The Big Bang / Getting Money


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, September 14, 2004 was originally posted on September 22, 2004.

DAY 332:  “Just go ahead, I can’t run in these [flip-flop sandals]!” Aviva called to me as we were running through an underground pipeline tunnel in the Causeway Bay district.  I quickened by pace.  There was no time to respond.  There was about to be a very big boom within seconds and we had to get there before it went off.

Aviva and I had been rushing around like confused deer in a frenzy just before a coming explosion that we knew would be inevitable at the strike of twelve o’clock.  High noon.  Getting to the site of the blast was our only mission objective that morning and I felt like we were bomb squad officers on a quest to save Hong Kong before the proverbial digital LED clock reached “0:00.”

The upcoming blast was to come from a cannon in the Causeway Bay harbor known as the Noonday Gun, which was fired each day at noon for no real practical purpose.  Historically, it was fired each day to declare the time, followed by an announcement of the day.  Its tradition, immortalized in the song “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” by Noel Coward, still continues in modern day as a tourist attraction.  However, the tourist attraction wasn’t so intuitive to get to, at least not for Aviva and me.

We had been in sight of the cannon from a cafe across the highway from it, thinking it’d be easy to get to with a clearly marked underground walkway, but that wasn’t the case.  Signs pointed towards the “Noonday Gun” but the arrows didn’t lead us to an underground subway tunnel like we thought.  We rushed through streets and pedestrian malls, up and down escalators in a train station, looking for the right way like a couple of frantic American tourists — but always came to a dead end.  “It’s like The Amazing Race,” I said.

We ran up another escalator with the theme song in our heads and eventually made it back to the cafe from hence we came from to rethink our strategy.  Time was running out.  It was 11:57.

“We could cross the highway,” I said.

“Yeah, but I want to live.”

She was right.  There had to be another way than to run into fast oncoming traffic.  “Alright, let me ask this guy.”  I asked directions from the turban-wearing valet at the nearby Excelsior Hotel.

“It’s there,” he said, pointing to a not-so-obvious door that led down into an underground parking garage under the highway.

“Thanks,” I said, dashing for the entry point. 

“Hurry, you’ve got less than a minute!” he yelled back, but I was too far away for a response already.

Inside the parking garage the direction was a lot more obvious with all the “Noonday Gun” signs that stood out like yellow and red Amazing Race markers.  They led us to an underground pipeline tunnel that traversed the lanes of the highway safely underneath them.

“Just go ahead, I can’t run in these!” 

I hurried ahead and passed her.  We can make it, I thought.  We can diffuse this bomb before Greater Hong Kong explodes!  Go Go GO!

I turned the corner and saw the light and stairwell at the end of the tunnel.  Almost there!  I made a break for it up the stair—


The blast was bigger than I expected; I felt the vibrations in the stairwell.  We had missed the blast at high noon by just a couple of seconds.  Game over.

“Sorry we missed it,” Aviva apologized when she caught up to me outside.  There was still smoke bellowing from the cannon

“Don’t worry, it’s more exciting this way.”

And so, my fifth day in the Hong Kong SAR started off with a bang.

* * * * *

If you’ve seen the movie Swingers, you know the jargon used by the swingin’ bachelors played by Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn.  One of these terms of slang was the word “money,” which they used over and over to compliment how great things were, from slick-looking outfits to a guy’s confidence in dating.  “Money” was what a status they had to achieve before entering a Las Vegas casino, so they could look like a couple of high rollers and get stuff for free.

I knew I’d be in a casino that night in the other Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Macau (known for its casinos) and just like in the movie I wanted to go in all “money” with a new dressy shirt and haircut so that I could march into the blackjack room with the outward confidence of a high-roller and be up five hundred by midnight.

Hong Kong was the perfect place to get a new shirt — or an entire new look for that matter — as it is one of the centers of high-end fashion in the world.  You know, the kind of fashion you see on runway shows but never seen in real life.  There is no shortage of upmarket shopping malls in central Hong Kong, with its All-Weather Shopping Link of over a dozen indoor malls connected by covered walkways all over town so that one may still by fancy clothes in the event of a hurricane, typhoon, freak occurrence of a blizzard or a plague of locusts. 

All the big brand names in fashion were present and accounted for in Hong Kong, from Gucci and Prada to Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani — even the no name brands were a brand.  Luckily Hong Kong fashion wasn’t exclusive the big international fashion names; local and significantly cheaper ones like Giordano and Baleno existed, which was a good thing because I wasn’t up to taking out a small loan to buy something like a pair of socks.  Private tailors are also a big thing in Hong Kong; tailors came here from overseas to make customs suits — usually when they’re not dozing off in the shop

After seeing that a shirt at the Japanese upscale Sogo department store was HK$900 (about $100 USD), I went and bought a shirt (HK$69) at the Baleno that Aviva spotted in Causeway Bay, right across the pedestrian mall from a stage in front of the World Trade Center building.  On stage was a lunchtime cultural show of live music and dance set up by the Consulate of Mexico in Hong Kong to celebrate the similarities of the Chinese and Mexican cultures.

HONG KONG IS NOT WITHOUT A SHORTAGE of places to get a new hairstyle — in fact, Meg told me she knew a hair stylist in the States who had to consult Hong Kong each year to learn the latest trends.  My budget didn’t really allow me to go to a fancy hair salon, so I took the recommendation of Moe, who got the recommendation of his American boss, to go to a regular but decent barber in central that they knew about.  An old man cut my hair as I sat in an old-fashioned barber chair and in fifteen minutes the silhouette of my head finally looked a lot less like a cotton swab.

To get out of Aviva and Moe’s hair during the Rosh Hashanah Jewish New Year celebration (which started that night at sundown), I decided to go off to Macau, the other SAR in the area, one hour west by hydrofoil ferry.  I showered and dressed up in my new digs with my new haircut feeling pretty money and walked to the Macau ferry terminal.  Lonely Planet recommended that you should book a hotel from a travel agent before arrival to get a significant discount, and finding a travel agent wasn’t so hard because they found me.  An agency right near the ferry entrance sold me a ticket for the ride to Macau and booked me a room for a five-star hotel within walking distance of the big casino at a price comparable to the cheap hotel listed in the guidebook that was farther out (about $40 USD). 

AN INFRARED CAMERA MONITORED ME and everyone else as I walked through immigration and custom, which highlighted and scan each body like something out of a futuristic science fiction movie.  I filled my form and got my passport stamped and had officially arrived in the Macau, the other SAR which is not a former British colony but a former Portuguese.  I noticed all the signs in Cantonese and Portuguese as I waited in the warm humidity for my free shuttle service to the hotel.

Wow, I’m staying here? I thought to myself when I entered the lobby.  The Hotel Royal was definitely one of the fancier places I’ve stayed — they were probably running a cheap weekday special since half the lobby was sectioned off for renovations.  I arrived in the lobby just as about five busloads of Chinese tourists came, and it took me forever to get an elevator to my room on the tenth floor.

I wandered nighttime Macau for a bit, wearing my new shirt and new do of course, walking passed the flashy neon signs of the casino area and the nighttime fisherman trying to catch a bite from the promenade of the bay.  I had grilled filet of Macanese sole and a couple of Macau Beers and then head into the Casino Lisboa (picture above) — one of the bigger ones on the mainland peninsula — with the confidence of a high-roller.  So money baby.

The confidence simmered down when I was really confused with the way Macanese casinos work.  From a distance, blackjack looks like regular Vegas/Atlantic City blackjack, but the rules are a little different.  For example, all the cards are dealt faced down, only to be flipped over and revealed by the player to everyone — for no reason really that I can think of other than to have that feeling like it’s your hand.  You can also bet before hand to win 11 to 1 odds if you get a pair. 

The biggest change I noticed was that a blackjack didn’t automatically give out a 3 to 1 payout.  I thought it was going to when I revealed the blackjack I had, and the dealer said something in Cantonese.  I was waiting for the payout to come when I showed my hand, just like I get in Atlantic City, but nothing.  The dealer said “[Something something]” in Cantonese and I was just like, “Uh, yeah.  Where’s my money?”  He held out some chips and I motioned him to fork it over — meanwhile everyone was rolling their eyes at me.  I didn’t know what was going on — the eyes rolled in Cantonese too — and I said, “Yeah, just give me the money.”  Eventually I figured out that I was suppose to wait — blackjacks are not automatic payout; you still have to wait to see if you draw with the dealer.

I was at the blackjack table a lot longer than I planned.  I was at a 100 pataca (about $14 USD) minimum table and usually bet 100 or 200.  (I tried 150 once and apparently another rule was not being allowed to bet other than multiples of 100.)  At my highest point I was up a net profit of 680, enough to cover my ferry and hotel stay — don’t ask me how I managed to get a multiple of 80 — but in the end, I lost it all.  I quit with a net of 80 pataca and called it a night before I beat myself up for being in the hole.

Good thing I didn’t spend too much money on my new clothes and haircut in Hong Kong after all.

Next entry: Portuguese Chinese

Previous entry: The Six Days Between Dawn And Dusk

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Comments for “The Big Bang / Getting Money”

  • I’M STILL BEHIND BUT THAT’S ALL FOR NOW…  Be patient; I’ll be in the NIZ (No Internet Zone) for a couple of days…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/21  at  07:40 PM

  • I love the mission impossible story! (and “saving the world” for that matter smile but we didn’t get to see the new shirt! or did i just skim the passage too fast??? N smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/21  at  08:34 PM

  • Nikkij…..go back 5 paragraph’s and you will see the pic…..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/21  at  09:10 PM

  • who’s the big winner?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/21  at  09:26 PM

  • dude, that ALWAYS happens to me when i am up big!  good story

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/21  at  11:03 PM

  • ROSE: THanks! My pop-up window was stuck in Horizontal mode, now i see EVERYTHING!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/21  at  11:16 PM

  • Rico Suave got taken down a notch??

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/22  at  02:08 AM

  • Awesome - the Noon Day Gun! I lived in the Excelsior Hotel for a few months - I must have seen that thing get shot like 60 times from my window. In all those times I don’t once remember seeing any tourists gathering to see it. Don’t worry Erik, you didn’t miss much.

    Posted by dunlavey  on  09/22  at  08:52 AM

  • ERIK: I haven’t seen TOP GUN either! I guess you don’t need my sentence anymore?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/22  at  12:44 PM

  • What’s WRONG with you people? smile
    TOP GUN is a CLASSIC… yes, a cheesy classic, but STILL… I own it, and the soundtrack…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/22  at  05:03 PM

  • I Agree a CLASSIC .... ” You never close your eyes when I kiss your lips ...”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/22  at  06:19 PM

  • heh, i like the “save the world” mission you got going there, too bad the cannon went off before you got there. looking good with your new shirt and haircut. though nothing like the god of gamblers. next time, you need to break out the suit like his:

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/22  at  06:25 PM

  • I was so mad at the winners of the amazing Race. Was anybody else??

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/22  at  06:37 PM

  • Mad with the winners?  Nope.  I’m glad they won…

    BTTF triology and Indiana Jones are classics… Top Gun?  eh….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/22  at  09:06 PM

  • you’re still my big winner erik

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  01:09 AM

  • markyt: I didn’t see the entire season but the fact that they lied to win really pissed me off. They should not have been the winners.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  01:25 AM

  • Markyt - I’ll give you both of those, but TOP GUN is a classic along with DIRTY DANCING. An 80s classic…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  02:43 AM

  • NEVEN - if you saw all the episodes, i think you’d probably like the outcome better….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  07:36 AM


    NEVEN:  Anybody in that position would have done the same thing.  I’m glad they won.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  04:33 PM

  • DUNLAVEY:  Glad you’re reminiscing down Memory Lane—or is it Connaught Road?

    Hope to spark some memories when I’m caught up with MEGA-Tokyo…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  05:09 PM

  • ROSE:  You pretty much gave it away (on the phone) when you implied to me who DIDN’T win AR5… that was almost as bad as telling me the winner.  Almost!  wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/23  at  05:11 PM

  • AR5- ahh, I was hoping the moms would make it into the top 3.  They still kicked butt though.  Glad Chip and Kim won.

    Aviva - was it weird reading Erik’s blog about China when he was with you in Hong Kong?

    Posted by Liz  on  09/23  at  05:32 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today,, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
Portuguese Chinese

Previous entry:
The Six Days Between Dawn And Dusk


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