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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Flying Past Dragons for an Escalator Ride: The SkyCab at the Wynn Palace in Macau

The Wynn Palace casino resort opened last year in Cotai, Macau. Although the building's architecture may not impress as many people as the nearby MGM Cotai casino resort or Morpheus hotel, it visually stands out for another reason.

SkyCab in front of the Wynn Palace in Cotai, Macau


The Wynn Palace has its own mono-cable detachable gondola (MDG) system, a type of cable car, which it calls the SkyCab. Along with sharing some of the early reaction, the Gondola Project detailed the gondola's special features:
Typically cable cars can’t turn corners without a mid-station, but this system is able to make a total of 6 turns with 2 stations because it operates in an unidirectional configuration. As we’ve discussed before with the Kolmarden Wildlife gondola in Sweden, the basic rule of turning without intermediary stations is this: Cabins can only flow in one direction and all turns must be either to the left (in the event of a clockwise traffic flow) or right (in the even of a counter-clockwise traffic flow).

Aside from its unique operating characteristics, the gondola was undoubtedly designed with opulence and glitz in mind to match its environment. Two of the system’s towers were built in the form of a golden dragon while the cabins were all equipped with a custom audio system and air conditioning. Despite the advances made in ropeway technology, air conditioned cabins are still uncommon.
The SkyCab has yet another great feature:

"Complimentary Ride Into Wynn Palace" on a digital sign


And not only is the ride complimentary, but when I arrived there wasn't any line. So I quickly found myself headed towards the head of a golden dragon for free.

SkyCab Dragon


The ride was smooth and enjoyable, but I did experience one problem — the air conditioning.

air conditioning unit inside a SkyCab car


Although the air conditioner was blowing air, the cabin felt like a sauna and wasn't much better than the hot outdoors. I don't know whether or not the problem was specific to this car.

In any case, soon I was at the other station. At a nearby outdoor area, the view includes Wynn Palace's Performance Lake as well as the City of Dreams casino resort, though the Morpheus hotel is mostly hidden.

View of City of Dreams and a Macau LRT Station in front of the Wynn Palace


Also easy to spot is a station for the Macau Light Rapid Transit (LRT) next to the StarCab station. The LRT was originally expected to have opened last year. There were some slight delays, though, and now the planned opening is in 2019 for just this particular line, which doesn't reach much of the most densely populated area of Macau or the land border with mainland China. It will be a while before the SkyCab's full potential can be realized.

Finally, after reaching the SkyCab station at the edge of the main building complex, riders may be eager to discover what greets them inside. And they may be surprised when the only option other than enjoying the outdoor viewing area, which is easy to miss, is to return to ground level.

escalator from the SkyCab station at Wynn Palace

escalators to and from the SkyCab station at Wynn Palace


After the excitement of taking a gondola into a world class resort, a nondescript hallway and unremarkable long escalator ride can be a buzzkill and feel inconsistent with the resort's claim that the "SkyCab delivers you into the heart of Wynn Palace". Other possibilities could have been an upper level shopping / entertainment area as found in some other nearby casino resorts or the gondola returning the ground the level, perhaps to an internal courtyard. The possibilities are seemingly endless for a resort with many resources at its disposal. The gondola clearly wasn't built for purely pragmatic reasons and is intended to impress, yet it ends (or begins) on such a relatively mundane note.

So you could say the experience left me hanging and feeling it could have been much more. Still, I can say SkyCab is now my favorite free gondola ride with dragons.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dinosaurs (and Lamborghinis) Featured in a Promotion at City of Dreams in Macau

Admittedly, I would have a tough time deciding if given the chance to choose one of these:

Lamborghinis and Tyrannosaurus sculpture display at City of Dreams Macau


back of yellow Lamborghini on display at City of Dreams Macau


Lamborghini and Triceratops sculpture display at City of Dreams Macau


But after much consideration, I suspect in the end I would go with the Tyrannosaurus. Unfortunately, winning one of the dinosaur sculptures did not appear to be a possibility in the "Unlock the Power" promotional campaign at the City of Dreams casino resort in Macau:
Promotional car keys will be distributed at prominent locations around Macau, including ferry terminals, border gates and shuttle-bus stops, giving lucky guests the chance to win a Lamborghini. Keys can also be obtained by visiting City of Dreams, or by playing the mobile app game. The WeChat-based competition allows players to race a supercar by using their “engine voice” to propel the car around the track – the louder you roar, the faster you go! The more keys entrants can accumulate, the more chances they will have to win a Lamborghini.

Guests at City of Dreams can also participate in a daily instant game to be in with a chance of scooping the grand prize by spending at any of the resort’s many shopping, dining, entertainment or hospitality outlets during the campaign period, and enter the stage game that will take place every Thursday to Sunday at 8pm. The entrants drawn to play the game will have the chance to drive home a Lamborghini, or to receive HKD2 million [about U.S. $250,000] in cash.
I haven't played the mobile game, which can be downloaded from either Google Play or Apple's App Store, so my engine voice remains untested. I also didn't watch a stage game, so I can't report whether it too involved using one's engine voice.

As far as the dinosaurs, without further explanation the press release states they "personify the Italian supercar". I am not aware of any evidence indicating dinosaurs had good engine voices though.

Anyway, after yet another look . . .

view from above of Lamborghinis and Tyrannosaurus sculpture display at City of Dreams Macau


Lamborghini and Triceratops sculpture display at City of Dreams Macau


I must say, maybe I would go with the Triceratops after all.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Morpheus Hotel in Macau: Architecture Filling a Void with Voids

The MGM Cotai casino resort won't be the only building with a creative contemporary design to open in Macau early next year. A pair of connected towers under construction nearby will be the fifth hotel at the City of Dreams casino resort. The structural steel exoskeleton of the Morpheus already stands out amongst the neighboring towers.

City of Dreams casino resort in Macau including the new Morpheus hotel


The building was designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid, the first woman recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize. According to the City of Dreams website:
Inspired by jade artifacts, Morpheus is a sculpture, mysterious and intriguing in its unconventional architectural composition. A series of voids gives it complexity and volume, a unique appearance as well as exciting internal spaces. Its two towers are connected at the podium levels and the roof, and there are two additional bridges for guests to experience the external voids within the building.
A few different perspectives from ground level on the north side of the building highlight the irregular patterns formed around the hard-to-miss voids:

north side of the Morpheus hotel at City of Dreams in Macau


north side of the Morpheus hotel at City of Dreams in Macau


north side of the Morpheus hotel at City of Dreams in Macau


A City of Dreams video from several years ago more fully reveals the building's design from a wide range of perspectives not available to your average passerby:



And a Kyotec Group video from half a year ago shows some of the building's actual construction without any android-like simulated humans walking around:



Near the top of one of the nearby towers at the City of Dreams is the Count:Down Clock, which appears in the upper right of this photo:

Count-down clock at City of Dreams in Macau


The clock not only counts down to the opening of the Morpheus but also the reveal for the rebranding of the round tower, formerly the Hard Rock Hotel. The hotel there currently uses the placeholder name The Countdown.

In an interview for the Macau Tatler, designer Maarten Baas shared some of the inspiration for the clock, the latest edition for his “Real Time” series:
For this project, obviously we wanted to do something with the theme of counting down. Yet, there are plenty of ways to count down. The first thought was to make it look like real people were each individually making a digit. There are digits for hours and digits for minutes. So some digits have to go very fast, while others only change every 100 or 1,000 hours. So there was this contrast between the activities, which I liked. I gave them all a black suit, as if they are chic servers of time, similar to personal butlers. I was also inspired by the luxury lifestyle in Macau.
Inside Asian Gaming posted a brief video showing a little of how the clock counts down with the help of recorded actors:



So before the middle of next year, the Morpheus with its impressive voids will open and another hotel at the City of Dreams will have a new name. More surprises may be in store as well. The Count:Down Clock hits zero on April 1.

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Casino Resort in Macau Turns on the Lights While Waiting to Open

The MGM Cotai, MGM China's second casino resort in Macau, has yet to open despite previous plans to open as early as 2016 and then by October 1 of this year. Reportedly, Typhoon Hato played a role in the latest delay:
MGM China said its previously stated Q4 2017 timeline for the opening of its in-development MGM Cotai resort casino was no longer attainable, and thus the company was delaying the property’s launch date until January 29, 2018. . . .

MGM Cotai didn’t escape Hato’s wrath, and the company says repairing the damage will “slightly” delay the inspections by local government officials that are necessary for MGM Cotai to obtain its various operating licenses.
Even when it opens, the resort casino will be holding back some offerings:
The casino resort MGM Cotai – promoted by Macau-based gaming operator MGM China Holdings Ltd – is set to open only with mass gaming tables, but VIP gaming is to be offered at a later stage, said on Thursday the firm’s chief executive, Grant Bowie. . . .

“We certainly will be opening [MGM Cotai with] only mass tables but we are looking to develop relationships and we have already developed relationships with a number of junkets,” Mr Bowie told reporters on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the Macau Oktoberfest at MGM Macau.
The delays are obviously frustrating to MGM China, its investors, future employees, and anybody desiring to visit the casino resort.

On the bright side, though, barring more delays the resort casino will be open in time for the next Lunar New Year holiday. And the lights already turn on at night at the architecturally intriguing building.

MGM Cotai with its lights turned on

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Another Look at the Guangzhou South Railway Station

I have shared photos of the Guangzhou South Railway Station a couple of times before: once over five years ago when I traveled from Guangzhou to Zhuhai (and then soon onto Macau) and another time about four years ago when I traveled from Zhuhai to Changsha, with a a change of trains in Guangzhou.

I have been in the station a number of times since then, including today. So here are two photos offering not only a more recent look at the station but also different viewpoints from the earlier photos.

Guangzhou South Railway Station departure hall


Guangzhou South Railway Station departure hall

We Should All Be Feminists in Zhongshan

Without a doubt, my favorite moment last night in Zhongshan, China:

a child wearing a "We should all be feminists" shirt holding the arm of a child wearing a dress with a large white bow


Thanks to the mother for encouraging the child wearing the dress, who I hadn't noticed at first, to join in.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Bird Photobomb, an Upcoming National Congress, and the Great Firewall

Two years ago I shared photos which included dragonflies making unexpected appearances: one in Zhuhai and another in Changsha. Today I had a similar experience involving a bird. As before, I appreciated the flyby. So here is a view of Zhongshan from behind Xishan Temple (西山寺):

view of Zhongshan from behind Xishan Temple (西山寺) in Zhongshan, China


The bird timed things wonderfully. The photo also catches a moment when the wind was helping the flag put on a good display.

Speaking of that flag . . .

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China opens in eight days. This means all sorts of things. One of those is that China may make it more difficult to use VPNs to get through the Great Firewall, which appeared to happen five years ago during the 18th National Congress. At least I was able to post a photo of bridge in Changsha while briefly commenting on my VPN woes.

Possibly related, over the past twelve hours or so I have had an unusually difficult time setting up a functional VPN connection. I also see chatter indicating some others are having problems as well. Whether this represents something broader connected to the upcoming National Congress isn't clear though. I will be saying more here about VPNs in China soon, assuming I can . . .

On a related programmatic note, if I am not able to use a VPN I won't be able to post from mainland China. So I will take this moment to say that if things soon go quiet here for an extended period of time, it is likely due to the Great Firewall extending its reach. Hopefully I will be back soon.

Now you know.

And bird.

Monday, October 9, 2017

End of National Day and Beginning of New Sales in Zhongshan

The eight day long holiday period in China combing National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival concluded yesterday. Today the Sun Wen West Road Pedestrian Street in Zhongshan was far less crowded then it was during the holiday. During the day small vehicles were permitted to use it, which made things a bit less pedestrian.

Sun Wen West Road Pedestrian street with small vehicles


The end of the holiday also meant the end of the related holiday sales, though a few persisted. But that didn't mean an end to sales. A number of stores now had Autumn sales, even though Autumn began over two weeks ago in the Northern Hemisphere and the temperature still reach over 90°F (32°C) daily in Zhongshan.

Autumn sale sign in Zhongshan


But for at least one store, today was the beginning of a Halloween sale on cosmetics.

sign for a cosmetics Halloween sale at a mall in Zhongshan


And the year goes on . . .

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A Visit to the Halo Cafe in Guzhen, Zhongshan

Today in Guzhen, a town in Zhongshan I will say more about in later posts, I unexpectedly saw a Halo Cafe.

Halo Cafe in Guzhen, Zhongshan


Since I had just mentioned two other Halo Cafes in a post yesterday, I felt compelled to take a closer look (and write this light post now).

inside Halo Cafe in Guzhen


Their menu lists a variety of drinks:

Halo Cafe takeout menu

Halo Cafe takeout menu


I went with a simple double espresso.

double espresso at Halo Cafe in Guzhen


Some will take issue with the cream (I also don't use sugar). But it looked like a double espresso. It tasted like a double espresso. And unless an incredible placebo effect was at play, it had caffeine. It cost 15 yuan (US $2.25), cheaper than then 20 yuan for a Starbucks double espresso.

According to the barista, Halo Cafe originated in Zhongshan and has spread to some other nearby cities, all in Guangdong province. I still had many unanswered questions, but I chose to leave him in peace. So I will just leave it at this for now. Well, except for one more thing . . .

In the outdoor seating area there was a claw crane game. These are very common in places such as shopping malls. I wouldn't have given it much notice, but this claw crane had an unexpected theme.

4th July crane claw


Happy Independence Day crane claw


I think it is only fair to ask why the American coffeehouse chain Starbucks can't show some similar spirit in China.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Halo Next to Starbucks in Zhongshan

For a change of pace from the "Starbucks Coeeff" store, here is a large Starbucks store with a sign spelling "coffee" correctly:

Starbucks and Halo stores at the Dasin Metro-Mall (大信新都汇) in Zhongshan


What more caught my eye about this Starbucks at the Dasin Metro-Mall (大信新都汇) in Zhongshan was its prominent neighbor — Halo Cafe, which also sells coffee.

Earlier the same day, I had notice another Halo Cafe at the Central Power Plaza (兴中广场) shopping mall.

Halo Cafe at Central Power Plaza (兴中广场) in Zhongshan


Their storefront sign has "coffee" spelled correctly, and there is rooftop seating. So at least the basics seemed in order. There is a Starbucks near this store as well but in another section of the mall.

I don't have more to say about this competitor for Starbucks in Zhongshan other than I haven't found any evidence it is connected to the Halo Cafe in Taipei (review in Chinese), the Halo Cafe in Dublin, the Halo Cafe in Kota Kinabalu, the Halo Cafe in Clinton, South Carolina, or any of the other Halo Cafes around the world I have just found online. Together, all those Halo Cafes offer quite a variety of food though.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A "Starbucks Coeeff" Store in Guangzhou, China

About a month ago when I visited the China Plaza shopping mall in Guangzhou, I saw that one of the two Starbucks stores there was under renovation.

Starbucks with "Starbucks Coeeff" storefront sign at China Plaza in Guangzhou


To my surprise, I soon noticed something far more remarkable about the store — its storefront sign.

Starbucks with "Starbucks Coeeff" storefront sign at China Plaza in Guangzhou
Mmm.... coeff


A new Starbucks store with "Grond Open" signs outside as I had seen earlier this year in Bengbu is one thing. A Starbucks store with "coffee" spelled as "coeeff" on its most prominent sign is a much bigger thing. And while imitators are easy to find in China, this isn't a case of a non-Starbucks store with a strikingly similar name or a fake sign for an empty store. Starbucks lists this store on their website.

So along with some other questions, I wondered "Has the sign always been like that?"

I knew I had taken photographs inside the mall before, so I did some digging. Fortunately for me, I had a useful photo from earlier this year. Fortunately for Starbucks, "coffee" was spelled correctly back then.

Starbucks at China Plaza in Guangzhou in March 2017
China Plaza, March 2017


Out of curiosity, I continued digging and found a photo from over five years ago.

Starbucks at China Plaza in Guangzhou in January 2012
China Plaza, January 2012


Even in this previous version of the sign, "coffee" had been spelled correctly.

But if the sign was spelled correctly before, how did the misspelling later occur? Was it the result of a prank? If the letter "v" had been available, would the sign be "Starbucks Covfefe" instead?

I don't know the answers to these questions. But I do know that when I more recently stopped by China Plaza I discovered the Starbucks store had reopened and the sign had been fixed.

Starbucks with "Starbucks Coffee" storefront sign at China Plaza in Guangzhou
No coeeff today


I will refrain from congratulating an American coffeehouse chain for correctly spelling "coffee". If Starbucks ever officially puts coeeff on the menu, though, I will be tempted to try it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Holiday Patriotism and Mooncakes in Zhongshan

Today at the Dasin Metro-Mall (大信新都汇) in Zhongshan there were patriotic signs of the ongoing National Day holiday.

patriotic flag and star display at the Dasin Metro-Mall in Zhongshan, China


Chinese flag at the Dasin Metro-Mall


Today is also the Mid-Autumn Festival. Like elsewhere in Zhongshan, the conjunction of holidays apparently inspired some "Buy One Get One Free" sales at the mall. Perhaps because of the overlap, I noticed just one sign which only mentioned today's holiday.

sign with "Happyiness mid-autumn festival"


Mooncakes are a popular feature of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Unlike last year, this year I have no sightings of Hello Kitty mooncakes or mooncakes for dogs & cats to share. I saw both of those in Macau, so maybe a short trip would have fixed that.

Instead, for some mooncake spirit here is a photo of an advertisement for mooncakes from Starbucks at Lihe Plaza in Zhongshan:

Starbucks ad for its Mid-Autumn Festival mooncakes


A single Starbucks mooncake costs 59 yuan (which at the moment equals U.S. $8.88 — how lucky). A barista pointed out it came in a fancy box which looks like a lantern. It isn't hard to find even pricier mooncakes for sale in China.

Or you could go somewhere like Walmart and buy tiny mooncakes for about 2 yuan (about U.S. 30 cents) each. The ones with black sesame filling and salted egg yolk aren't bad.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

National Day Sales in China: Buy One Get One Free at War Ground

As usual, National Day in China means . . . sales.

sign with "national day" printed with "NATI", "ONAL-", and "DAY" on separate lines


This year is a bit different in that the Mid-Autumn Festival happens to fall during the seven day National Day holiday period, which has been extended to eight days this year to accommodate both holidays. Some stores have played off the double holiday theme this year with variations of "Buy One Get One Free" sales.

For example, a New Bailun LP (Xinbailunlingpao) store I passed today in Zhongshan displayed a "Buy One Get One Free" sign.

buy one get one free sign at New Bailun LP


And so did a YG-Niubailun store nearby.

buy one get one free sign at YG-Niubailun


Both of these stores sell sneakers with logos remarkably similar to New Balance's — fascinating story there for another day.

Now I can't mention holiday sales in Zhongshan without bringing up War Ground - a military-themed clothing store. Two years ago, I noticed that a War Ground store in Zhongshan had a sale for International Women's Day. Later in the year, I saw that they also had a sale for National Day. Today I briefly stopped by the same store. The promotion there was toned down in comparison to two years ago, and I didn't see any explicit mention of the National Day holiday. But there was a red colored "Buy One Get One Free" sign.

buy one get one free sign at War Ground


You can decide whether this counts as a National Day sale or not. Perhaps they decided they could have a sale but it would be best not to mention the holiday directly. War and all that.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Clouds Over Zhongshan

Yesterday's clouds in Zhongshan caught my eye. Today for the same reason more did. So on this second day of the National Day Holiday period in China, below are eight photos of clouds which also capture a bit of life in Zhongshan and the variety of architecture there.

clouds over Zhongshan, China



clouds over Zhongshan



clouds over Zhongshan



clouds reflecting off a building in Zhongshan, China



clouds over Zhongshan



clouds over Zhongshan



clouds over Zhongshan



clouds over Zhongshan