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Monday, January 28, 2013

Charmed by Changi

January 2, I leave Minneapolis, but the date is January 4 by the time I reach Singapore. My initial reaction is chagrin.  Because it is hours shorter than others, I've opted for Delta's flight from Minneapolis to Singapore,on my way to visit a friend in Indonesia:  I need to spend 30 hours and 23 hours in Singapore's Changi Airport this week and next, because my Delta flight does not connect with Singapore Airlines' semi-weekly flights serving  Indonesia, which in turn do not connect with semi-weekly flights to my next destination in India.

However, my friend has assured me that Changi is safe and user-friendly. She said to use the train to explore the three connected terminals, but I find more than enough to do in Terminal 2. And it's not long before the many ways to enjoy time in Changi win me over. There are plenty of the usual high end shops like Tiffany, Bulgari, and Gucci, for travellers for whom money is no object, more modest ones including kiosks, duty free and book shops, pharmacies, and a 7-Eleven, and plenty of freebies (Orchid and Sunflower gardens, hundreds of computers, movies, art activities, entertainment (this month's theme is 'Angry Birds'), a children's play area, foot massagers, convenient luggage carts, even a free two hour bus tour of the city) for the rest of us.

You can reserve and stay in a transit hotel (room with TV and bath, about US$13/hr in six hour blocks, or budget rooms at about $10/hour with bathrooms just steps away, but I notice people sleeping on several sofas circling palm trees in Singapore Airlines' transit area, and opt to stretch out there for awhile. I find a space near a group of young Americans travelling to an overseas English teaching assignment.  I sleep fitfully for an hour, but the area is all atwitter without letup as their number (seventy) and enthusiasm (they are meeting here for the first time) crescendoing until I wake again. A quieter, earnest latecomer who has already volunteered for several years introduces himself, and we compare my experience and travels while teaching and studying  in India years ago and since, with his, in more recent years.  A theater major, he is pensive about the direction which his future might take, but we agree that meeting people in their own milieu is one of the joys of travel.

I explore the terminal's central mall along with dozens of other transit passengers, pause to gaze at length upon the dozens of orchid varieties surrounding a large koi pond, and relax for awhile on the cool, polished granite platform surrounding the garden.

                                            Photos courtesy of the Changi Airport Group.
I take a photo for a bright eyed young couple who smile in front of the display, and head for what I am told is an excellent variety of restaurants upstairs.  I breakfast on masala dosai at one of the many ethnic restaurants--including MacDonald's--upstairs, but am less than charmed by the sea of common food court tables, indifferent housekeeping, and random service at this very early morning hour.

Having made a reservation for the transit hotel one week hence, I decide to check it out.  When I find out the price, and check out the transit lounge nearby, I cancel the reservation in favor of using the latter's a la carte services on my second time through Changi.  For tonight, I pay $8 for a shower, towel and spa soaps provided in a private shower-cum-changing room, thoroughly and quickly cleaned after each use. Too late, I notice that I haven't been given the towel, and am thankful I had the foresight to pack a hand towel in my carry-on luggage!  I brush my teeth along with others at a common sink area; several hand held hair driers await at a counter under another mirror.

Now it's time for another breakfast, brunch, or whatever-the-time-is-I'm-hungry meal.  I examine eateries near the children's play area on the mall level:  a Sushi buffet, Robin's Eggs, Sumo Salads, a mini French bakery, a regular restaurant allowing smoking, which is banned in most of the airport, and several others offering soups, noodles, sandwiches, all along a wall of glass overlooking the runway, a sports bar, and, beyond that, a smoker's room, Starbucks.  The latter two eateries appear to be where most 'westerners' congregate.  Noodle soup at Robin's is bland,  mostly noodles, but their 'egg tart'  in a puff pastry is food for the gods.  How anyone could match that delicacy of taste and contrast of textures is beyond me.

I watch the dawn as I eat two egg tarts, slowing down to relish the unusually  delicate combination of soft and crispy flavors and textures, and freshness....I am tempted to eat three.  Outside, an intermittent wind blows the top edges of a bank of clouds into tail-wing-shapes, then pair of giant 'cat's eyes'; the 'pupils' of which seem to move toward a plane waiting on the runway...a brief, subtle cloud show during breakfast.

Trying out other free activities, I watch big-screen National Geographic channel while folks nearby watch big screen sports.  I make a souvenir booklet of Singapore and Changi Airport icons by taking crayon rubbings of several raised wood-block-forms, using oversized paper from multi-ream piles nearby. I take a rather flattering picture of myself on equipment promising to send it as an email postcard, but my hubby tells me later it did not come through on his end.  Later on in the day, I sample one of Sumo Salads.  Sample is too modest a word for the generous portion, as I point out and tell the server which ingredients to add, til the container, set upon a small scale, reaches the salad's prescribed weight. Once again, I have to congratulate the vendor for a job well done...'never had such a great salad!  He smiles.

Still somewhat tipsy from the time difference between Minnesota and Singapore, I check my watch, and head for the  transit desk. The wheelchair assistant I requested has not appeared, and one summoned by the airline transit desk does not respond, so the agent kindly suggests that my gate is not too far to walk via the moving walkway.  I eye a motorized cart nearby, but am told it is only for airline personnel.  As I make my way to the gate, with plenty of time, but little energy, to spare, the cart passes with pilot and stewardesses on board.

The gate area even has a free computer, and there are more eateries nearby.  A sign next to the immaculate toilet room proclaims the amount of time it might take to walk to the next one. Except for the airlines' missing wheelchair service, most everything and everyone at the airport has been very efficient.  As I wait to board my flight to Indonesia, the sun is trying to shine through hazy clouds scudding over the tarmac. Rows of bamboo and pine line a road on the other side of the tarmac, make a pretty setting. I find myself actually looking forward to spending more time in Changi Airport at the end of the coming week.

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