Monday, December 06, 2010

Part 2: China

We flew from Hawaii to Seoul and connected to Hong Kong. From there we took the ferry across to Macau. In a lot of ways, Macau really is like the Vegas of the east. In several important ways, however, it's a whole lot worse. The massive incredible casinos are the same. Many are even bigger. There are great restaurants, though not quite on the same level as Vegas. There's a Cirque du Soleil show. There are amazing spas (probably even better than Vegas). There are prostitutes.

There are some differences as well. There's no blackjack, just baccarat and some Chinese version of roulette or something called Sic-Bo I never figured out the rules to. There are not drunk people in the street at all hours of the day. Even at night. In fact there's not much of a party scene at all. There are however lots of prostitutes, it's legal, and even casino-sponsored (spa good, sauna bad)! Basically, Macau is Chinese Vegas with the party scene removed and the seedier parts emphasized.

Our plan was therefore basically to spend as little time in Macau as possible when not playing poker, and more time in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. We played the Macau Poker Cup (~$2600 USD) but no one did anything so then Tony organized a big get together at a bar at MGM. A lot of drinks, catching up with my Aussie mates, and meeting some new people later it was 2 or 3am and it was decided that those of us still partying were going to D2. As far as I can tell D2 is the only good club in Macau. It was ladies' night and there were hot girls everywhere. At least half of them were pros, but even a lot of those girls were not working that night and just out to party. Still, I was pretty nervous about trying to meet any girls. Not many of them were likely to speak great english, and how would I know if they were just trying to get paid?

David Steicke had joined our group. This was the first time I'd met him though I'd heard plenty about him. Basically, he's some super rich businessman who plays poker for fun and crushes high roller tournaments in Australia and Asia. He got us a table overlooking the dance floor and started making bottles appear. I only got to talk to him for a bit but he seemed like a super nice guy and a huge boss. At some point Dan mentioned it was his first time in Asia and was told "you have to go down there", referencing the dance floor. I was mostly planning to hang out around the table and socialize with our group, but looking down over the railing it appeared Dan was having the time of his life. I had no idea if these girls were really into him or not, but I knew either way I had to get in on the action. Suffice to say, this was a very good decision.

Unfortunately, this is where I cut off the details just as I'm getting to the good part. Sorry about that. Our next stop was Hong Kong. Tony's friend Semo came up from Shenzhen to meet us and we tore it up in Lan Kwai Fong. There weren't any especially epic stories from this night surprisingly, but good times were had as you can imagine when you're buying beers at a 7-11 and drinking them in the street. We hung around in HK the next two days as Tony and Dan waited on their visas so we could cross over to mainland China and meet Semo in Shenzhen. Hong Kong was real cool, but maybe my expectations were too high or something as I was a little underwhelmed. It was extremely cool to walk the 15-20 minutes from our hotel down a main road to the IFC where we ended up eating lunch most days. You'd start in an area that was very stereotypically China. Cramped dirty roads, stores spilling out into the sidewalks, restaurants with only Chinese signs, almost no english. Then just a mile or so down the road you are surrounded by huge modern buildings, with high end stores and restaurants, and everything is in both English and Mandarin. It really was an amazing city, but like I said I guess that's what I was expecting and it didn't blow me away. Also, the air quality was by far the worst I've ever breathed.

Finally the boys got their visas and we rocked down over to Shenzhen. Unlike Hong Kong I had no idea what to expect in Shenzhen other than that Semo would show us a great time. I've gotta say though, I was very impressed. It seemed a lot less cramped than HK. There was a very clear effort to have a lot of green and that really made the city a lot more visually appealing. Just like in HK there were huge modern skyscrapers everywhere. From what I was told SZ is a very modern city, largely getting built up in the last 30 years or so when Hong Kong became such a huge international business hub due in large part to its proximity. That modernity definitely shows in its design.

We arrived Tuesday night and Semo took us to our hotel and then for dinner. Unlike in Macau or HK there seemed to be very little english spoken. Without Semo and his friend it likely would have been difficult to even order at a restaurant. Even at the hotel the staff's english was just passable. Anyways, Semo took us to the club that night. We got a table, a bottle of vodka, and four yahtzee-like cups with five dice each. At every table in the bar, people are playing liar's dice drinking game because that's how China rolls. Semo quickly teaches us the rules and hand signals and we get in on the fun. I'm too lazy to explain how it works, but basically it's a game of luck, strategy, and bluffing, so we were all pretty sure we'd be world champion by the end of the night. This made it suck that much more when tiny 19 year old Chinese girls kicked our asses repeatedly throughout the night.

So basically, we are the only young white guys in the entire bar. It does not take long to realize that we are going to be very popular. Unfortunately, the language barrier is a bit of an issue. A lot of girls speak enough broken english to get by when combined with gestures and body language, which we're used to by this point, but others don't really speak any at all. Still, we have three things going for us:

1. Semo can translate.
2. The dice game has hand signals making verbal communication unnecessary to play.
3. Dancing is also non-verbal.

1 was not as useful as we'd hoped. Upon learning that your 6'4" friend who trains and is built like an MMA fighter speaks her language, it's amazing how fast a girl's interest can wander. 2 and 3 were money though. It really was an interesting experience. I'd imagine it was similar to being a celebrity at a bar in North America. In general I'm sure you've heard stories about how white guys are really popular in Asia, and I'd say everywhere we went that was true to at least some extent. Nowhere was it as pronounced as in Shenzhen though, and we had one hell of a fun night.

Unfortunately we had to leave the next day to get back to Macau for the next tournament. The APT main event (~$4300 USD) we all bricked as well, but we decided to hang around for the players party instead of rushing to Cebu for the APPT event there. In retrospect that was likely a botch, though we did have a good time at the player's party. While sites like PokerStars especially and FTP do everything they can to keep a clean image in the public eye as they already looked down upon as gambling sites by many, the guys who organize the APT have no such concerns. Also, I think they won in big cash game the night before as they decided to pre-pay 30 working girls for the party. While this is clearly many people's idea of a good party it was not ours. We were mostly excited because the 10 or so models they had working the tournament were all supposed to be there. Sadly only maybe half of them were there and they were serving drinks and often busy with that. So Dan and I took advantage of the open bar while Tony still managed to juggle girls and sleep with one of the models, and then hit D2 again with some of the Aussie boys for the improved hooker:not hooker ratio. While it wasn't nearly as good as the last time I would still file it under good decision.

Next stop: Manila.