Macao consisted of little more than an amusement area, the casino, the fort and Portuguese residential area. Flat apart from a slight rise toward the center, an ancient Catholic church was set there. The streets and squares were cobbled and surrounded by very old colonial house with wide porticoes and shuttered windows. My imagination easily ran to seeing the houses brightly painted, ladies in crinolines and men in their top hats. Macao had a real atmosphere of bygone times so different to the bustle and clamor of Hong Kong and its throngs of Chinese. Everything that made money seemed to flourish, the local police and government didn’t seem to care, but made sure it took its share in taxes.
Seeking some entertainment, that evening we went to the Casino. I expected something of the style and ambiance of Monte Carlo that I had seen in so many films. How disappointed I was. It was dirty with brown, fly blown walls and furniture, enormous spittoons into which the Chinese hawked constantly, smelly and noisy and full of a mixture of the affluent to the miserable poor, all cheek to jowl seeking their fortunes, the Chinese are frenetic gamblers. We had no aspirations to spend all our time gambling, but were interested in trying our hand. After studying the games, Sic Bo, a form of roulette but with three dice and Fan Tan, a simple betting on the remainder left out of a pile of buttons when counted out in fours we made our play. At first we won and attracted a following, but as the games were clearly rigged the house soon won most of it back.
Ferry Back to Hong Kong
Returning next day to Hong Kong, we treated ourselves to a 1st Class passage and traveled in style. On returning we were soon back at Stanley. I think we were the only squaddies from the Battery who had ever made it to Macao. We had not heard of any before, and none went on our return. None either had applied for any leave. Presumably we were the enterprising ones.
Return to Life at Stanley, Guards on New Years Eve
Having had Christmas off duty it was inevitable that Ian Styles and I spent New Years Eve on guard. At least at midnight several of our Sergeants turned up with a bottle of whiskey so that we saw it in properly. My wish for 1951 and the New Year was that I would see the end of the Army. And it did come true.
The Volunteer Centre
The new year brought a great find in Victoria, The Volunteer Centre. A club run by the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force – the local TA, in the style of an English gentlemen’s club1 for most of the ‘volunteers’ were unattached Brits working in the colony. In the Volunteer Centre they had imported to Hong Kong the kind of place available to them in London. Being of this nature and rather exclusive it did not attract the ordinary squaddy, and that was part of the attraction to us, it was a haven to get away from them.
At the Volunteer Centre we were always treated equally as “gentlemen”. We made it our regular rendezvous when in Victoria and by the end of our stay we ere welcomed and treated by the Steward and staff most favorably. They also had a good bar where after a meal and a visit to the cinema we came back to a late evening occupation enjoying a night cap before returning to Stanley. Over time our goal was to drink our way down the list of cocktails offered. Most of us could hold our liquor or we learned soon enough. But more important, how pleasant it was to sit at a properly laid table with linens and cutlery, have a wide choice of eatables and be properly served with good food in relaxed and tasteful surroundings. How different it was to the cookhouse and Cheero Club.
- Gentleman’s clubs were private places that were designed where men can relax and create friendships with other men. A club provided everything a regular home would have such as dining halls, library, entertainment and game rooms, rooms for sleep, bathrooms and washrooms, and a study. ↩