Macau: From the Grand Prix race to Cirque du Soleil

Macau: From the Grand Prix race to Cirque du Soleil
By Walter Ang
April 25, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

While Macau is known more as a gambling destination, we discovered more to it: lots of man-made (with the help of machines) magic. We spent a weekend marveling at how man uses both mind and machine to maneuver great speeds and how machines can help man use his muscles to fly.

One of the two special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China (the other being Hong Kong), Macau is about as big as Makati City and a sizeable portion of it lies on reclaimed land. To the west lies the Pearl River Delta, with Guangdong province to the north, and the South China Sea to the south.

Inquirer Lifestyle was invited to the Windsor Arch 56th Macau Grand Prix, which includes the FIA Formula 3 Intercontinental Cup, the FIA World Touring Car Championship, and the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix. While watching races like these on TV gives you the best views, nothing beats actually being ringside with the smell of gasoline in the air, the energy of the crowd pumping your adrenaline, and the rumble of engines roaring in your ears.

Every year
The races use the Guia Circuit, city streets transformed into a racetrack 3.8 miles long with "long, fast straights" and "sharply twisting corners." It's recognized as "one of the most demanding circuits in the world." You can only imagine the kind of mental agility and eye-hand coordination needed to be a racer, especially when "the gravity exerted here on the riders and drivers is similar to that experienced by fighter pilots."

Our group was able to cozy up to the car of French racer Jean-Karl Vernay. While all the media from other countries were in the Touring Car area, in typical Pinoy usisero mode, the Filipino cotingent snooped around till we ended up in the Formula 3 area. Yes, it's really him and it's really his car. You can only see his nose since his helmet covered up most of his head, but his name on the side of the car. And, yes, we admit it, we were his lucky charms, that's how he ended up winning second place.

The Macau Grand Prix race weekend is held in November. Though it's summer time now, you can still get your racing fix by visiting the Grand Prix Museum. And in any case, Macau hosts plenty of events to keep you busy throughout the year. Aside from racing, there are events and festivals that feature culture, religion, arts, music, sports and food.

We spent the remainder of our stay exploring the streets and sights. There's a multitude of museums, temples, gardens, and churches to visit. We began with the Macau Musuem, which gives an overview of the area's history. Its heritage as a seaport gateway for Western trades to enter China and as a colony of Portugal has allowed Macau to become a salad bowl of contrasting cultures existing side by side.

Of course, a trip to Macau is incomplete without a photo session at the ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral, built in 1602 and destroyed by fire in 1835. From here, it's on to Senado Square, lined with stores and shops filled with all sorts of good buys, whether food, crafts, jewelry, clothing or otherwise.

Both the cathedral and square are part of the "Historic Centre of Macau," a World Heritage Site with streets and plazas that link a succession of over twenty monuments and structures. Here, buildings with "old" architectural styles are never destroyed, and instead, are conserved and used in bright, colorful new ways.

Adventurous travelers will love the opportunity to explore the streets on their own (since guidebooks and maps are available for free) but if you prefer a guide, the tourism office in Senado Square provides free tours.

Meat and muscle
Local cuisine should always be part of the travel agenda, so our group tried out Macanese specialties like caldo verde (soup made with kale), chouri├žo (Portugese sausage), and bacalhau (codfish). Serradura or cream with chocolate "sawdust" quickly became our favorite dessert during our three-day stay.

The group didn't have time to try out the Macau Tower's famous 233-meter sky-jump (like bungee jumping but you're tied from your back instead, so you fall with all extremities flapping in the air). Instead, we let the experts do the flying at Cirque Du Soleil's "Zaia," a 90-minute production featuring 75 performers from all over the world.

This is the only permanent Cirque show in Asia and has its own theater inside the vast Venetian Hotel. It features Filipina Krisbelle Paclibar-Mamangun, a former lead dancer of Ballet Philippines, as part of its cast.

The show's core presentation of agility, movement and aerial acrobatics is amplified by grand spectacle. Even before the show starts, the theater's interiors lead the eyes toward the (more than 80-feet high) ceiling, bracing the audience for how high the show's performers actually fly during the show.

If you can tear your eyes from all the somersaulting, balancing, and contorting happening on stage, taking in the immense technology that allow the performers to do what they do is also a show unto itself. Giant sets rise and fall from the stage floors, up and down from the rafters, and all around the entire audience area in precise and coordinated movements with music and lighting.

Try to crane your neck as far as it can go to see the huge crossbar and track above the audience area that moves humans and set pieces like a 25-feet diameter globe throughout the theater. Peeking at the back of the theater also reveals where (and how high) performers are perched before they fly into the audience. The rafters of the stage have trapdoors that go even higher for performers to exit from.

We started our trip with speed and ended it with flight. It was a heady, exciting and awe-inspiring way to end a quick visit to Macau.

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