There are so many possible titles for this post but all would say too much. You’ll have to read to the end to see what this is all about.
The Jurong Island Dragon Boat Race has been ‘owned’ by ExxonMobil (EM) in the last few years, ever since Georges (the then Chemical Plant Manager) extended a challenge to all of us in 2003 after no EM teams even got into the finals. Our top men’s team “EM Ace” and our ladies’ team “The Tiger Lilies” have each won their respective competition three years in a row (2004 to 2006) and last year we had four Gold and one Bronze medal. However, our competition is constantly improving, and there are several new teams this year, always an unknown quantity.
We knew we were in for a long day after the second heat of the 2007 competition on Saturday 4 August. EM Ace finished third in their heat and only the top two in each heat qualified for the final. They would not get a 4th consecutive victory.
Fortunately Sea Blades (often, and unfairly, referred to as the ‘other’ men’s team) did qualify for the final in the open competition, Roaring 40s qualified in the veterans, the Lilies were directly into the ladies finals (as only three teams were entered) and Papillon qualified with the 4th best time overall for the mixed final after finishing a close second in our heat.
Our ‘Old Men” won their final, by 0.05 seconds; the Lilies did even better, winning by a mere 0.01 second. Sea Blades was a very close third in the Open.
Papillion is ready and eager in preparation for the final of the mixed competition (front to back, right than left rower – Desmond, Jonathan, Su Li, Christy, Dawn (hidden), Yen Nee, Samuel (hiding), Ken, Ben, Myself and Patrick in the back). We actually won it by 0.03 seconds, but we were disqualified because we ended the race in the wrong lane, actually locking paddles with the second place team in the lane next to ours. It was a decision we could not dispute even if our ‘mistake’ probably did not influence the ultimate outcome of the race.
Last year, we had the best time of the heats and fell apart, due to our own lack of race experience, in the finals. This year, we did OK in the heat and much better in the final, leading all the way from an excellent start, and still did not get our ‘toy’ – the gold medal.
I really think now that we are jinxed!
We know that we gave it our all and we were first across the finish line. Nobody can take that away from us. Two EM teams were very disappointed by the results that day. It was very heartening,though, to see how all the other EM teams rallied around them in the true spirit of teamwork. You can see from the attached photo that we have a very large Dragon Boat family at ExxonMobil. They all helped a lot in making us feel better after what was very much a disappointment.
No time to celebrate, or commiserate, as that same evening at 11:30 PM I am off to Tokyo for a training class. I sleep the “sleep of the just” in the plane, undisturbed by the events of Saturday, and really tired from all the efforts and excitement; when I finally wake up, we are only ½ hour out of Tokyo. I am surprised to discover that the temperature is in the high 30’s and the humidity in the 90’s. Not the ideal weather to ‘explore’ a city; and not what I remembered from previous visits (until I realize, of course, that the other visits were in December and January!). I walk around the Ginza and Imperial Palace areas for the afternoon before meeting others for dinner at the hotel. In the middle of this very modern city, I run into young (20-year old) women wearing very traditional kimonos and wooden shoes yet talking on or texting with their very modern 3-G telephones.
That evening, we go to a ‘shabu-shabu’ restaurant right down the street. No one really speaks much English in there and there is no English menu, but we still manage to get a lot of excellent food, and really cheap for Japan and especially Tokyo. Next day training and another excellent dinner. Tuesday, back to Singapore. Typical business trip. I saw a lot of airplanes, airports, busses, taxis, subways, hotels and offices and very little of Tokyo itself.
Tuesday evening, I had dinner at Lau Pa Sat with friends. Ben and I arrived early and even though we were clearly together, the taunts seemed to treat us separately, pulling me in one direction and him in another, as if they could not believe that we would actually have dinner together. We finally got a table for eight and had immediate offers of satay and all sorts of other foods. The ‘Tiger Girls’ we there too with jugs and mugs – not those jugs for those of you with a dirty mind! – I am not sure you could call them ‘girls’ any more as they had probably been doing this work for quite a few years…
On Wednesday, I discovered that Singapore can still surprise me. I found a legal gambling hall! Papillon was having its annual BBQ at the Costa Sands Resort. I arrived early so I started to wonder around the place. A door caught my attention as there was ‘Jackpot” written over it; I reallt expected to walk into a ‘casino-themed’ restaurant. I walked instead into a room with 2 dozen slot machines and nobody asked me anything or tried to stop me, and the world did not end, and the police did not come out from behind one-way mirrors calling “Everybody put your hands up – this is a Sting Operation”. I had seen ‘game rooms’ very discreetly hidden in some private clubs, but I had no idea they existed this openly available to the general public. We had satay, bacon and mushroom skewer thingies (the new Papillon signature dish if we can find a better name for it), hot dogs, pork chops, otah, chicken wings, mee goreng, and much more. We had chocolate cake and champagne when Freddy and Christy finally joined us. We watched the videos of our last races – it is the first time that I am actually seeing myself rowing – and saw that we did very well in the CCG (bronze medal) and in the JI Race. We talked ‘till early in the morning while others played Mah-Jong (I am still not sure if they play with the correct rules here!). I had to go home early (I got there at 4AM) because I had an early flight to Hong Kong that same Thursday morning.
I finally figured out how to go directly from Hong Kong Airport to Macau. But it cost me a brand new tube of toothpaste! My first time in Hong Kong, I went there first and than to Macau. On the last day, I took the ferry back to Hong Kong and immediately the train to the airport (a 4 hour trip!). On the second trip to Hong Kong, I decided to start with Macau. Coming out of Immigration and Customs, I asked how to go directly to Macau, and was told that there is a way, but you have to do so before Immigration. I had to take a train followed by a ferry for another 4 hour trip. This time, I was determined not to miss it again. Just to make sure, I decided that I would only have carry-on luggage, one small back-pack, so I had ultimate flexibility. I found the desk for the ferry to
Macau and got a ticket for the 3:30 sailing. However, I had to re-enter security after I got my ticket, and there, they confiscated my brand new tube of toothpaste because it was, allegedly, over the maximum allowable volume of 100ml! Singapore did not seem to mind, but Hong Kong said NO!
Macau is a very interesting mixture of modern and traditional. Upon arrival at the ferry terminal, the announcement is made in Chinese (I suspect Mandarin rather than Cantonese) then English, Japanese and finally Portuguese. 10 years later and it is still the second language here in Macau. Even new signs, erected since the end of colonial rule, still include Portuguese. Most restaurants have a sign which says “Estabelecimento de Comidas” followed generally by a typical Chinese name such as ‘Tin Fock Lai’.I
am staying at the new Wynn Macau Casino Resort.
Macau has changed a lot since the last time I was here for Chinese New Year in 2004 (a potential future post?) and yet some things have not changed. I went into the historical district for dinner and found a little restaurant where I had excellent food for little money. They had one menu which was translated into English but I really had to have imagination to attempt to understand what the actual food would be. They have “fired fish brain with chilly” and “beef tenderness”; since they had fried in other places, I was puzzled by ‘fired’ which was repeated for many dishes; I am still not sure what ‘tenderness’ was all about – I know that mores are a little looser in Macau but I doubt if that had anything to do with it – I do not think that they were offering sexy massage with dinner; you only get that with a hair cut!
The weather is not very good as Hong Kong and Macau are under the influence of the trailing edge of the latest typhoon. Wind is not strong but there is a constant threat of rain and there is a complete cover of low clouds. The light is grey and would remind my of my native country of the temperature had not remained around 30 C. It should get better later as the remnants of the storm are moving away from here.
The biggest change is the construction of mega-casino resorts such as Wynn’s where I am staying. In 2004 the Casino market has been opened to competition and several of the major Las Vegas companies are establishing a presence here.
You can see about the weather on this shot from my camera-phone. The three-coloured tower on the left is a new resort being built (from the lion statue at the front, I suspect it may be MGM) and in the middle of the picture is the Wynn’s Resort where I am staying. You can also see several sets of tower cranes for new buildings. Further along the same view, Sands is finishing their resort and Venetian is also under construction on reclaimed land South of Macau – they are building a resort larger than the one in Las Vegas. In the last year, Macau has surpassed Las Vegas as the largest gambling city in the world in terms of money played! And they are building here twice as fast as they are in LasVegas.
However, Uncle Ho, former holder of the gambling monopoly in Macau, is not giving up without a serious fight. His main casino was always the ‘Lisboa’ but he had gambling halls in most other major hotels. He is building an incredible tower (it may look like it should belong to Playboy instead when it is finished – look for the bunny ears coming up…) with a huge Casino underneath. The Casino is already open even though the tower is not yet completed – you do not need a hotel here in order to attract visitors to the casino. Hidden under the tree, to the left of the massive building, you can almost see the entrance to the old casino, which used to be by far the largest in Macau – just to be sure you do not miss it, here is a blow-up of that same area. It also gives you a better idea at the actual size of the new tower.
I tried my luck in several casinos and made it without losing too much money, actually a lot less than I was ready to loose, mostly due to two big wins which made up for all the small losses.
I headed for Hong Kong on Saturday (lucky for me I did not try to do it Friday as all the ferries were cancelled due to bad weather) and just walked around to reacquaint myself with the city. The weather continues to be bad and therefore I am not really tempted to go anywhere far. However, the views of Hong Kong Harbour, with low grey clouds, can create dramatic images such as this one.
The large building in the middle disappearing in the clouds is the tallest in Hong Kong and there are twenty more floors that are currently. I doubt that they can see the sun above the clouds even on the top stories…
On Sunday, 12 August, I was heading back to Singapore, 8 days after the beginning of this post.