Saturday, March 31, 2007

Organic Vegetables in Macao

Global Village Association imports organic vegetables from Hong Kong every Wednesday. Depending on the session, they may contain potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, long beans, beetroot etc. Each packet costs MOP$60 and requires self-collection. [Update: They no longer offer the service since 2008.]

If you want to eat good vegetarian food (which is not necessarily organic), you can visit the restaurant in front of Kun Lam Tong. This is also near the Macau TV station at Rua de Francisco Xavier Pereira. However, be aware that it is rather difficult to find parking space there.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Get Rid of Brown MOP$10 banknotes

If you have one of those MOP$10 brown notes, bring it to any BNU branch and change it.

These notes have an image of the Memorial House of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. The notes that a friend gave me were issued in 1991.

My friend thought that they were worthless, but fortunately, the deadline for changing these notes has been extended until 26 May 2009.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

China Shopping Hazards

If you are going across the border to China to do some shopping, be careful, and be prepared.

1) Pickpockets

There are many pickpockets, including children. Never show your cash, and keep them separated in a few places. Be especially careful when you are seated on a bus. Never leave your luggage or bags unattended too. They tend to disappear.

No one will help alert you to the pickpockets or help you catch them. For some reason, the Chinese in China have became numbed to petty crime.

Sometimes you may see pickpockets in action on the bus, cutting out the pockets of unsuspecting passengers. Being the good Samaritan you are, you stop them. And being the good ruffians they are, they will wait and bash you up later with their friends.


2) Fraud & Deceit

There are many products and practices in China which are downright unethical.

Rat meat may be sold for pigeon meat. Watermelons may be injected with artificial color and sugar water to enhance their taste. There were many food scandals in the past, such as fake, no-nutrient milk powder and poisonous rice. If possible, bring your own food along.

Learn how Chinese Renminbi looks like. If you look like a foreigner, you may be handed Taiwan money, which has about 1/4 the value of Renminbi. A simple rule is if you see Chairman Mao on the note, it is definitely Renminbi. There are also notes which are in cents (jiao), not dollars (yuan). They are legal currency too.

There are a lot of fake $50 and $100 Renminbi, and smaller amounts of other fake denominations. I always bring along a ultraviolet detector just in case. I am a victim of a fake RMB$50 note (probably from a money changer) myself. Here is a tutorial on how to recognize fake Chinese money.

You can buy a 8GB thumbdrive for RMB$120, an insane bargain in 2007. It will format and chkdsk nicely in the computer, but it won't work when you try to put real files on it. Your files will be randomly corrupted instead. The thumbdrive will report that it is full after you copied a few hundred megabytes to it. The same goes for the 8GB imitation iPod players.

Don't buy anything that looks too good to be true. Stick to products which have a warranty and more reasonable prices. Avoid buying from stalls and buy only from shops, as stall owners can just disappear whenever they like.

I was also cheated by a prepaid phone dealer. She claimed that the China card has RMB$200 of value, and she is selling it to me at a discount of RMB$100. It turns out the she has stuck the price stickers on the words that read "RMB$55 value, uniform pricing for the entire China". When I found out I was furious.


3) Dangerous Taxi Drivers

Never ever take an unlicensed taxi. Not only will they charge exorbitant prices, they may also drive you to a place where the rest of their gang lies in wait to rob you. Always take a real taxi that charges by the meter.

The unlicensed taxi drivers are those people walking around busy areas with holding a bunch of keys. They often solicit customers actively.


4) Bargaining

Unless you are very rich, bargaining skills are compulsory for shopping in China. Cheap as the goods may seem to richer countries, it can be cheaper.

For clothes, asking for half their quoted price and then pretending to walk out of the shop will often close the deal. Electronic items, however, may not enjoy such a large discount.

Many sellers are known to use strong and highly persuasive techniques to get you to buy from them, much like hard-selling. [You will know what I mean when you meet one of them.] It is important to learn to say 'no' to them.


5) Language

It is rare to find Chinese shopkeepers who speak English, or any other foreign language. If you do not know Mandarin, or the dialect being spoken in the area, then it will be much harder to bargain and shop. In Zhuhai (bordering Macau) and Shenzhen (bordering Hong Kong), the dominant dialect is Cantonese.


6) Beggars

There are many beggars in China, and it is very hard to tell which are genuine cases and which are just out to earn money.

At one time, I saw a young teenage girl knelling on the street, with the words "Need $10 to take bus home" scribbled in front of her. I decided to let that pass.

Another time, an adorable child pestered me singing Chinese songs wishing me good luck in a sad and tired tone. It was hard to resist ignoring him. I decided to give him some sweets and a RMB$1 coin, causing another child to appear. They asked for me, and I gave a MOP$1 coin to the new child.

Both of them are obviously from the family (or syndicate). I told them to share the sweets and I don't have any more to give or I can't take the bus home. They ran off happily, perhaps because they don't have to give the sweets to their "supervisor". All this time, I was watching my bag to make sure that their tiny fingers don't touch the rest of my money.

If you want to give to the beggars, be discrete and quick. Otherwise, a crowd of beggars (and potential pickpockets) will mill around you asking for donations.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cheap Macao Money Changer

Tai Fung Bank has the best exchange rates. A 0.8% commission is all they took from me when they changed my Singapore dollars into Patacas. [Update: The commission as of September 07 has increased to 2.5%.]

The best deal is their Hong Kong dollar exchange rate. They offered 1.03 Patacas to the Hong Kong dollar when the official exchange rate was 1.029.
Note: The rates only show up in Internet Explorer.


Tai Fung bank closes at 5pm, leaving you with only the ATM machine and money changers if you arrive late.

For the ATM machine, the minimum commission you need to pay is 1.6%, plus any bank and ATM charges. There may also be "advances" and other hidden charges that your home bank may charge you, especially if you use a credit card. Unless you don't mind spending lots of money, do your homework.

You can try money changers, but if you are changing anything other than Hong Kong dollars and Renminbi, you may be in for a shock. The last time I tried changing Singapore money, they took an 8% commission. However, they may charge only around 1% commission for the former 2 currencies.


A frequent traveler's tip is to change your money into Hong Kong dollars and spend it as equal to Patacas. But beware that you are paying 3% more. It all adds up if you go shopping or visit a hotel.

If you are a budget traveller like me, go ahead and change it to Patacas. Just change any remainder back again before you leave or you may be stuck with them for good.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Free Macao Maps

If you need to find your way around Macao, get a map from the airport. [It is futile to try to find such maps at the ferry terminal.]

In addition, to get yourself familiar with Macau, you can do a few things:

1) Visit the Macau Government Website - They have a lot of information that you will find handy.

2) Download Macau Maps for your Palm or Pocket PC. You can also try Macau GeoGuide or Google Earth if you have a PC.

3) Check the Macau weather report. It may be very cold for those of us who come from hot climates like Singapore and Philippines, making it important to wear jackets and woolen clothes.

4) Check out some tourist attractions

5) Find a good friend who is familiar with Macau to bring you around.


By the way, if you are expecting to take great pictures of Macau scenery, be aware that much of the time the island is shrouded by a persistent haze. When this happens, you may have to go to Plan B - buy tourist postcards.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Unoffical Traffic Rules

Upon your arrival in Macau, you may like to know about some unofficial traffic rules:

1) Never wear seatbelts.

Of course, you can try to do that, but the taxi drivers may insist otherwise.

2) Cross the zebra crossing with impunity

Most cars will not give you the right of way. You must boldly step into the road before they consider stopping for you. But do NOT try this in China: the cars may NOT slow down or stop even if you cross right in front of them.

3) Cross the red traffic light with impunity

The pedestrians get their revenge when they cross the red light with impunity just like the zebra crossing.

4) Park your car all over the place

You can park almost anywhere you like, though you may get fined if it is in the daytime.

There is a joke that if there is any space on or near a road, it will be filled by cars. Sidewalks and bus stops are not exempted. The only trick the drivers have yet to figure out is how to park their car on top of another car.

Where I used to stay, drivers may park their car around other cars in order to get a quick drink at the pub. Incidentally, this also traps the victims' cars in the parking space. When the victims return, they start blasting their car horns with vengeance until the obstructing car is gone, even when it is 3am at night. The blasting may be interrupted by the sound of objects crashing onto the ground, ejected by irritated residents trying to sleep. They will make them stop for a few minutes before they start blasting away again.

5) Drive on top of the lane separators

In Macau and Hong Kong, vehicles drive on the left side of the road. In China, they drive on the right. This confusion may explain why the Chinese truck drivers, newly arrived from the border, tend to drive on top of the lane separators.

----- Bonus -----

6) In China, you communicate by blasting your horn. It is common to hear this every fraction of a second.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Fake HKD$1000 notes

Avoid HKD$1000 notes. Instead, ask for HKD$500 notes.

Recently there were many high quality fakes which fooled even the banks. These were notes issued by HSBC in 2000 and 2002. Many shops are no longer willing to accept HKD$1000 notes so you may get stuck with them.

The latest counterfeits differ from the genuine notes in three ways:

First, the silver metallic ink on the front circular pattern in the bottom left corner is dim on the fake notes but bright and shiny on the genuine ones.

Second, the concealed denomination 1000 in the lower right rectangular block, when viewed horizontally, appears weak or missing on the fakes.

Third, the holographic image showing HK$1,000 and the bauhinia pattern in the window thread are not clear and shimmer less on the counterfeits.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Free Macao Debit Card

If you need to do any online shopping, you can get the free BNU Net-Card. It has no annual fees. This (of course) assumes that you have opened a bank account with BNU, which requires an employment pass or resident card.

However, be aware that many online businesses no longer accept credit or debit cards issued by Macau banks.

Tiger Airways, a budget airline based in Singapore, is one of those companies. This is despite the fact that they fly direct to Macau from Singapore and the Philippines. Booking now has to be done through a travel agency, which will cost a few hundred more Patacas.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Macao Bus System

There are 2 main companies, Transmac and TCM. You can see all the bus routes here.

Buses usually run from 6am to 12 midnight. If you miss the bus times, you will have to take a cab. If you have to cross the long bridge to the airport, you can expect to pay MOP$40++ for the cab fare.

To take buses, you need lots of coins, especially $1. The fares are MOP$3.20, $4.20, $5 and $6.40. There will be no bus conductor to give you change, so use the exact amount.


A simple way to get coins is to buy something at a shop and ask for more coins in your change. A cheaper way would be to find a bank that is not busy and ask to change coins. They are probably OK with changing MOP$10 to MOP$30 worth of coins for free.

You can also elect to use dollar notes, especially if you are paying for a group of friends. The bus drivers also accept Hong Kong coins and banknotes, but at equal value to the Pataca. [In other words, you will be paying 3% extra.]

Never ever use Renminbi (Chinese currency). You will get a scolding in Cantonese if you try that.


If you are taking a bus from Macau to Taipa, you only need to pay $4.20. If you are going to Coloane Village, you only need to pay $5. The full fare of $6.40 is for going to Hac Sa beach. However, you will have to pay in coins to enjoy the offer.


If you are going to or entering from the Chinese border to Zhuhai, or the ferry terminal to Hong Kong, there are many free chartered buses that you can take. These buses ferry potential customers to the casinos, and they leave whenever they are filled to capacity.

However, they may not accept you if you bring large bags or other luggage. It is best to ask a local friend to guide you if you want to take advantage of this tip.


If you are going to stay for a while or travel frequently, buy a Macau Pass for MOP$130 (with MOP$100 value and MOP$30 deposit). Not only will you get a 30-40% discount on the bus fare plus a free second trip, it will save you from the nightmare of finding coins.

You can buy and top up the Macau Pass from a Royal Supermarket near your home (see logo above) or the Transmac service centers (see photo below of the shop in front of the green car near the Chinese border). Be aware that the service staff speak Cantonese - they may not speak English or even Mandarin!

To obtain a refund of your card deposit, you must go to the MacauPass service center at 美麗街. [For exact location, type "Macaupass CSC" into Google Earth.] You will have to pay MOP$5 if your card is used for less than 2 months old, otherwise you will get the full MOP$30. Be aware that all remaining value on your card will be confiscated.

Below is the original Chinese text from Transmac explaining this policy:

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Macao Phone Tips

Macau has just recently transitioned to a new phone system where all phone numbers have 8 digits.

To call the old numbers, just add "28" in front of the number if it is 6 digit and "6" if it is 7 digits.


To call Macau from overseas, dial 853 for the country code. Hong Kong is 852. China is 86.

To call overseas from Macau, you can dial 00, or better 050, then enter the country code. Using 050 instead of 00 saves much money. You can also get CTM Bonus Points for all the calls you make.


For travelers staying less than a month who do not intend to keep the same number, SmarTone rechargeable cards offer the best local airtime charges. They can be purchased all over Macau. But be aware of a few things that may not be clear:

1) Your line is probably recycled: You may get many calls looking for unknown people because someone has used the same line number in the past.

2) You will receive Chinese SMS from SmarTone and its roaming partners, including advertisements. Good luck if you can't read Chinese.

3) CallerID will cost you MOP$10 after the first month. [You will receive a Chinese SMS about it.] If you don't like it, turn it off by dialing 1662, then pressing 212.

4) You must top up every month or else your account will expire and all your credit forfeited. Again, the notification will be a Chinese SMS.

5) International Roaming is provided free, but the charges are high. Press *137# to check your remaining value after your call.

6) To call from outside Macau, you must dial *132*phone number# and wait for the SmarTone to connect you. It is inconvenient as you cannot dial your phone address book directly.

7) You are paying overseas charges as soon as you pick up the SmarTone call even if you did not get through to the line you are calling.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Macao Hazards

There are 3 main kinds of hazards in Macau:

1) Pollution

Construction work is everywhere in Macau nowadays, with new casinos, hotels and apartment blocks, filling the air with dust. The floor is frequently coated with a layer of dust, and I sneeze far more dirt from my nose than in Singapore. Some people are wearing face masks.


2) Noise

It is almost impossible to find a quiet spot in Macau, except maybe parts of Coloane island.

You can actually feel the floor shaking due to construction work around my apartment. [It is also disturbing to see large cracks along the pavement caused by the ground sinking more than 30cm in some parts. This and many parts of Macau are on reclaimed land.]

At night, the pubs below my block sometimes attracts unruly people who quarrel and curse each other loudly. There are also car drivers who sound their horn persistently in the dead of the night because some idiot parked right in front of them, preventing them from leaving.

It did not help to have a police station just a few blocks away.

There is also an annual event called the Grand Prix, which is a great attraction or frustration depending on if you are a tourist or resident. During this multi-day event held in November, we can expect massive traffic jams to descend all over Macau.

Although the bus services are all free during the event, it is scant comfort for the waiting, confusion (of bus route changes) and loud screeching sounds of the race cars.


3) Mosquitoes

They are everywhere, except during winter time. I find at least 3 in my apartment daily. It is quite a chore to hunt them down every night before I sleep so that I feel less itchy.

I have not heard of any outbreak of dengue fever or any mosquito-borne disease, but I am shutting my doors and windows just in case.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Renew your visa using China

There are many reasons why you might want to go to China. One of them is to renew your visa, which may expire in 30 days.

Rather than paying around MOP$300 to take a ferry to and from Hong Kong, you can just visit China. Of course, China also charges money for your visa, unless you happen to be a Singaporean (or a few selected nationalities).

However, if you apply for a group visa for at least 3 people at least a few days in advance, it will be much cheaper.

You are not allowed to reenter and extend your stay indefinitely, but Macau customs may allow you a few extensions. If you do it often enough, they will start writing numbers next to your entry dates.

Then one day, when the customs officer gives you a hard look, asks you to go to the side office and tells you to sign a few copies of a letter telling you to report to the Immigration Department, then you know that you have overstayed your welcome.

Most likely, you will then get an "Ultimate Visa" (UV), which means that after this extension, you will have to go somewhere for 50 days before you can come back again. This visa comes with a somewhat disturbing letter:

"Having notified that by constantly re-entering Macau at short intervals without appropriate justification, you tried to evade prescribed regulations on Entry, Stay and Residence in the Macao SAR, you are now notified that you must leave Macao, before the expiry date of the Authorization now granted, for no less than 50 days otherwise you may be refused or blacklisted to enter Macao.

I declare that I am aware of the content of this notification, of which I was provided the original."

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Avoid Holding Macao Patacas

The Pataca is Macau's official currency.

Unfortunately, you won't want to hold on to it. It is highly unpopular outside Macau. Even in Hong Kong, you will have a hard time changing it into other currencies.


But it may be too late - if you are already outside Macao with a load of Patacas.

If you are in the Zhuhai area of China, fret not. You might be able to change it. If the banks don't accept it, you can use it to buy something in the shops.

The shopkeeper may redirect you to an illegal money changer if he does not accept your money. Just beware of counterfeit Renminbi notes (especially for 50 and 100 Yuan).


Otherwise you can ask a Macau friend, or just keep your cash for the next visit to Macau.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

HKD$ = MOP$ on price quotes

If you are a new, unsuspecting tourist, you may think that if prices are quoted in HKD, it means that you need to pay in Hong Kong dollars.

Not so. If you have Macau Patacas, you can pay at the same price, and thereby pocket an unstated 3% discount.