Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Macau, the other Las Vegas

During my SE Asian grand tour a few weeks ago, I took advantage of a long layover in HK (~12hours) to make a quick side-trip to Macau. Macau was previously a Portugese colony, and even back in the colonial days, it was famous for casinos, but they were small places, and I remember seeing one when we visited as a family in the early 2000's

The main (and biggest at the time) Macau casino in 2003, Casino Lisboa

But now.. wow. A few years ago, a number of Las Vegas resorts started building huge resorts - the Venetian, the Wynn... from the outside, it even looks like Vegas, except when you go inside and don't find any slots, or rarely blackjack, but tons of tables playing baccarat, and finding not burgers/pizza in the food court, but fried rice, Chinese bbq, etc. What a strange experience. Apparently, gambling revenues (and profitability) in Macau a few years ago have exceeded Las Vegas. Unbelievable. Sometimes I find it ironic that Asians are "well-known" for good math skills, but somehow, there's a "co-morbidity" towards gambling.

Despite what you might think, this is NOT Las Vegas

It's called the "Cotai Strip", with the Wynn, MGM, etc....

The interiors of some of these casino hotels are amazing, huge chandeliers, aquariums, everything you'd expect from Las Vegas like excess. What's also interesting is the staff you find in the hotels... they must be hiring models for eye-candy. (and holy cow, they were all really tall) Similarly, there were Indian security staff, Filipino dealers and casino attendants, etc.

Overall, an interesting day trip from Hong Kong airport. It's really interesting to see how the casinos have changed Macau. There is still a bit of the shady feeling from the old casino days, but with the large resorts, it seems more "legit", although I'm sure there's still some shadiness that's always lurking around the corner. Singapore has recently allowed 2 casinos, I wonder how much if it will change in the next few years if they allow more.

If you have a long layover in Hong Kong, it's worth the trip. Costs about $30-40 RT to Macau from HK Airport via high-speed ferry. Make sure when you arrive that you don't go to your transfer gate, or don't go through HK immigration. There's a special area that allows you to go directly to Macau without passing thru HK immigration. The boats leave directly from HK airport to Macau Taipa ferry terminal.

One might ask - anything special to eat in Macau? My answer: Macau-style egg tarts! So delicious, and you can even find them in the Venetian! And cheap too, HKD$8, or about US$1.25 or so per piece.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fun with Dutch Numbers

It's interesting to see how different languages deal with numbers.

I was at the immigration department on Friday, sitting and waiting for my number, #49, and in Dutch, it's said "negenenviertig ", or nine and forty, and this system is used for numbers greater than 20, but numbers less than 20 are similar in English (zestien = 16).

I find it strange how these two systems developed.. it reminds me of "big-endian" or "little-endian" systems from engineering. Do you put the larger number on the left side (as it is in English: twenty-one = 2 tens and then 1), or do you put the smaller numbers on the left (as it is in Dutch/German: negenentwentig, nine and then 20)

I once asked a Dutch colleague, when they writing down numbers that they hear on the phone, like negenentwentig, do they write it like it sounds (writing backwards, first then 9, then putting a 2 in front of it), because that's what I end up doing when I hear numbers and have to write them down.

Her answer: no, we just hear the whole number, and then write it.

Our brains must be so flexible to store numbers in different ways, it makes for funny mistakes when have to write a number I hear in Dutch from right-to-left, or when my Dutch colleagues tell me numbers in English but sometimes forget to switch the order.

I wonder why the system in English switches at 20? In English, numbers between 10-20, we say the 1 digit first, then "teen", but greater than 20, we say the 10's digit first, then the 1'st digit?

But in Germanic languages, it's always the one's digit first, then the 10's digit later, until you get to 100, then it's the 100 digit first, then the one's digit, followed by the 10's digit!!!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ice skating at De Lierhof / Ijsschaatsen op De Lierhof

As you may have read, most of Europe, including Amsterdam, has been under an unusual winter freeze. It's been below freezing for over a week, and the canals have now frozen over.

In fact, the canal outside of my apartment has gone from a boat dock to frozen solid, and some people have made a makeshift ice skating rink!

Interestingly, these frozen canals are something very special for Amsterdammers, because now you see people skating on the canals! Apparently, this hasn't happened for over 10 years, and there's a huge discussion on whether a special race, the Eleven City Tour or "Elfstedentocht" will be held, something that only happens when the canals freeze. Apparently, it's over a 250km ice skating race, and officials are concerned whether the ice will support 16,000 people skating on the ice. I wonder if this is all overblown, especially when Minnesotans drive their car on the ice!

Pretty cool that when the canals freeze, you have a "skating highway" throughout all the various Dutch cities!

Friday, February 03, 2012

Minnesota weather in NL

Update: HUGE snowstorm in NL today... probably 3-4 inches of snow. 850km of hughways throughout the are jammed due to snow. Despite this, people are STILL BIKING!

Just came back to NL after a vacation in SE Asia, and whew, it's cold here! It's like Minnesota weather... 20F (-10C), meanwhile, I hear that it's fairly warm back home in MN

I remember once telling Sen that walking in the cold (ie, below freezing) is no problem. BUt after biking a few blocks yesterday in that weather.. whew, it's COLD!

Who knows, either SE ASia reset my temperature expectations, or there's a big difference between the short walk from your car to the office vs. biking outside in below freezing weather.

btw - I arrived in NL from SE Asia with only a fleece... good thing I packed a jacket in my luggage which was completely useless while in SE Asia...