Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Viva Las Vegas
Note: What follows is a column running this weekend in The Standard. It was born out of a misguided assignment for me to cover the 51st Macau Grand Prix. The Standard has no sports writers, but the assigning editor thought it would be a fine idea anyway. After going and realizing that sending me to cover auto racing would be like asking a 4-year-old cerebral palsy victim to go 10 rounds with Lennox Lewis, I begged off the real assignment and filed this instead. Apologies to my US readers about the British spellings and references. It's a newspaper style kinda thing here.

Macau Vs Las Vegas. Who's the king? It's a heavyweight question, kind of like King Kong Vs Godilla, Real Madrid Vs Manchester United, Ali Vs Frazier – or perhaps more like the 1966 cinematic classic, Billy the Kid Vs Dracula.
Both are international gaming meccas where folks can come for the gambling and stay for the loan sharks. One was founded 400 years ago by Portuguese colonists and the other in 19th century by Mormons whose influence is long forgotten, especially after an American gangster named Bugsy Siegel got the roulette balls and heads rolling at the Flamingo Hotel in 1949.
With the help of a recovered memory of three previous trips to Las Vegas and armed with a copy of Las Vegas Confidential 1,000 Naked Truths by Vegas nightlife writer Norm Clarke, I ventured to Macau for my first time on the eve of the 51st Macau Grand Prix in order size them up. What follows are the completely unscientific results.
Las Vegas is known popularly as Sin City and despite its makeover as a family friendly destination, the general spirit can still be found in one hotel's unofficial “Rollers, not strollers'' slogan. Macau has no nickname and its slogan, according to the Government Tourist office, is ''Be my guest, feel at home.''
Point: Las Vegas.
Macau's most famous casino, the Lisboa is a garish, canary coloured building shaped like an enormous bird cage that greets gamblers with signs that read ''No spitting'' in Chinese, English and Portuguese.
Vegas has garish resorts featuring replicas of New York, Paris, Egypt and Venice. No one has to be reminded not to spit, though you'll be spitting your teeth out if you welch on your debts.
Point: Las Vegas.
At Vegas you can see a show featuring an erupting volcano. During my visit to Macau, one could see a multi-story office and retail building billowing smoke and fire. There were no injuries and no lives were lost, but it was authentic and you didn't have to shell out for a ticket and a two-drink minimum for the spectacle.
Point: Macau.
Slot machines in Las Vegas feature the usual fruits, stars, bells , lucky sevens and ''bar” symbols that punters hope to line up auspiciously as they pump in their tokens and nickels. Some slots at theMacau Sands have historical and educational significance with symbols taken from an ancient Chinese tale called ''All Men are Brothers''. Instead of cherries and watermelons, there are wine cups and a tiger symbolising the tiger killed after the protagonist, Wu Song, got smashed on three cups of wine. I've never won on a Vegas slot, but lined up three wine cups and won HK$20.
Point: Macau.
At the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel you can get hitched quickly in a variety of themes ranging from Elvis' Blue Hawaii, featuring an Elvis minister and hula girls to the Intergalactic which beams Star Trek's Mr Spock into the ceremony with an illusion. If you prefer something more demur, the Princess Wedding Chapel will give you a Princess Diana theme wedding or Elvis-in-the-castle affair – but not Elvis and Di together.
While in Macau I asked two scantily clad models named Sherry Young and Jessica Law who were promoting Sony Ericsson mobile phones if either one of them would marry me quickly. I offered to try to find an Andy Lau impersonator to seal the deal but both declined.
Point: Las Vegas.
In Las Vegas it's not unusual for an attractively dressed and expensively coifed siren to ask you to buy her a drink. But what happens next might cost you even more than the price of a ''Sex with an Alligator” shot.
In Macau you can have two overweight, elderly women dressed in layers and hauling grocery bags stuffed with produce wheedle you for spare change when you ask them for directions to a taxi stand. There were no thoughts about anything happening next, they were happy with HK$5 each and I found the taxi stand.
Point: Macau
Las Vegas casinos feature buxom waitresses wearing virtual postage stamps who will offer you a drink on the house, especially if you're doing well at the slots or card tables.
The Macau Sands features young men dressed in traditional Chinese peasant garb, wearing straw hats and lugging large jugs of tea on their backs. The tea is free, whether you're winning or not. There are also waitresses dressed in what appear to be refurbished bell hop uniforms circa 1961 who will offer you complimentary water or tea. A request for a free bourbon and water instead was met with polite confusion.
Point: Las Vegas.
In Macau you can watch the Si San Kit Yee Tong Dragon and Lion Dance Group cavort. In Vegas you can go to Sapphire and watch 300 female dancers cavort in what has been dubbed ''the 52 double-D of nightclubs.''
Point: Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is famous for its cheap eats and sumptuous buffets, so much so that the Macau Sands features a ''Las Vegas Style Buffet'' for HK$141. It lives up to its name with a staggering spread – including the ubiquitous (in China) chicken feet and heads, as well as, er, unique drinks like celery juice. Vegas has virtually everything but no celery juice or fowl feet or heads on the buffet tables – only human remains buried in the desert.
Point: Macau
The results speak for themselves. It's a squeaker, but Vegas prevails 5-4. Rematch anyone?
I would like to go to Las Vegas and play in a high roller casino but it’s an expensive thing to do, even more so when you live in the UK. I have to resort to playing a casino game online instead which lets me win the money but I miss out on the atmosphere, but still save £600 on the 14 hour flight. So until I win big all I’ll do is play online casino dreaming of Las Vegas.
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