“Shall we begin by taking a look at one of the restrooms?” the guide wonders. And so begins my tour of an airport that topped The World Airport Awards 2013 by Skytrax and—my feet will agree after having gone through lengthy reviving sessions at one of the many freely-available feet massage machines there—the Best Airport for Leisure Activities award.
With layover time to kill between flights from Bali to Kolkata, this felt like the right thing to do at the Singapore’s colossal Changi Airport. The Changi Experience Agent, Paul Lee, too seemed keen on guiding me around. Two hours later, we still hadn’t seen it all and my feet cried for a return to the ‘Grind & Knead’ mode of the massage machines.
We began, of course, with the loo. On the way to it, where men sought relief to the grand sight of flights taking off for distant lands, we stood at a small bridge overlooking a fish pond teeming with red- and white-koi fish, and stopped at the video game areas, invariably crowded with as many daddies as their wards. From there, the path led to the movie theatre where transit passengers catnapped in the dark confines as some intractable Hollywood sci-fi played on. Many more found a more comfortable, fully-reclined bed at a giant sleeping hall that hummed with a soundtrack of the tired traveller’s snoring.
In between, I quickly checked my email at one of the many free internet kiosks, though I failed to mail a Changi Singapore-framed digital photo to my sister in the US at the ‘send a photo’ machines. Children noisily worked the rides at multiple children’s arenas and mothers remained busy with newborns at the infants’ corner, while the cheerful tarmac-facing smoking rooms buzzed. Unlike the cramped, pariah spaces in most international airports, Changi’s smoking rooms are so well-appointed that it can encourage lighting up an extra cigarette. I ask. In response, Lee takes me to a terrace garden for smokers to study flight paths and aircrafts if they don’t intend to be at Changi’s informative Aviation Gallery.
The terrace garden is one of Changi’s many fascinating outdoor spaces—there’s a charming tulip garden, a garden-café of full-grown tropical trees and fountains, a swimming pool with a bar, and a butterfly garden. It’s almost evening and I spot just a few butterflies there, but marvel at the many pitcher plants waiting for their next carnivorous meal.
I took a quick train ride from the T3 terminal to another, gawked at Changi’s countless high street fashion stores and realised that it is but a microcosm of the Singaporean ethic of making the best out of available physical spaces. Lee has one more toilet to show me, our third, and one that, with its elegant interiors and ambient lighting, is an aesthetic salute to the taken-for-granted act of human biowaste disposal. “Toilets,” Lee mentioned, “indicate the culture.”