotel and fall asleep.

© Kees Middelburg, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kees Middelburg with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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