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December 16, 2006 05:59 AM

Laos - Bangkok - Macau

MACAU - I'm pretty sure I just checked into a whore house. At first everything seemed legitimate. The fact that nobody spoke English wasn't a problem. It had a good review in the guide book. I was a little surprised that they didn't know the word Internet; strange for a place that caters to foreign backpackers. I suppose it should be expected though, after all we're in China, not Kansas.

After settling in I decided to take the stairs down to the street, rather than the elevator, to do some exploring. That's when things got uhh.. funny. Each of the five flights of stairs, as I went down, had more and more Chinese girls loitering and smoking cigarettes; no men, just girls. As I squeezed past they each, in turn, first looked surprised to see me then quickly started either winking and catcalling or touching my arms. Despite my wishes, this is not the way the world works. Something is amiss. They're either 'women of ill repute', or I've accidentally infiltrated a strange convent of virgins and I'm the first specimen of the opposite sex they've ever seen. Either way, I'm afraid. I'm writing this as a fugitive from my own hotel.

Other than my accommodation, the city looks alright. I'm in the old part of town, the streets are very narrow and a little decrepit. The guide book refers to it as "faded colonial glory". Until 1999 the island was a Portugese territory. Now it's got the same status as Hong Kong; a 'Special Administrative Region' of China.

The overnight train to Bangkok wasn't so bad. I ended up having to ride 3rd class, as the sleepers were sold out. It was fun though as I was the only farang in the whole section. I made friends with everyone. The real Thailand. At 6am my new comrades made it their responsibility to rush me off that train and onto another where another group of equally determined Thais got me to the airport entirely by public transit. Trains, buses, transfers and eventually a free airport shuttle. 23 baht. Less than a dollar. Ha! If you'd ever been to Bangkok, you'd realize how much of a miracle it is. I was expecting to pay 20 or 30 times that.

Now that I think about it, every single person I've interacted with in the last few days speaks zero English. Even the Chinese man on the plane who insisted I help him eat his sandwiches (all six of them) wasn't any good for English conversation. He was, however, good for a free meal and some mutual smiling and cheers-ing of tuna sandwiches, which, with an empty belly, and a no frills flight, beats conversation any day.

Tomorrow I'll explore Macau before taking the ferry to Hong Kong as I continue my pilgrimage home for the holidays.

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