Old churches, temples, and other religious sites

One thing Carolyn and I really enjoy doing when we go places is exploring sights that are a) old, b) free, and c) of a religious nature. Neither of us is very religious, but it’s pretty amazing how good humans are at architecture and engineering when they’re divinely inspired. We’ve wound up exploring the churches of New York City in the midst of a shopping trip. Our day trip to Macau turned into a trail of Catholic churches left by the Portuguese explorers half a millennium ago. I fully expect every stop we make in Europe to include at least one church, and probably more than a few classical era temples, too. For today’s post, I thought it would be cool to compile some pictures of old churches, temples, and other religious sites that we’ve visited over the years.

Mission San Jose - San Antonio, Texas

Mission San Jose, one of Spain’s old missionary outposts from the conquistador days.

The interior of St. Augustine's Church.

The interior of St. Augustine’s Church.

The beautiful interior of St. Laurence's Church

The beautiful interior of St. Laurence’s Church

A golden Buddha statue inside the temple building.

A golden Buddha statue inside the temple building.

Wong Tai Sin Temple, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Wong Tai Sin temple,


St. John the Divine - New York

St. John the Divine – New York


Macau - St. Dominic's Church

St. Dominic’s Church, smack dab in the middle of the historical district.

Macau - St Laurence Church exterior

The exterior of St. Laurence’s Church.

Macau - Ruins of St Paul's

The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church are Macau’s most iconic site (other than the Grand Lisboa, perhaps).

Macau - Igreja da Se

Inside Igreja da Se

Macau - Inside St Dominics Church

Inside St. Dominic’s.

Wat Chalong Complex

Wat Chalong Complex

Wat Karon, a new temple in Karon.

Wat Karon, a new temple in Karon.

Wat Chalong is a stunningly beautiful temple complex

Wat Chalong is a stunningly beautiful temple complex

Sensoji Temple pagoda

The temple and pagoda at Sensoji are beautiful old structures in a super modern city.

Incense smoke filling the air in Wong Tai Sin temple.

Incense smoke filling the air in Wong Tai Sin temple.

Wong Tai Sin Temple with apartments, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Inside Wong Tai Sin temple.

Kinkakuji Temple - The Golden Pavilion

Why do they call it the Golden Pavilion?

Ginkakuji - The Silver Pavilion

Ginkakuji Temple – the silver pavilion.

Gwanam Temple

One of the oldest temples in Korea, on Mt. Gaya

One of the oldest temples in Korea, on Mt. Gaya


Pura Batur - Bali

Pura Batur – Bali


Caldo Verde – a hearty green soup perfect for a cold night

I’ve watched almost every episode of Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations at this point. It’s like comfort television for me. I think that a T.V. show can become comfort television in one, specific way. You have to be sick. Really, really, sick. Like, too sick to get up off of the couch. For me it gets even worse, because certain specific episodes become invaluable panaceas that are somehow comforting on a bad day after that.

Anyhow, what I’m getting at is that a few years back I was sick. Really sick. With the freaking flu. A coworker had thought it was funny to cough in people’s faces after returning to work from his bout with it, and what do you know, fever, cramping, vomiting, terrible. I was home for four days after seeing a doctor. I spent those four days curled in a tiny ball on my tiny IKEA couch watching TV, and two episodes of No Reservations became instant-feel-better TV. The episodes talked about the local foods of The Azores and Osaka.

I guess Mr. Bourdain has a special affinity for Portuguese cuisine, as he’s worked alongside a lot of Portuguese immigrants. Portuguese cuisine was even a central point of his episode featuring Macau, and as you might have noticed, we did our best to find a little restaurant in a colonial building selling Portuguese food when we visited. The one thing we didn’t order that I knew we should have was caldo verde, the traditional Portuguese soup involving Kale, potatoes, garlic and various proteins depending on whose grandmother is cooking it for you. It was just too warm out for soup.

After our flight back to Korea, we bought a ton of vegetables to make up for our sins in Hong Kong and Macau, and we just so happened to have kale. We made a soup, and it was pretty good, but it didn’t take us long to discover that we were two ingredients short of a caldo verde, so literally the next night, I tried again. Now, we looked at a few recipes on the interwebs, but they’re all kind of different, and I have a way that I like to do things when I make a soup. I’m not Portuguese myself, but this caldo verde kinda tasted like what I would have expected to get in Macau. At any rate, this is my caldo verde, an easy to prepare green soup that will warm you up from the inside out on a cold night. Did I mention it was cheap?

The Primate’s Caldo Verde:

Buy this stuff:

  • Four large kale leaves – vein and mince these
  • Four garlic cloves – minced
  • Two large carrots – diced
  • Four stalks of celery – sliced
  • One medium onion – diced
  • Two medium potatoes – diced
  • One can butter beans, drained
  • 2 cups chicken stock (I guess vegetable stock if you want it to be vegetarian)

The chopping, dicing, cooking, and stuff

  1. We’re going to get all the vegetables ready to go before we turn on the stove. Get to mincin’, dicin’ and drainin’.
  2. What the hell do I do with these leaves? It’s simple. Cut the vein out, roll them up tight like cigards, and slice them like you would a whole carrot. The thinner you slice, the better, and I’m going to suggest going ahead and rotating your cutting board 90 degrees and just kinda chopping the hell out of the resulting pile of what looks like freshly cut grass. The smaller the better. You don’t want long chunks of kale slopping up against your chin, do you?
  3. Get some oil heating in your soup pot, and toss in your garlic until it’s light brown.
  4. Add the celery, carrot, and onion. Okay, so this is pretty French, but I really love the way a mirepoix (the combination of celery, carrot, and onion) gets a strong aromatic flavor going for a soup. Let this saute for just long enough to get a little bit of a sear on the edge of the carrots, and until the onions are translucent.
  5. Add the potatoes. Saute until they get just a tiny hint of gold on the edge.
  6. Add chicken stock, and then cover everything with water. Bring this to a boil. Salt and pepper to taste, because at this point it’s going to be kinda bland and vegetable-y.
  7. You can let this cook until everything is nice and tender. Need to vacuum? Cool. Video games? That would work too. Just give it a stir every once in a while.
  8. 10 minutes before you want to serve, add the kale. Stir it in, don’t just let it float on top. It’s going to take a few minutes for this to get tender. Your soup should be quite green. Check the flavor again, the kale has a strong flavor and you might want to add more salt and pepper.
  9. 5 minutes before you want to serve, add the beans. They just need to heat up. Once it’s all back to a simmer, serve it up.

This soup is filling, hearty, and tastes great, but wait, there’s more! It’s even better on the second day! You know what would make this more amazing? If you tossed some Portuguese chorizo in the soup, and served it with some quijo fresco on a hot piece of bread, this would be a perfect meal.

Hong Kong Macau Holiday: Visiting the oldest edge of Western Civilization

Turbojet Ferry Macau

The Turbojet Ferry, a cheap, cool way to get from Hong Kong to Macau and back!

To Macau!

We woke up a little earlier than normal, had our cup of coffee to go, and made our way down to Hong Kong’s Macau Ferry Terminal. There we bought two tickets for the Turbojet Ferry to Macau for $163HK each. The ferry ride was smooth and fast, and more like flying than a boat. I was pretty impressed. I could travel like this more often, honestly. Why a day in Macau you may ask? Well, I’ve wanted to go to Macau for a while. Even since before this happened.

Macau is the world’s biggest gambling destination, but it wasn’t really the high rollers we wanted to see. We wanted to see the old Portuguese colonial architecture, the churches, and the menus of the restaurants.

Macau Chinese New Year Decorations

Macau - view from Ruins

Macau has such a cool mix of colonial and ultramodern and stylized architecture.

Macau - street sign and colonial architecture

Cool street signs in the historical district.

Macau - street scene

Macau’s narrow streets seemed to be either crowded, or completely empty.

Macau - street crowds

Macau’s main avenidas were clogged with humanity.

Macau - city view from fortress

From the fortress you could see apartment buildings of all shapes, colors, and ages.

Macau - Apartment buildings

Macau’s apartment buildings are weathered and gruff. It really does look like a Johnnie To movie.

Macau - Grand Lisboa from Mountain Fortress

The old Mountain Fortress had a great view of the iconic Grand Lisboa casino and hotel.

Macau - Avenida Ribiero

The Macanese were preparing for Lunar New Year when we arrived. Gung Hay Fat Choy!

The cityscape of Macau

Macau is honestly everything I expected out of Kowloon. Apartments feel like they’ve been dropped right on top of each other. The old European looking wrought iron work on the balconies clashes with the Chinese characters on the signs. The streets are incredibly narrow. Traffic is mostly delivery vans and motorbikes. In the historical district, the streets were so crowded one could barely move because the newly rich Chinese mainlanders have money to spend, and Macau has plenty of places for diamonds and gold. A few blocks away you could hear a bird crap from 100 meters away because it was so quiet. It seemed to me that Macau is really a city of contrasts. Additionally, the way the buildings are laid out, walking the narrow streets wasn’t that different from being in a tunnel. You could hear people walking a block away, or the engines of approaching vehicles, and have no idea which direction the sound was coming from. It was amazing.

Macau - Macanese Egg Tarts

A delicious Macanese delicacy. Egg tarts.

Macau - Pork Chop Bun

The much lauded but kinda underwhelming Pork Chop Bao. I did get an adorable keychain with this though.

Macau - Portuguese Fresh Cheese

Portuguese fresh cheese, where have you been all my life?

Potato and meat cakes. Lovely.

Potato and meat cakes. Lovely.

Macau - Portguese Chorizo

Chorizo cooked tableside. Hello.

Macau - Portuguese Chorizo Slices

Same chorizo, all sliced up.

The Grub

Macanese grub is kind of an edible history of the Portuguese explorers. There’s straight up Portuguese cuisine, there is Chinese, there are foods influenced by Malaysia and India, really anywhere the Portuguese went before they arrived on this tiny rock off the coast of China. We tried a couple of Macanese standards. The egg tart was buttery and fatty and wonderful. Every bakery in the historical district has these, and I’m pretty sure you needn’t look too hard to find them fresh out of the oven. Another food we saw everywhere was the pork chop bun, a deep fried pork chop served on a bun, bao style. It was good, but not the pork goddess I imagined it would be.

The big surprise for me was Portuguese cuisine. We decided to go tapas style when we arrived at the restaurant because we both wanted to try a few items and the appetizers were really inexpensive. The Portuguese fresh cheese was salty, crumbly, and delicious. The meat and potato cakes were fluffy clouds of meat and potato. The cuisine is simple, and I think simple is often the best way to eat. The highlight of the show, and I mean show, was the chorizo. When we ordered it I expected a sausage. It arrived at the table on a grill placed into the back of a ceramic pig. The server lit the whole thing on fire and we watched it burn, char, and crackle until she plucked it off at just the right moment and sliced it up onto a plate in front of us. Delicious isn’t the right word…but I don’t know how to modify it strongly enough without profanity. That was one good chorizo.

I got a surprise smooch from this beautiful lady!

I got a surprise smooch from this beautiful lady!

Macau - Ruins of St Paul's

The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church are Macau’s most iconic site (other than the Grand Lisboa, perhaps).

Macau - St. Dominic's Church

St. Dominic’s Church, smack dab in the middle of the historical district.

Macau - St Laurence Church exterior

The exterior of St. Laurence’s Church.

The beautiful interior of St. Laurence's Church

The beautiful interior of St. Laurence’s Church

The interior of St. Laurence's Church.

The interior of St. Laurence’s Church.

Macau - Inside St Dominics Church

Inside St. Dominic’s.

Macau - Igreja da Se

Inside Igreja da Se

Churches and Cathedrals of Macau

So about a million and a half years ago, the Pope created an arbitrary line of demarcation that decided what the Spanish and Portuguese could claim as theirs, because hey, they were the best explorers in the world at that time. The only bit in the Americas on the east side of that line was Brazil, which is why they speak Portuguese and the rest of South America speaks Spanish. My hometown is literally the host to like ten Spanish missions. Maybe not ten, but a lot of them. I looked it up. Five. Whatever. I’ve never been to a Portuguese one. Well, Macau was Portuguese until 1999, and the island is dotted with Portuguese churches and cathedrals. Carolyn and I, though not Catholics by any means, and definitely not church people, somehow always end up sitting in churches admiring the construction and ornate woodwork, carvings, statues, and all of that stuff. I think it’s almost as foreign to her as the Hindu temples in Bali and Buddhist temples in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Korea are to me. I grew up visiting the old missions in San Antonio and find the Spanish church style a bit familiar, and the Portuguese style is all at once very similar and very different. Ha. Same same, but different. There is a subtle difference, a lesser contrast in the artwork, a flatter appearance on the paintings, a more subdued expression on the faces of the statues. I don’t know. I’m not really an art expert or anything. All I know is it was cool to be in these churches.

You know what makes it cooler? I’ll tell you. Standing on the steps of the ruins of a church, seeing the Ionic columns on the facade that survived from Ancient Greece, the beginning of Western Civilization, on a church built by explorers and Jesuit priests five hundred years ago right here on the doorstep of China. It’s one of those places where you can feel the history. It was once the freaking bleeding edge of our whole civilization. That edge might be rusty and dull now, but it’s still there. That. Is. Amazing. That’s why Macau is totally worth a visit, even if you don’t set foot inside a casino.

Hong Kong Macau visual diary: exploring the history of the explorers

Today we mustered all of our courage and convinced ourselves to be intrepid and leave Hong Kong for the day. We woke up, stopped for coffee and a pastry, and then headed down to the Hong Kong – Macau ferry terminal to make a day trip over to Macau. If you’re not familiar with the history and geography of the region, I’ll keep it short for you right now and just say it was a Portuguese colony that was the first and last European colony in Asia. It was returned to the People’s Republic of China in 1999 but has a special economic status and self governing deal like Hong Kong. It’s the world’s hottest spot for gambling, too. Anyhow, we headed over there this morning and ate made our way through the historical district visiting the old Catholic Churches that dot the city. It was pretty amazing. After we finished our walking tour we headed back to Hong Kong for dinner at a restaurant recommended by Mr. Anthony Bourdain on an episode of The Layover. Details forthcoming.






















Fly Away Friday: Macau

Last night as we were laying down to go to sleep last night I wondered out loud “what should I write about for Fly Away Friday tomorrow?” Carolyn pointed out that this week is my birthday, so I should do something fun and suggested Las Vegas as a destination. I think that might be against my own self-imposed rules for Fly Away Friday though, because I’ve been there, albeit only once for a trade show, and I was broke as a joke so I didn’t get to see or do anything super cool. Alas, I’ve been there so I can’t write about Las Vegas today.

Macau Tower by Jack Zalium, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  Jack Zalium 

My brain immediately set to work trying to think of a place similar to Las Vegas in the “sin” category and very quickly my brain ended up in Macau. You know, the old Portuguese colony that was finally handed over to the People’s Republic of China in 1999. It’s a special administrative region, so you don’t have to get a $200 tourist visa (it’s pretty expensive for Americans to get into China). It’s a huge gambling destination for high rollers (which I am not) and seems to have a lot of really cool architecture and nightlife.

Macau 071 by Roller Coaster Philosophy, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Roller Coaster Philosophy 

I find Sino-Portuguese culture to be pretty exotic, I mean on one side you have the Chinese culture that is thousands of years old, and on the other you have the Portuguese who were some of the first mariners to successfully reach far-flung places on the planet. So there’s an interesting cultural mix, casinos, and oh yeah, it’s still China so there’s all sorts of temples and such to see. Sounds like a good mix to me.

Macau 067 by Roller Coaster Philosophy, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Roller Coaster Philosophy 

So there you have it. If I could fly anywhere today for my birthday weekend bash, it’d be Macau. I’d like to sip expensive cocktails in bars atop skyscrapers and be a sleazeball in dark clubs at night (with Carolyn, of course) and a camera toting tourist during the day. Doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend a birthday, does it?