I am travelling to the other side of the world for a month, to catch up with extended family. It is my first long haul flight in 20 years. In the intervening period I have crossed the Tasman to New Zealand numerous times, the three hour flight a walk in the park compared to what I am about to undertake: three separate flights, two lay overs and a bus from Heathrow (London) to West Devon to reach my first destination. A total of 33 hours door to door.
I may have been easier on myself but couldn’t resist the considerable saving of flying dollars if I was prepared to traverse the globe dog leg fashion (considering the amount of time it has taken to get over the jet lag I am now not so sure!). This time I am flying solo, leaving the two males that constitute my immediate family behind.
A lot happens in 20 years. Firstly, technology. I Skype my family from Singapore’s Changi airport, giving them a virtual tour as I walk around, laptop placed in my open palms like an offering. I interrupt a typical Sunday night dinner of Thai chicken noodle soup back home.
Second big change I experience is the availability of services. At Changi I book myself a ‘nap room’ in The Haven for three hours which comes with a shower, a meal and access to a private lounge where one can watch TV, read newspapers from around the world, graze on snacks and hot drinks. http://www.thehaven.com.sg/
I reluctantly leave my nest of a room which I have ransacked when my time is up. I had rearranged the furniture to greedily stake my claim on the tiny carpeted space for a yoga session. Next: legs perpendicular up the wall aided with cushions and bedding in the hope to alleviate some of the swelling (support stockings worn under my jeans came to no avail).
Changi Airport is a metropolis these days. A light rail connects the three massive terminals. There are football fields of geometric designed carpet, vertical gardens with tumbling water features, little forests of orchids and ferns set up for the sole purpose of having one’s photo taken in front of them.
I know I am a long way from home when I visit the Butterfly Garden at the airport. http://www.butterflyhouseconsultancy.com/changi-airport-butterfly-garden.html
It is home to 47 species. The wing span of the biggest specimen is 30cm. Volunteer Jimmy Quek, a septuagenarian, is my guide. It is warm and close in this menagerie of tropical plants and fluttering delicate creatures. 32C and 85% humidity Jimmy informs me. My wool blend zip up jacket is superfluous on my mini forest walk and ends up tied round my waist. All this for free, before one clears Immigration.
I notice that Jimmy has some fancy walking shoes on – big round discs are attached to the sole and heel of each shoe. I imagine being able to leap across the moon’s surface wearing them. He tells me that they are to alleviate his back problem and that he has to walk up to six hours a day.
Jimmy volunteers his time to the Butterfly Garden four hours a week. A spry, cheerful ambassador for Singapore airport.
I prepare myself mentally for the next leg of my round the world pilgrimage: thirteen hours overnight to Zurich Switzerland.
As I queue to board my flight I surrender to the monochrome existence of transit, feeling cocooned in limbo, not fully functioning, saving my energy for emotional reunions at the end of the line.