Macau: Gambling Capital of the World

Where do I being with Macau? While the gambling capital of the world is, in so many ways, worlds away from Las Vegas, they are both siblings in that they seem something like a theme park. In much the way that Las Vegas was a desert-covered cowboy town before gaming came along, I can’t imagine what Macau was like before the casinos were built. Back in the days when the Portuguese ruled the world, they laid a cultural foundation within this small Asian island that spawns its language, food and architecture. It is a bizarre hybrid of Euro-Asian everything, although formidably more Asian these days, particularly as the thirst for gaming amongst the mainland Chinese continues to grow.

A short ferry hop from Hong Kong in fast hydrofoils that provide a comfortable first-class service, you have your choice to dive into the tourist-ridden older parts of the city, the quieter parts of the island that seem to be undisturbed by the gaming chaos, or boring and quiet stretches of the city that are lined with miniature versions of Las Vegas casinos (a mini Wynn Las Vegas, anyone?).

Good for a day or two’s visit, if you’re looking for a duplication of Las Vegas or Atlantic City, you won’t find it. The gaming floors are typically packed, smokey and filled with games that you’ve probably never even heard of. But it’s a fun place to explore and the combination of new-found wealth and history makes for an entertaining time.

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Above:  Grand Lisboa Casino

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Above:  A famous pork chop that you can find at a few places throughout the island.   It’s essentially a fried, thinly sliced pork chop on a fresh roll with butter.  Not the healthiest thing in the world, but delicious!

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Above:  Their version of jerky can be found all over the island.

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Above: As you would expect in a former Portuguese colony, there are many simple, but beautiful Christian churches.

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National Day 2011: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and Beijing, China

I am always amazed by the variety of impressions that I hear from foreigners who have visited Tiananmen Square. My friend recently called a winter day’s visit “creepy”, while another said that it was an “uncomfortable place”, given the atrocities that occurred in June of 1989.   On the other hand, others find it fascinating and few hours exploring the adjacent Forbidden City is is a must-do on any tourist’s agenda.  Due to the Chinese government’s (fairly successful) effort to surpress the recent history of the place, most Chinese citizens are oblivious to what occurred there over twenty years ago and, on National Day, especially, the area is filled with endless signs of loyalty and patriotism.

October 1 is the day that China celebrates the formation of the People’s Republic of China, dating back to 1949.   It is also the start of one of two Golden Weeks in the PRC, marking a week of vacation for Chinese nationals.   On National Day, thousands of Chinese flock to Beijing, Forbidden City and Tiananmen Squire, happily posing for photos, waving Chinese flags and celebrating amongst the red lantern-decorated public spaces.

National Day 2011 - Beijing

National Day 2011 - Beijing

National Day 2011 - Beijing

National Day 2011 - Beijing

National Day 2011 - Beijing

National Day 2011 - Beijing

National Day 2011 - Beijing

National Day 2011 - Beijing

National Day 2011 - Beijing

National Day 2011 - Beijing

More photos can be seen in my Flickr photo set.

Shanghai’s French Concession: In the Rain

One of my favorite sections of Shanghai, the French Concession neighborhood, is a bit of an oasis in the sea of modern, cramped high rises that now makes up nearly all of the city. It’s low-rise buildings and twisted alleyways hide galleries, unique merchants and relaxing cafes. A few modern shopping malls have managed to pop up here and there, but they pale in comparison to the glitzy, ultra-luxe structures that that now populate other areas, such as Xintiandi, and don’t do much to intrude on the neighborhood’s charm.

The area was once controlled by the French, as the name implies, and has remained largely unchanged in the decades since it was turned over to the Chinese government.  Through the years, it has served as a hub for people of many national origins, including French, British, American and Russian and also served as the center for Catholic activity in Shanghai.    Seemingly unlike the rest of the city, the government has imposed numerous development restrictions on the area in order to maintain it’s uniqueness and character.

In the rain, the crowds are scant and the area is still very much enjoyable.  Some of the shops occupy the entire ground floors of buildings, while others are slightly bigger than a few large closets’ worth of space.  At night, you can find a number of interesting bars and restaurants ranging from local haunts to expat hangouts.

In an area that is meant for strolling, the rain can be an annoyance but, in this case, I think it just adds to the character of the neighborhood.

Rainy French Concession:  Shanghai

Rainy French Concession:  Shanghai

Rainy French Concession:  Shanghai

Rainy French Concession:  Shanghai

Rainy French Concession:  Shanghai

Rainy French Concession:  Shanghai

Presentation: Understanding Dynamic Chinese Online Payments Market

As part of a project to share many of the presentation from my speaking engagements, I will be slowly releasing the PowerPoint slides from all my public speaking events.

Presentation Title: Understanding Dynamic Chinese Online Payments Market

Date/Location Presented: 2009 Merchant Risk Council Annual Conference;  Wynn Hotel and Resort, Las Vegas;  March 11, 2009.   I co-presented this with GuoDong Zhang, the CEO of China Bank Payments, who flew in from Beijing for the event.

Audience: The presentation was given to a group of global merchants and service providers.

Overview: The growth of e-commerce shopping in China has exploded in the past five years.    As China has propelled itself to the top of the global e-commerce marketplace, its payments infrastructure has been forced to adapt accordingly in order to support this new sales channel.  The payments paradigm used in China is quite different from what online shoppers are used to in the western world and, consequently, so are the risks, processes and business considerations for merchants who sell online.  This presentation explores the unique aspects of this market.

NOTE: Contents of this presentation are (c) 2009 Christopher Uriarte and Retail Decisions, and may not be used or distributed without explicit permission.