Airports: love them or hate them, they are a necessary part of expat life. If, like me, you have an unfounded fear of missing a flight, then you’re destined to spend an inordinate time at the airport looking to be entertained. And so many airports fall short of this goal. The shops are dull, the food offerings are depressing and there is little else to do apart from jostle for position near to a power point so that I can spend time on my device without it running out of battery. But Changi Airport is different.
It surprises me that, with airports being the first experience of a country, some are so unwelcoming. There are certain countries that seem to actively look for ways to make you feel that you shouldn’t be there! The queues are unbearably long and are followed by intrusive cross-questioning as to why you should be allowed into the country. I answer the questions as politely as I can, all the time while running an internal monologue about how I’d rather be home if I didn’t have to work/see family/visit friends/pass through.
Occasionally, my answers or my attitude haven’t been good enough and I’ve been banished to a “secondary” customs room where phones are banned, officials seemed loath to do their job, and I know that my connecting flight will be leaving without me.
And then there’s the blissful Changi Airport. From the moment I arrive in Singapore, I feel a zen calm descend. Everything seems effortless, especially Arrivals where I sail through automated gates using my thumbprint and find myself getting indignant if my bags haven’t arrived within five minutes of the carousel whirring into action. I also love Departures, not just for the shopping, but for the gardens, beauty rooms and entertainment. I really didn’t think my Changi experience could be topped. Until Terminal 4 opened.
This brand new addition to the airport is a glimpse into the future. From the automated check-in machines dotted around like robots to the funky kinetic artwork inspired by the orchid petal dangling from the ceiling, it is spacious, high-tech and fun. Within ten minutes of checking in, I’d been taught how to make a mojito cocktail, sampled Singaporean craft beer and discussed whiskies with knowledgeable staff. Feeling slightly tipsy, I meandered into the main body of the terminal to be amazed at the stunning shop displays – in particular, the TWG store; it looks like an artwork itself with over a thousand tea canisters stacked seven metres high.
But nothing tops the Heritage Zone, a row of colourful Baroque and Rococo shophouse replicas at the far end of the departure hall. Covering the entire back wall from floor to ceiling, the ground level shops offer local foods and souvenirs; and every half hour the upper floors are lit up with a mini digital theatre show depicting a touching Peranakan love story, so real that I initially thought it was a live show. I watched it from one of the achingly cool chairs dotted around the terminal and felt in airport heaven.
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