The Big Mac(Donald’s) Update

Since I last did a McDonald’s update, I’ve gained a lot of readers. For those who are new, I try to eat at a McDonald’s restaurant in every country I visit. McDonald’s in every country are just a little bit different as they adjust the menu to fit local tastes. Eating at McDonald’s is an attempt to try and see how each country is different through the lens of something which is very familiar. I do not usually go out of my way to eat fast food, but I do eat at least this one meal at each place.

My last update was in Taiwan, so I have Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong/Macau to fill everyone in on . Brunei didn’t have a McDonald’s that I could see (but they did have Pizza Hut and Jollibee’s) and I’ll wait till I pass through KL to talk about Malaysia.

Japan

You think Japan you think seafood. It should come as no surprise that Japan’s contribution to the global McDonald’s menu should come from the sea. They have given us the Fliet-o-Ebi, or the shrimp sandwich. What was interesting was that the Japanese McDonald’s all had cheaper seafood sandwiches than beef sandwiches. This is opposite (outside of Lent) as it is almost anywhere else. The filet-o-fish was the cheapest thing on the menu and the Quarter Pounder was the most expensive.

I had a helluva time finding Diet Coke in Japan and South Korea. I guess they aren’t that fat so don’t feel the need to drink diet coke that often. I’d usually get a Grape Fanta when I ate in Japan.

In the Asian McDonald’s I’ve visited (except for Hong Kong) they had a very clever system for getting rid of your garbage. Each garbage bin had a drain attached for dumping your ice and extra beverages. You were then expected to stack your cups. Also, hard plastic like forks, drink tops and straws were usually put in a separate bin. It was very efficient. Very Japanese. The drain on the garbage is one of those simple ideas that really should be adapted everywhere. It reduces the weight and potential mess of the garbage by removing the liquids from the bag. It also reduces the volume by stacking the cups. It would be very simple to implement and I think everyone would use it immediately.

South Korea

South Korea has one of the more boring menus I’ve seen so far. The only really unique thing I saw was the pumpkin pie, which sounds like something that is probably on the menu in North America in the fall, but I don’t recall ever actually seeing it.

The one thing which sets South Korean McDonald’s apart from Japan was something you could see all over the country: space. Most of the Japanese McDonald’s I saw were very crowded. Many had spaces for eating while standing up against the wall. There were very few booths or large tables. This is sort of a reflection of everything in Japan. Everything is tiny and crowded.

In South Korea, even though the country has a higher population density than Japan, you don’t see the same amount of crowding. I noticed this the moment I arrived in Busan. The apartments were bigger, almost American sized. Likewise, the McDonald’s were more roomy and less seafood oriented. Even though South Korea is heavily into pork, I didn’t see a lot of pork on the menu.

They also had corn soup on the menu, which is something I also saw in other Asian countries. I don’t get why corn is so popular. It certainly isn’t a traditional Asian food.

Hong Kong/Macau

I noticed that Hong Kong and Taipei had way more fast food restaurants than I saw anywhere in Japan and South Korea. You’d see them around in Seoul and Tokyo, but not in the same degree as in Taipei or Hong Kong. I have no clue if it is a Chinese thing.

That being said, the two places I’ve eaten the most fast food were in Taipei and Hong Kong. I think that is more a function of me staying there far longer than I had originally planned, having a screwed up sleep schedule, and McDonald’s being open 24/7. If you recall from my report on Taipei, they had great fried chicken. The Hong Kong chicken wings were also really good. Probably not very good for me, but they taste good. The only unique thing I saw was the Prosperity burger, which was available in beef and pork. I think it might have been a seasonal thing like the Shamrock Shake, but for Chinese New Year. I also saw the Prosperity Burger in Malaysian Borneo, which has a sizable Chinese population.

I plan on doing a special McDonald’s update from Bali. From what I’ve heard, the menu is very different there.

Viva Macau!

Here is the 15 second explanation of Macau:

Macau lies about 40 miles away from Hong Kong and was a former colony of Portugal. It was handed back to China in 1999 and has a status similar to Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region. It has its own currency as well as its own immigration rules and entrance policies. While it has traditionally been overshadowed by Hong Kong, Macau has come into its own lately as the gambling center of Asia.

Macau is a pretty tiny place. Even by Honk Kong standards (which is small) Macau is pretty small.

My time in Macau was all of 13 hours, so beyond this post, I probably wont have too much more to say about it. In that 13 hours, I managed to see a good portion of the territory and most of the significant attractions.

These where my thoughts which I wrote down on my laptop through out my Christmas Day in Macau…

Sunrise over the Sands
Sunrise over the Sands
7:21 a.m.
I’m writing this on the ferry to Macau. The ferry was only a 15 min walk from my hostel. The ferry is looking pretty packed. I think something that Chinese and Americans have in common is that in both places, the casinos will be packed on Christmas.

A common thing for people who are living or working in a country is to do a visa run, where you leave the country briefly just to come back and get your visa renewed. This is probably the easiest visa run in the world. Macau is about 40 miles from Hong Kong and a round trip on the ferry is only HK$315 (US$40). This is probably the shortest trip I’ve had (distance wise) between locations on my trip so far. Time wise it was probably either the flight from Guam to Saipan or the Apia, Samoa to American Samoa flight.

I have yet to cross a border by land on my trip. I’ll be doing that soon however as I go from Brunei to Malaysia.

Inside the MGM Grand
Inside the MGM Grand
11:02 a.m.
I’ve been walking around for about an hour and a half around the big casinos. They are very nice. The MGM is probably the neatest building, architecturally, I’ve ever seen. Everything is very high end. This is called the Vegas of Asia, but right now I’d call it the Atlantic City of Asia. It isn’t quite to Vegas proportions yet. It is Christmas day, but its not very busy. I realize that Christmas isn’t as big of a deal in China, but you’d never see Vegas this dead any day of the year.

Macau is like Hong Kong, but there are definite differences. The Portuguese influence is obvious. The street signs are more continental European than British. The architecture is different and it is more Catholic. That and you see signs in Portuguese everywhere.

I can easily see this place overtaking Vegas in 10-20 years. Chinese love to gamble and as China becomes richer, this place is going to explode. Think Vegas back when the Mirage was first being built (1980s). That is Macau today.

The fact you have to go through a separate immigration when coming from Hong Kong is sort of a pain. Considering how close together they are, and considering they both have a special administrative status from the rest of China, I’d think a merger would make sense. Certainly, carrying a currency for just 500,000 people is probably unnecessary. the Hong Kong and Macau dollars are very close to each other. A HK$37 frappachino in Hong Kong is MOP$36 in Macau.

I’m off to the city center to see the historic parts of town. That is something which Vegas lacks.

Facade of St. Paul's
Facade of St. Paul's
1:08 p.m.

I ducked into a Starbucks to sit down. (This is the first Starbucks I’ve seen without wifi) The street food here is very unique. The two big ones are Portuguese egg tarts (not bad actually. Like a sweet egg pudding) and what I can only describe as pork jerky. It isn’t as dry as regular jerky and much sweeter. They literally pick up sheets with tongs and cut it with scissors.

I’m in the city center which is very European. While there are parts of Hong Kong which seem very British, I don’t think the British left their stamp on Hong Kong as hard as the Portuguese left theirs on Macau.

Asians who feel the compulsion to take their photo in front of every object they see is really becoming annoying. If there is a group of three, they will take seven possible photos in front of every object. (3 solo, 3 pairs, and one group)_I’m serious. I haven’t been anywhere in Asia where I haven’t seen every photo taken involve someone standing in front of something, holding a peace sign. I’ve had people complain that I don’t take enough photos of myself. I’m sure I could if I tried. I have a tripod and I could always have someone else take a photo. But having few photos of me is much better than having nothing but photos of me. I’m far more interested in the places I visit than proving for posterity that I was there.

Macau Tower
Macau Tower
The biggest historical attraction is the ruins of St. Paul’s. It was the nicest church in Macau and burned down (like all wooden buildings eventually do) in 1835. Today, only the facade and the foundation remain. I also saw St. Dominic’s and the fort. Everything is in very close proximity in this area, and viewing a facade really doesn’t take much time. I’m not sure any of the churches in Macau would be that special of they were transported to Europe. What makes them unique is that they are an island of Europe in Asia. It has a similar feel to the Intramuros in Manila.

4:13 p.m.

I’m at the Macau Tower. It is basically the same thing as the CN Tower in Toronto, The Sky Tower in Auckland or the Stratosphere in Vegas. Here, however, they have bungee jumping and you can do a two hour climb to the top of the spire. If I had more time here, the climb would be fun. I’m actually waiting to go see a movie. I’m watching “I Am Legend”. It is the first movie I’ve seen in a theater since I saw Harry Potter in Samoa. You purchase movie tickets here like you buy sports tickets. You pick the exact seat you want for the show. As I type this, I’m overlooking the three bridges that connect Macau to the island of Tipau. The PRC is very close to Macau. It would be a very easy swim to get from there to here. I wonder how they patrolled the border when Mao was in power.

To give you an idea of the size of Macau, I’ve only walked today and I’ve seen most of the pinnesula.

After the movie, I think I’m going to do the skywalk on the top of the Macau tower. You basically get hooked to a rail and you can walk around the top of the tower on the outside. I’ve already proven myself in the bungee department. In addition to the bungee, the skywalk, and the spire crawl, they have a thing called the sky jump. It is like a bungee jump, except you don’t spring back. You just drop and the slow your descent.

Macau has a lot of room for growth
Macau has a lot of room for growth
Summary

I didn’t end up doing the Skywalk. It was closed by the time I got up to the top of the Macau Tower. Also, the casinos weren’t nearly as busy as I thought they’d be when I was on my way there.

Macau isn’t Vegas yet. The Vegas hotels which have opened in Macau (Sands, Wynn, MGM and soon Venetian) are all smaller than their Vegas counterparts. However, they all seem much nicer. There is a lot of construction going on and I think it is only a matter of time before Macau will rival Vegas. Macau is much better situated than Vegas to take advantage of the growth of China and the rest of Asia.

I wonder how long Portuguese is going to last as a language in Macau? I doubt if it will be more than a generation. Most people I interacted with spoke English and there is zero incentive to know Portuguese now that they aren’t a part of Portugal. The pressures are to learn Mandarin and English.

My guess is that Macau will be one of the unsung boom cities during the next decade. They will be overshadowed by mainland China, but will have an enormous increase in casinos, hotels and jobs as they attract more Chinese.

If you are in Hong Kong, I’d definitely take a day trip to Macau. I’m sort of embarrassed I waited this long considering how easy it was to get there. You really don’t have to stay overnight unless you want to really want to gamble.

The Big Mo

I just got back from Macau. It has been a really long day and I’m exhausted. I took notes on my laptop throughout the day and will be posting them tomorrow with images.

When you walk around a city by yourself, you get crazy thoughts sometimes. Last night I watched a really crappy pirate DVD of No Country For Old Men (a very good movie btw). The premise of the movie is that a guy finds $2m in the desert.

I realized how great I would be at going on the lam having traveled this much. Not just the distance and time I’ve been gone, but some of the tiny, out of the way places I’ve been. The Bourne Identity stuff about the CIA being able to track you anywhere is a bunch of crap.

Everytime I try to get out, they just keep pulling me back in

Not only am I still in Hong Kong, but I’m going to be here over Christmas.

Macau is booked solid. At least all the cheap places are. My lack of planning around Christmas is really the proximate problem here.

The place I’m staying in HK I had to check out today and I packed up and went to drop off the key. I had asked them earlier if I could stay a bit longer, but they said they were full. When I checked out and produced my receipts to get my key deposit, he realized I was a good customer, didn’t cause problems, and “suddenly” a room appeared. In fact, my very same room appeared. Cash does that I guess.

So the plan now is on the 24 and 25 I’ll just take day trips into Macau on the jet boat. Macau is a small place so it shouldn’t be too big of a deal. The plan then is to get a flight to Borneo on the 26th. I just need to decide on flying into Kota Kinablau or Brunei. That should be my last big long flight for quite a while.

Yesterday I tried to find the bird market and instead found the kitchen and bath tile market. I think all the bird markets have been shut down due to the bird flu. Strike one.

Then I went to the Todai Seafood Buffet. They had one in Honolulu I frequented so I thought I’d check the one in Hong Kong out. Turns out it is a 90 minute wait if you don’t have a reservation. Strike two.

Then I crossed the harbor to get to the top of Victoria Peak at night to take some night time shots of the skyline. The fog was so thick you couldn’t see a single light on any building. Strike three.

Well, its not the plan I wanted, but at least I have a plan now and an exit strategy from Hong Kong.