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Galaxy Casino in Macau
Macau's Galazy Casino shot with the Panasonic LX5 on full auto

 

Shooting Pictures with a Panasonic LX 5 in Macau

The camera I used in Macau, a Panasonic LX5.  I'd soon buy its successor the LX7 in Hong Kong but that's another story.   This page is all about shooting pictures with a Panasonic LX in Macau with its Leica Lens.  Amazing camera though being a German Leica in disguise with the name Panasonic on it.

But the story is, China, Macau, Hong Kong, it's all the same now that the British handed its former colony back to China back in 1997.  After all, I had been in Hong Kong way back in 1979 when I was only 32, and in those days the Hong Kongese were dreading the day that the British governor would be replaced by the Communist Red Chinese flag.   The wealthy Hong Kongese who done so well under British rule would either be deported and have all their wealth confiscated or they'd be sent to reeducation camps and still have their wealth confiscated.  It had been done before once Chairman Mao unified the Mainland in 1949, and it was being done again in Vietnam went Communist in 1975.  Even then in 1979 in Hong Kong's Aberdeen Harbor, thousands of Vietnamese refugees were living on boats before managing to get government subsidized housing or emigrating to the U.S. and other countries.  There had been a two year wait for a refugee family to get a living space of just 120 square feet back in 1979.  Things were bad in those days for Asians who ended up on the wrong side when the Communist won.  But that did not happen to Hong Kong or the surrounding area,which the Red Chinese allowed to continue going on doing business as before. Little did I realize when I got through passport control at the Macau Airport how in so many ways things hadn't really changed that much.

The most important thing on my agenda was to get my hands on enough money.  I remembered just too many times how I'd meet up with friends who had just arrived in Pattaya from the United States who didn't have any Thai money on them who would then insist that I take them to a foreign exchange.  How much simpler would it have been for all of us if they had only thought about getting a couple of days cash beforehand.  But oh well, birds in the attic, nobody at home.  I had two atm cards with me, one for my U.S. bank and one for my bank in Thailand as well as two credit cards.  Straight off I went to the foreign exchange booth and started to hand over 10,000 Thai baht, which was about $315 U.S. 

"Do you want Hong Kong Dollars or Macau dollars?"  the attendant immediately asked me while I was thinking Is there really any difference?  It's all Chinese to me. 

"This is 10,000 Thai baht I told the attendant.  How much do I get for it?"

The attendant then wrote down two figures for me.  The numbers were pretty close to each other, yet they were different and they didn't look right to me at all.  I knew a Hong Kong dollar was worth something like 7 American dollars which was a very rough estimate I had gotten a few days earlier while trying to figure out what Hong Kong or Macau hotels might cost me.  Somehow the figures the attendant had written down for me didn't make sense as I tried to convert from Thai money to American after first getting a figure in Hong Kong and Macau dollars. 

"Just give me 5000 baht of Macau dollars," I told the attendant while I tried to figure out how much cash I'd need in first Macau and then a couple of days later in Hong Kong where Rory and I had booked hotel rooms.  I was fully confident that both my American and my Thai atm cards would work just fine later on.  After all, my Thai atm had worked just a couple of months earlier at the Seattle Airport in the U.S. which I tried just for shits and grins knowing I could always use my American atm.  And both atms had worked both in Vietnam and Malaysia.  So if I got a lousy foreign exchange rate at the airport or simply got screwed over, only $150 or so would be involved. 

My next step was to call Rory who had emailed me to meet him in front of the Hard Rock Cafe which was in the City of Dreams whatever the hell that was.  But my Thai cell phone would not work in Macau, that was for sure, so I had been preparing myself to give someone a small tip for making the call for me.  There was an information counter so I went over there to ask if I could use a phone, and the two women working there told me I didn't have to pay anything and that they'd only be too happy to dial Rory's number for me.  Rory was at work so he wanted to know just about exactly what time he should meet us so he could get the maximum time in at his office.  One of the women then escorted us to the area where all the shuttles picked up passengers at the airport.  Ours was to be a purple bus with a sign on it reading "City of Dreams".

The woman had to wait ten minutes for the "City of Dreams" bus to pull up.  Then she helped me put our large suitcase in the bus's luggage bin.  Ten minutes later the bus pulled up to the Hard Rock Cafe Entrance at the City of Dreams where Rory was waiting for us.

"The casino buses are all free," he told us as we got on the Galaxy Casino bus that took us to within five minutes walking distance from his apartment.  "And they will take us everywhere."

One thing I immediately noticed upon crossing a couple of streets on the short walk to Rory's place is that all the cars and motorbikes were actually stopping for us at the pedestrian crosswalks.  This was altogether untrue about Pattaya where many drivers, especially those driving motorbikes would oftentimes actually speed up to terrify pedestrians who were crossing the street.  In fact, I had found crossing Pattaya's streets on foot to be even more hazardous than driving a motorbike in a country which killed four times as many people on its roads than in the U.S.

The Traffic is actually civilized here.

I was also to find that Macau actually had sidewalks, unlike Pattaya which only has a few, which forces pedetrians to walk up and down its streets like the zombies in The Walking Dead.  The sidewalks were often two or three times wider than they had to be showing that the city's planners no doubt anticipated much larger crowds of visitors in the future.  Over our heads we could also see the beginnings of the future monorail that was being built to take visitors over most of Macau, including  the main island of Macau which was connected to Taipa by a suspension bridges.  Until now we had expected Macau to be a single island, but we soon found out from Rory that the old Portugese city that had existed for 500 years was across the bay from us and that Taipa was just recently getting developed.

Macau sidewalksMacau sidewalks

The Communist Chinese might have taken the place over along with Hong Kong back in 1998, but it had to be very clear to my Thai girlfriend that we were in a civilized country.   Pattaya by comparison is truly a Wild Wild West where it's a hit and run practically everytime a car or motorbike hits a pedestrian and fleeing the scene of an accident is considered normal.  I also noticed that most of the police officers I saw driving motorbikes in Macau were driving large fast motorcycles that were fully capable of chasing down transgressors in short order.  I had been hoping to take my Thai girlfriend to the U.S. with me to see that the U.S. and civilized Western countries treated their pedetrians with respect and that having to take to the streets and have to dodge cars and motorcycles whose drivers were all too willing to hit them was simply unacceptable.  So you can imagine how gratified I felt watching her take in the polite behavior of the motorists in another land while observing a police force that was actually doing its job of serving and protecting.  By contrast let me point out two key facts about Pattaya.  First, it is next to impossible for me to drive my motorcycle there more than five minutes without seeing at least one serious infraction of the traffic rules such as other motorcyclists driving against the flow of traffic or running a red light.  Second, in the past eight years of living there, not once have a seen a single incident of a Thai police officer actually stopping anyone for such serious transgressions. 

This is not a Nazi Kingdom like the US.

Neither my Thai girlfriend or I had to present a visa at the airport to officially enter Macau.  Like Thailand it's an automatic visa on arrival affair, and it did not take very long for us to get through passport control where immigration officials sit in front of a queu and scrutinize the passports of all arriving visitors.  I feel obligated now to contrast this with much of the free world, especially the U.S. where it is necessary to first pay $140 just to get an appointment to apply for a temporary visa.  In my case I would then have to pay to have a taxi take me to the American Embassy in Bangkok and then pick me up once my girlfriend has gotten through her interview.  I've heard that the chances of her actually getting a visa to the U.S. are practically zero since she has to pass through all sorts of hoops in order to convince the American Embassy that she does not plan to stay in the U.S. forever.  The key to a Thai girls's passing the interview oftentimes amounts to her being able to show the interviewer that she owns a house or some land that commits her to spending her future years in Thailand instead of the U.S.  I have both American and European friends who are buying their Thai girlfriends houses or land for some inexlicable reason or another.  Perhaps this is the reason.    I've taken my Thai girlfriend to Vietnam twice with no visa issues whatsoever.  Which now makes me wonder why we spent over 50,000 American lives in the Korean War, then the Vietnam War in order to preserve American ideas of Freedom.  As to my being allowed to bring my girlfriend into the United States so that she can see the Grand Canyon and a few other sites, we will soon find out what the outcome of all that will amount to, but if she's denied a Visa I will have lost $140 to add to all those taxes I am already paying to the U.S. government. 

ATM Problems

Both my American ATM  and my Thai ATM failed to work in Macau and Hong Kong.  I first tried my Thai atm at a bank down the street from Rory's apartment.  After it failed Rory explained to me that he was using a six digit password for his ATM and that I should have gotten both  4 and 6 digit passwords in Thailand because four digit codes do not work outside of Thailand.  However, I had no problem using my Thai ATM in Vietnam, Malaysia and the U.S., and as for four digit passwords, well---my U.S. bank's atm also had a four digit code and that seemed to work about everywhere else.  Later, I'd try my U.S. atm card over in Hong Kong and found that it would fail at two banks.  It was only on Sunday in Hong Kong that I was finally able to get one of my atms to work at the HDSC Bank.  Until then I kept using one of my credit cards for both my food and drinks in the restaurants and bars.  Even so I had to borrow 5000 Hong Kong dollars from Rory on Saturday night, which I paid back the next day after hitting gold at the HDSC.  Lesson to be learned.  When it comes to money, when traveling, always have a backup plan.

Gambling

Inside the VenetianThe Venetian MacauThe Venetian MacauThe Venetian Macau

The Venetian MacauThe Venetian MacauThe Venetian Macau

We didn't do any.  For that matter, in the past thirty-five years I have not gambled one single red cent anywhere in spite of numerous visits to Las Vegas.  There is no question that Macau is becoming a 2nd Las Vegas.   Asians are reputed to be even more avid gamblers than Westerners.  With the coming monorail system and the numerous casinos on the drawing boards the landscape in Macau is bound to be a very exciting one.  But from what we have seen so far, our favorite casino is the Venetian which is next to the Galaxy near Rory's apartment.  The place is huge, being more than an entire city block long and there's a large single story shopping center inside with an artificial sky above two rows of shops that resemble an Italian city.  Between the shops is an artificial canal on which oarsmen paddle visitors on Venetian gondolas.  The canal meanders here and there between the shops with pedestrian bridges crossing it at strategic intervals to allow all the tourists to gain easy access to all the shops. 

Prices

Are too high for my tastes.   A well located 540 square foot apartment is going to rent for around $1200 U.S.  Two to three dollars beers in a Pattaya beer bar will cost you around six dollars in Macau or Hong Kong although I could get a bottle of Tsing Tao beer at a nice outdoor pub near Rory's place which is about four bucks.   But I happen to know something most tourists don't, and that is Tsingtao beer closely resembles many good German beers so it's pretty premium stuff even though it has a corny Chinese name whereas more expensive beers such as Heineken have the designer names that only a faux connoisseur can truly appreciate.  I've been to Tsingtao way back in 1979 so I now that a colony of Germans started up a German brewery in the city in 1903 and that it's a pretty good guess that the company has been staying pretty close to the old German recipe ever since.    In general food costs nearly double what it does in Pattaya's restaurants.

The Bar Shows the true International Character Here

The bar near my friend's apartmentThe bar near my friend's apartmentThe bar near my friend's apartment

I must admit that my friend, Rory, is a very high powered kind of guy.   He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, he's an engineer by profession, and I am just old enough to know that anytime an employer is willing to provide a high salary, expensive housing, along with tuition for the employee's children at the most expensive private schools, that the employee is viewed as a very valuable commodity.  The bar in the pictures above is next door to my friend's apartment.  Unfortunately his busy work schedule has not provided him enough time to get well acquainted with the place.  Before our visit, he's been there only once.  In fact, the entire time my girlfriend and I were his guests, I'd say he was with us only half the time we were visiting Macau and Hong Kong.  Rory and I became very good friends in short order once we met at the Centara Physical Fitness Center in Thailand.  Once we arrived in Macau, he gave my girlfriend and me his apartment keys, gave us his password to get through his apartment building's electronic security, gave us a brief tour of his neighborhood.  And the next morning he left us to our own devices, after leaving us the run of his place for the next two days while he worked in China.  He has another place and a car in China, which I take it is roughly one hour from his apartment.  Amazingly my girlfriend and I could not join him in China where we'd both be required to have visas.  And here I had thought this entire area was China, with one set of rules, one department of immigration and where you either got a visa upon arrival or had to go through the same procedures to get into the country, but once you arrived you could go anywhere you liked whether that was to Macau, Hong Kong or the China Mainland. 

Neither my girlfriend and I like to gamble.  And since gambling has become the prime reason for Macau's existence we didn't find a lot to do there.  On Rory's recommendation, we took a free shuttle bus over to Macau's main island where we planned to walk though the old city which has been there ever since the Portugese found it in the 1550's.  Without any clear idea of what we were doing I asked a couple of Chinese women on the shuttle where we should get off the bus.  The first woman didn't speak much English.  The second woman heard me asking the first girl where we should get off the bus and offered to help.  So we got off the bus with her and followed her to the old part of the city.  The woman was more than accomodating.  I got the feeling that she would have shown up a few minutes late for work just to show us the best places to go.  I realized this and because I did I was quick to break off from her as soon as we got to the old part of the city, telling her, "We will be fine and will just go around exploring on our own."  But whatever was left of the old city, we only managed to see a couple of blocks of it.  I thought we'd run into the ruins of the old St. Paul's Cathedral, but after walking about for a few minutes the only thing we could find was shops no matter what street we turned onto.  But once you have lived in Thailand as long as I have, most of these shops are all about the same.  So it gets pretty boring after awhile.  It's one thing to go to a bookstore or to go to a motorcycle dealer to look at all the motorbikes, a camera shop or to look for new furniture.   That kind of shopping is pretty specific.  But the touristy areas are pretty much the same kettle of worms whether it's in Thailand, Vietnam or Hong Kong.  I don't think we were in the old city for more than half an hour before we started to walk back to the free shuttle stop to get back on a bus to Tipa. 

So we had a lot of free time on our hands.  Our friend did not have an internet connection at his apartment and virtually no English stations on his t.v.  My solution for all that time on our hands with virtually nothing else to do was to find a bar, and we found the pub next to Rory's place to be a very good choice.

Believe it or not, I really don't drink all that much back home in Pattaya.  I drink beer only once or twice a week, but I will spend six days a week over at the Fitness Center trying to keep in shape.  But when I do go out I really like to have a good time.  I really treasure all the friendships I've made since moving to Asia.   My friends are Germans, Norwegians, Englishmen, French along with a few American friends.  They come from all over, yet as Westerners we tend to pretty much think alike.  I found that this particular pub here in Macau had pretty much of a smattering of everything.  

Our first night after Rory left us for China was Halloween night. 

 

Shopping for Cameras

While we were at the Venetian Rory told us that the only camera shop he really trusted was Fortress, which was a chain where we found shops in the old part of Macau on the main island, in Hong Kong, and at the Venetian.  I found one of the cameras I was interested in, a Nikon D610 at the Venetian where I priced the camera body alone.  It came to around $1910 U.S. which was actually around $60.00 less than the best price I could find at Amazon.  I almost bought it, my idea being to mount my superb f 2.8 28-70 mm lens I had used in the U.S. to shoot something like 100,000 pictures of strippers.  On my Nikon D300 this lens worked out to a 41 to 105 mm due to the magnification properties of its digital sensor that causes the actual focal length to be multiplied by a factor of 1.5.  Although this lens has recently been replaced by a slightly improved model, I still have to look at it as a $1900 lens.  Its optical quality is magnificant and under the right conditions the pictures I can take with it are incomparable.  My Nikon D300 is a semi-professional model that takes pictures up to 12.3 megapixels whereas the Nikon D610 is a 24 megapixel camera.  The D610 is also a full frame camera.  That means my expensive Nikon 28-70 mm zoom lens  reverts to an actual 24 by 70 mm focal length.  With the 610 I'd be able to get 28 mm wide angle results with my finest quality lens while realizing the benefits of a 24 megapixel picture size at the same time.  I'd then keep my 18 by 200 mm DX lens on my Nikon 300.  This setup works out to an effective focal length of 27 by 300 mm. 

But I didn't do it.  At least not just yet.  For most of this trip I kept my small Panasonic LX-5 strapped around my neck.  We'd wind up spending what amounted to a single day in Hong Kong when I'd replace my LX-5 with my Nikon D300 SLR, but while  wearing my Nikon SLR I kept wondering what a Nikon D610 would feel like with the 2 pound Nikon 28 by 70 mm lens attached to it.  I had broken my clavicle in a motorbike accident doing my motorbike reviews and my shoulder still hurt.  It would never be the same and even while carrying my Nikon D300 around my neck for extended periods of time with the much lighter 18 by 200 mm Nikon lens on it the strap would start to get pretty uncomfortable.  I knew that realistically I'd probably leave the much heavier lens at home whenever I'd take a trip.  The second issue was the terrific flexibility that the much lighter 18 by 200 mm lens provided.  For one thing it was a VR lens which meant that I could take decent shots while shooting as slow as a quarter of a second.  This meant that the combination of the superb Nikon D300 and this lens gave me awesome low light performance.  I couldn't begin to match this kind of performance with the more expensive lens.  With it I could also take pictures from 28 mm all the way up to 300 mm. 

The third issue was the outstanding quality of Panasonic's LX-5 camera.  When you consider this camera, think German.  Think Leica.  Because that's what it is--a German-Leica engineered camera that sells in the $400 range and only because it has the Panasonic name on it.  Get one with the Leica name on the camera body itself and you wind up paying $700 to $800 just to get the prestige of the Leica logo.  Meanwhile I had been reading all the camera reviews on the Panasonic and the Nikon D610 and had recently found out that my beloved Panasonic LX-5 had been replaced by a new model--the LX-7 which featured a 1.4 lens.  My LX-5 has a 2.0 lens which is a very fast lens, especially when you consider that this is a pocket camera.  And both LX models have outstanding anti vibration features built in which enable the photographer to take excellent pictures at very slow shutter speeds.  Moreover, the Panasonic LX models deliver outstanding video.   I wound up going back to Fortress over at the Venetian Casino looking for a Panasonic LX-7 but i found out that Fortress was not handling the Panasonic brand. 

I wound up buying my girlfriend an LX-7 in Hong Kong for around $330.  But that's another story.  Meanwhile I had been taking pictures with my LX-5.  The following pictures which I took at night in Macau without a tripod provide just several examples of how good these little German engineered cameras are.  You can also check my You Tube Channel out to see how well the LX-5 does with video.  I took my earlier videos with inferior cams, the worse being a full featured Sony camcorder I bought over 10 years ago.  The next videos on my you tube channel were taken with a Canon Powershot SD 700IS.  Although much improved over those done with the Sony, they do not begin to match the quality of the ones I did with the Panasonic LX-5.  I expect the LX-7 to raise my bar even higher.

Night shots in MacauNight shots in Macau

Night shots in MacauNight shots in Macau

 

More on the quality of the LX5 and LX7 Panasonic cameras.

I mentioned that these cameras are German--Leica engineered.  Certainly they are made in Japan.  The lenses actually say Leica on them however.  From what I have gleaned from the internet both the Leica DLUX 6 and the two Panasonic LX models are products of a joint Leica-Panasonic venture.  I gather then that the best qualities of both German and Panasonic technology are therefore merged into all three cameras.  After having owned four German cars and two German BMW motorcycles I have to say that based on my personal experiences the main weakness of such German machinery is in their electronics.  As for lenses the absolute finest lens I have ever seen in a pair of binoculars was on a Leica I checked out many years ago at a camera shop.  I presently own 20 plus year old Nikon and Zeiss Ikon 8 by 30 binoculars.  The lenses on both are excellent.   In those days I couldn't afford either a Zeiss or Leica pair of binoculars but my Dad once came back from Berlin with a gorgeous armored Zeiss roof prism binoculars and now it's mine.  Overall I'd say the Nikon is the better of the two.  However, a defect has appeared on one of the lenses which I feel has not been caused by any sort of abuse from me.  The Zeiss is still perfect.  Neither set of lenses have ever produced images as bright as what I saw coming out of the Leica. 

Certainly Japan produces a lot of excellent quality stuff.  But now that I've lived here in Pattaya for over eight years and have made a lot of good friends who just happen to be German, I really don't think the Germans can be matched when it comes to engineering prowess, innovation, or just plain solid logical thinking ability.  But you do pay a lot more for products coming out of Germany.  With cameras such as the LX7 I think one gets the best innovation and engineering along with superb Japanese quality and electronics. 

Continued (On to Hong Kong)

 

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