It might be best known for its casinos, but Macau is also home to the highest commercial bungee jump in the world. On a recent visit from Singapore, George Horsington rolled the dice and took the plunge.
China is well known for its copies, be they copy watches, pirated DVDs or knock-off handbags. But one copy is bigger than them all – and better than the original. When the richest man in Macau, Stanley Ho, visited New Zealand, he was so impressed by the Sky Tower in Auckland, apparently, that he commissioned a similar structure to be built in the former Portuguese enclave.
The Macau Tower measures 338 metres from its gleaming metallic pinnacle all the way to the solid concrete pavement on the ground. But why am I mentioning these points from the top down, ending with the unforgiving and rock-hard surface at the bottom? Because, while Macau is a city of skyscrapers, neon lights, massive casino complexes and old Baroque Catholic churches, it’s also home to a record-breaking bungee jump – yes, from the Tower itself.
Standing two feet from the edge of the observation deck, looking out over the Pearl River Delta, and with the glitz of China’s greatest gambling centre far below, my palms were sweating. I could feel the bump, bump, bump of my pulse, as my heart responded to the stress of the height. I was about to jump off. I had done something my wife had told me never to do. All my senses told me that it was dangerous idiocy.
The night before, I’d taken the fast ferry from Hong Kong after a company training session, and checked into a cheap hotel off the gaming strip. The next morning, I caught a taxi to the deserted tower and took the ear-popping lift to the observation deck.
The Macau Tower is not for those afflicted by vertigo. Even the panoramic views through the floor-to-ceiling plate glass made me feel nauseous. Yet, a few minutes later, I was outside on the edge, on a stainless steel platform jutting out into space, 233 metres up.
A tall, dark haired, very tattooed Kiwi man was talking to me – pleasant banter about Singapore and his old job in Malaysia. He was amiable enough, but I knew it was all a cover so he could get me over the edge, and plunging down, in the shortest time possible.
Managing a bungee jumping company is all about process. You can’t forcefully shove the punters over the side of the building, but at the same time you don’t want them dithering and wasting your staff’s time. Queues and delays are bad for business. So you need the jumpers to make a series of small, harmless decisions in quick succession, which get them voluntarily and swiftly off into free-fall. A. J. Hackett in Macau has it down to a fine art.
Once you’ve paid the non-refundable fee of a couple of hundred US dollars, you follow the footsteps marked on the floor to the changing room, and put your worldly possessions into a locker; then you don the mandatory black Hackett T-shirt for the jump. Next, you are strapped into the harness, and weighed to make sure you get the right strength and length of bungee.
The girl wrote my weight on the back of my hand in black marker, rather as cattle are marked before they are sold to the abattoir. Then I was ushered into the jumpers’ waiting area beside the ledge.
At this point, every step had been fair and reasonable. Sitting on the deck next to the ledge, I felt the wind and doubts began to form. It was awfully high, and jumping off seemed awfully stupid. But I’d paid, and if I walked away I would have lost the money, wasted an entire day and squandered a whole lot of face.
So when I was called, I stepped forward to a steel chair not dissimilar to a birthing chair, where the bungee cord was attached to my legs. The endgame came quickly. The New Zealander asked me how I felt (duh!). I posed for a photo on the edge – A. J. Hackett is very well organised when it comes to photos and videos. I forced a nervous grimace onto my face, then the burly southerner counted down:
“Three, two, one…”
I felt the tug on my waist as the bungee was released. I leant forward with uncertainty and trepidation, arms feebly above my head like an unenthusiastic diver.
The weight of the catenary of the bungee took the decision for me. The slightest movement forward on my part, and, whoosh, gravity snatched me. The fear and excitement meant I fell slower than I expected. It was like being in The Matrix. I was so high up that the fall was almost surreal – the ground didn’t rush up. My senses were alert as I fell through nothingness.
Suddenly, I was bouncing on the rebound, trying to release the strap, which would set me upright rather than dangling head to the ground. The bouncing was very pleasant, yo-yoing up and down the side of the tower. I also felt exultant that I was still alive as I was slowly eased down to the ground.
At the bottom, as soon as I was unclipped, I rushed back to the lift to the top to see how much a second jump would cost. The second jump is half price on the same day, that is HK$888, but when I asked how long I’d have to wait, I found there were three or four jumpers ahead of me.
So I collected my certificate and the memory stick of the video of the jump, gathered my possessions and headed back down.
My leap had taught me that dreading something is worse than it actually happening. All my sleepless nights fearing the ledge, and whether I could go through with the jump, all the anxiety I had expended thinking about how high up I would be, and how terrible the sensation of falling was going to be, had been unnecessary. I could do it. I did it. (You can’t fight gravity.)
Within a week of the jump, I had handed in my notice and quit my job. If you’ve fought one fear, you may as well throw yourself into other unknowns as well.
Like this? Read more at our travel section.