20 January 2011

Killing time at Changi

It was only after I wrote those words down in my notebook that their sad irony occurred to me, as it was in the same area as this international airport that the atrocities of the infamous Japanese prison camp took place during the Second World War. The buildings and the events from that sad time couldn’t be more removed from the bright, glossy structures that now function so efficiently to move thousands of people each day from A to B.

Looking down at Tonle Sap
as I left Siem Reap
So, how did I kill my time at Changi? Well, my flight from Siem Reap arrived right on time at 15:40 local time and my flight on to Auckland didn’t depart until 21:15, so I had 5½ hours to burn.

I sampled some of the local produce – nothing fancy, considering the large selection of cuisines available – just a prawn omelette. It was light and delicious, if a little greasy. I was eating that when an Asian man, holding a baby and leading a toddler by the finger, approached and said something to me in a foreign language. The only word I understood was Kampuchea, but that was enough for me to realise that he had read the Khmer text (meaning ‘teacher’) on the back of the Globalteer t-shirt I was wearing. I apologised that I couldn’t speak Khmer and he asked in English if I had been to Cambodia. It turned out that he had moved from Cambodia to New Zealand 10 years earlier and now lives in Henderson, a suburb of Auckland – the words ‘small world’ come to mind! He said he wouldn’t return to Cambodia because of its government and we agreed that corruption was probably the biggest problem facing his native land.

A couple of minutes after he had wandered off, my neighbour from the incoming flight walked by, so we exchanged pleasantries. A Melbourne woman, she and her husband were going home after having enjoyed a week cruising the Mekong River, followed by a few days in Siem Reap. They were from the opposite end of the tourist scale to me, having stayed at The Raffles in Siem Reap, but it was interesting hearing about the river cruise – definitely something to add to my bucket list – I’ll never get it all done before I die!

Next, I walked. Changi is so big that you can get a free map to ensure you don’t get lost. From one end of terminal 3 to the other must be at least a kilometre, so by the time I had strolled there and back I felt I’d fulfilled my daily exercise quota. What else could I do? Well, I could have exercised in the gym, swum in the rooftop swimming pool, watched a free movie and, while eating, I had already enjoyed the pleasure of viewing a programme about sharks on ‘The World’s Largest 103-inch 1080HD Plasma Display’. There are a zillion shops – I am not exaggerating – to tempt the credit card, but I bravely resisted. The various lounge areas have positively luxurious seats to sprawl in but I resisted those too – didn’t want to fall asleep and miss my flight.

The passageways at Changi are decorated with exotic orchids, artificially blossoming cherry trees and lush, well-tended indoor gardens. There is even a waterfall feature. I sat behind it for a short while and, as it proved a popular object for photographing, I’m sure I must now appear in the background of many photographs around the world.

I tried playing ‘guess the nationality’ as I people-watched. There was a team of disabled Chinese sports players on their way to a tournament or games somewhere and, for a while, a group of 4 Japanese held my eye – they were obviously all deaf and conversing in sign language. The travellers in scruffy shorts, t-shirts and jandals were easy to pick – they had to be either Aussies or Kiwis. You can spot our relaxed, casual style a mile away. And talking about style, what is the current fashion-conscious traveller wearing? The business and first-class passengers were elegantly attired but, for the cattle class, jeans proved as popular as ever. And cargo pants were frequently to be seen – OMG, don’t tell me I’m fashionable?!!

At last, it was time to head to the departure lounge. On the way I noticed an Airbus A380 waiting for its Melbourne-bound passengers to board. I’d never seen one of these huge double-deckers before – I can’t imagine the technology required for them to get off the ground. It looks impossible for something so huge to fly like a bird.

The flight home was, fortunately, uneventful. I watched a movie, ate the mediocre supper they eventually served at about midnight, dozed a little, and talked to the elderly Finnish lady beside me, one of a group of retirees heading for a 2-week tour of New Zealand. In what seemed too short a time to move from the third world to the first, I was back on home soil – well, tarmac and concrete actually – finding this once familiar world very strange indeed and fervently wishing I was back in the magic kingdom.