Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Parrot, Pedals and Palm Trees

Strolling the boardwalk in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, I spotted this scene and quickly snapped it. The parrot never moved or fluttered, he looked perfectly content perched on the bike and riding along the beach. Since I love parrots, biking and beaches, it turned out to be one of my favorite impromptu travel photos. What's your favorite unexpected travel pic?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Macanese Murals

One of the fascinating things I discovered in Macau was the seamless mix of Chinese and Portuguese culture. It shows up in every aspect of daily life but I found seeing Cantonese and Portuguese languages side by side particularly interesting. The mural above instructs on recycling in Macanese style, using both Cantonese and Portuguese. However, I guess not everything translates into both languages. The funny mural below urges dog owners to clean up after their pets but there're no Portuguese words to be found!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Inside Macau's A-Ma Temple

Spirituality laces through every aspect of Asian culture and connects areas of daily life. So I was really excited to visit the oldest and most famous temple in Macau; A-Ma Temple. Perched halfway up Barra Hill, the temple incorporates the natural landscape as well as Chinese symbolism.  A-Ma Temple attracts so many visitors that I had to wait for about 20 minutes before they filed into the entrance and I could view the gateway adorned with lions and red lanterns. The temple dates back to 1488, during the Ming Dynasty and includes six different pavilions constructed at different times.

Inside the temple, clouds of smoke from incense fill the air. Offerings, like the ones pictured above, are for sale throughout the pavilions. I didn't take many photos because I wanted to be respectful of worshipers but you can get an idea of the serenity of the temple from some of these images.

Incense represents different deities and can be burned for different purposes, such as bringing safety to a home or success in business. I quietly watched several worshipers kneel in prayer after lighting incense.

The interesting thing about A-Ma Temple is that it represents an unusual blend of Taoism, Confucianism Buddhism and Chinese folk culture all in one space.This Buddha statue surprised me after viewing traditional Taoist and folk deities but it makes perfect sense in Macau, with its mix of Asian and European culture. Mixing and blending is a hallmark of Macau culture in general.

These incense cones were my favorite, they look like beehives gently releasing sweet scents. Visiting a historic temple is an interesting way to glimpse the values and beliefs of a culture. I saw visitors from Macau and all over Asia.I felt honored to witness their sacred rituals and celebrations.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A View of Macau's Coloane Island

Macao is a peninsula with two islands connected by land fill bridges. Yes, two islands. So you know where this is headed. Taipa is the island north of Macao but Coloane, the southernmost island, really grabbed me. I've never met an island that I didn't love and Coloane is no exception. Check out the green landscape and Maco's highest point, Alto de Coloane. The island offers a striking contrast to bustling, densely populated and developed Macao. What captured me were the ocean views, quiet beaches and salty air. With tiled paths and Portuguese shops,Coloane really reflects Macao's European influences, even though the Portuguese didn't occupy the island until 1864. Coloane's sea caves and heavily forested hills made it a favorite pirate hangout for most of the 19th century. I don't know about the pirates but I'd gladly hole up in Coloane's hills, as long as I have beach access!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Traditional Chinese Culture in Macau

I'm still absorbing the whirlwind of sights, sounds and tastes that encompass the allure of Macao. It is unlike anyplace that I've experienced before and I think it will take a little time for me to completely translate my perspective. When I think about what stood out, it's definitely the unusual blend of Chinese and Portuguese cultures. I experienced them separately and together in the special Macanese style, beginning with a stunning Chinese cultural dinner at the Sheraton Macao, Cotai Central. It started with the Qin dynasty warrior pictured above. There were two of them, silently guarding the the dining room.

And why would a room need guarding you ask? I thought the same thing until I walked into this; a spectacle of sumptuous red fabrics, orchids and fine china, complete with a stage.

A six-course feast awaited us, starting with slices of sucking pig, marinated cucumber and wasabi-infused jellyfish, pictured above. The dishes represented traditional Chinese cuisine with touches of Macanese innovation.

Before I could become totally enthralled with the food, the stage throbbed with music, announcing another cultural presentation. These Olympic trained wrestlers demonstrated traditional Chinese acrobatics.

I was excited by the brilliance of the mask changing dancer and thrilled when she revealed her face. As a woman, she represents change in a centuries old tradition of men passing down the dance technique.

The drummers throbbed with drama and energy. You can here a brief clip of their traditional Chinese song below. This extravaganza was just my first introduction to Macao culture so you can imagine the adventures to come. Stay tuned for posts on Macao history, cuisine and landmarks!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Next Stop: Macau

I'm not a huge fan of Las Vegas but I'm excited to be traveling to Macao, Asia's answer to Vegas and the world's largest casino mecca. Perched on the Southeastern coast of China, Macao is a peninsula that offers much more than gambling. I'm most interested in  Macao's unusual  blend of Chinese and Portuguese cultures. It was a Portuguese colony until 1999, when it was released back to China and became a Special Administrative Region. The Portuguese legacy is everywhere, from the Unesco World Heritage Cite of the Historic Centre of Macao, including the 16th century St. Paul's or Sao Paulo ruins, pictured above, to the egg tarts and golden codfish drenched in coconut milk and saffron, that typify Macanese cuisine. I'll be exploring Macao's cuisine and history as well as the highlights of Sheraton Macao Hotel, Cotai Central, the sponsor of my media trip. Please stay tuned for posts and pix!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ti' Punch Tales

I was almost knocked out in Martinique. Not in a brawl but by the heady power of the national drink, ti' punch. A deceptively simple mixture of cane syrup, rhum and lime, ti'punch is not so much a cocktail as a way of life. There was no part of the island, no time of day, where I didn't see the telltale bottle of rhum lined up with syrup, lime and an empty glass. This is a drink so singular that locals prepare their own versions at bars and restaurants. I watched countless mixers until I dared try a version whipped up by Steve, Uncommon Caribbean's rhum connoisseur. The pure strength of the rhum burned my throat and threw me off balance. They don't say,  "chacun pre'pare sa propre mort" or "each prepares their own death" while making ti'punch for nothing.

I discovered that the type of rhum used depends on your location on the island, with different areas pledging loyalty to the local distillery. Martinque rhum (that's not a typo that's the elegant French spelling) isn't distilled from molasses like other rums, but from sugar cane juice, for a more distinct flavor and aroma. It also depends on if you use rhum blanc or vieux, with blanc traditionally downed early in the day and vieux in the evening. Of course, ice is frowned upon, least it water down the potency. I never learned to mix my own ti'punch or even to drink an entire glass while I was in Martinique but I watched lots of mixing. I appreciate the devotion and skill that goes into its creation and I think the drink reflects Martinique's refined Caribbean sensibilities. The video below shows a ti'punch concoction shaken up  and served while  I visited Ilet Oscar, off the coast of Martinique.