city slicker Macau

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The Independent Culture
From 9 to 31 March, the southeast Asian Portuguese enclave of Macau hosts its 7th Annual Arts Festival. Not to be confused with The International Music Festival, in October, which is when all the famous acts play. The Arts Festival is considered a mainly local event, which means plinkety-plunk Cantonese opera, chamber recitals, am-dram theatre and school orchestras. But such is the dearth of culture hereabouts, this is still a hot ticket

Top acts: The organisers have managed to attract musical groups from Mozambique and Portugal, and even the Prague Festival Ballet. But real entertainment has got to be at gigs by the local police band or the exhibition of photographs about the airport.

Favoured venues: Public squares like the Senate Square, the Cineteatro, Dom Pedro Theatre and other halls. Probably not the Macau Forum, where the clientele are a discerning lot: when T'Pau played here, at the height of their short-lived fame, they came on after the local bands' support act only to find everyone had gone home.

Post-concert nosh: The Fat Siu Lau has been going donkey's years, but unless you desperately crave greasy fried pigeon give it a miss. The outlying islands are the places to be - either down Food Street on Taipa or at Fernando's on Coloane, where the man himself will talk you into eating curried crab or grilled giant prawns.

Other entertainment: Gambling is what the enclave is all about and there are casinos everywhere, from James Bond-style hotel gaming halls to the rather more rudimentary Floating Casino, whose impassive, constantly spitting clientele put the phlegm in phlegmatic. If you prefer betting on beasts, there's also a horse-racing stadium and a dog track. Or, since the Chinese place gambling second only to breathing, you'll be able to get odds on those two flies on the window.

Quickest way to lose your money: Go into a casino, but given that you can afford a flutter, steer clear of the one-armed bandits (known locally as "hungry tigers",) and ferociously competitve blackjack tables and try one of the Chinese games. Dai-siu ("big, small") is the easiest to grasp: the croupier shakes three dice and keeps them covered while you place bets on what the dice show. At its most basic, you bet on "big" (total number above 10) or "small" (below 10) - rather like hitting red or black, odd or even, in roulette.

Where to stay: Imagine if Liberace had been an architectural consultant and Danny La Rue had been brought in to do the interior decor: what you'd have is the Hotel Lisboa, a glittering multi-storey orange drum with portholes, replete with casinos, bars, restaurants, shops, cash machines for eager punters, the cheesy Crazy Paris floor show and a sauna.

Nightlife: Gambling aside, there isn't any. Rave is what the locals do when they lose at blackjack and you're hard pushed to get a drink outside a hotel bar. The Black Ship is the only real pub in the centre, though for a walk on the wild side try Pyretu's on the outskirts, where the African rhythms assume a new and more interesting meaning with the passing of every virulent cocktail.

Best cake: At the Pastelaria Caravela, a spot-on recreation of a Portuguese pastry shop/cafe, stuffed into a back-alley amid cheap noodle shops. Grab a cup of Asia's best coffee and dig in.

The colonial life: There's still three years yet before Macau gets handed back to China, so there's plenty of time to book into the Bela Vista, savour lunch on the terrace and then slip into the Clube Militar for drinks and dinner. And it still being part of Portugal, there's no tax on the vintage port.

Further details from the Macau Tourist Information Bureau (0171-224 3390)