Photo credit: Wu Min
It is time to leave now. Bags are packed, passport checked, and a jacket slung over your shoulder for the flight. Around you are familiar sensations – the feeling of the ground beneath your feet, the smell of home and the touch of the people whom you love. All of which you are about to leave behind.
Under the fluttering sounds of the giant split-flap display central at the departure hall, you look up at the rows with names of distant cities. These names are vague in your memory, as places that you may have recognised are from the news, or off pages of a geography textbook. Today, these cities become closer to you as destinations of people who will take off from the same runway. You spot your destination and your flight, feeling both nervous and delighted. In one column are the hypnotic glow of green bulbs to accompany the words “LAST CALL” and “GATE CLOSING”, luring and inviting plans for the next journey. You have the world in front of you, limitless in possibilities and with open skies.
The word “leaving” is so bittersweet. It signifies a new beginning, a fresh start and a departure from the old and familiar. It precedes an arrival to another land and another life that awaits. At Changi Airport, the passenger movement ebbs and flows. The airport is a place of transience. But the meaning of transience takes on a different dimension in an airport like Changi. From the day the first flight lifted its wings from the runway, Changi has never been the same.
Changi has always been bound for the future. With every visit, Changi would have departed from the old to embrace the new. In every century of its existence, the airport starts afresh with new coats of paint, new slabs of concrete, new facilities and attractions. Still fresh in our memories is the marvellous water fountain in Terminal 1, streaming threads of water encrusted with gold light. From the ceiling, the falling water looked as though it was floating upwards. This fountain, for many passengers about to take flight, delivered elegantly a poetic revelation. Today, a mechanical counterpart has replaced this work of art. The “Kinetic Rain”, a new art installation with golden “raindrops” rises and falls to mesmeric rhythms. They synchronise to create elegant forms that amuse and wonder. There are times when one can get lost in the dance of these “raindrops”. But with the sight of the steel wires, one is reminded how the “raindrops” are merely puppets to a simulacra of nature.
Charged with new experiences and stories of adventure, you have finally returned. We have heard of your new friends, the new flavours that you have tasted and the new language that you speak. But most endearingly how you have missed everyone here. The automatic sliding glass opens as you wheel your baggage through the exit gate. The thick humidity of the Singapore tropics hits you like a warm blanket. Welcome home.
From being an alien and an outsider, you are back alas, as son-daughter of this country. At Changi airport, families and loved ones reunite. Travellers once in transience are grounded again. You return to cherished memories – of how our parents brought us for a treat at the Swensens Restaurant during a weekend, how we used to mug for our ‘O’ Levels together watching planes take off from the runway.
Do you remember the first time we flew together, how I held on tightly to your hands as we took off? From the humble background that we were from, I had never dreamt of the day that we might fly. Given these wings of steel, our bloods curl and freeze when we hear of angels shot down from the sky.
Same-same but different. Year after year, you have been at the top. You are amongst the best in the world and bearing the load of an ever-growing volume of passengers. “Super connectivity”, they call it. Unavoidably, to accommodate millions of passenger coming by, expansion is the way to go. From a very utilitarian Terminal 1 completed in 1981, followed by a regale Terminal 2 in 1989 and finally a state-of-art Terminal 3 in 2006. Have we arrived? The Budget Terminal has made way for Terminal 4, “Project Jewel” – a complex to connect all terminals is in its conception. Blueprints for Terminal 5 is already on its the way.
Time and again you left and you returned. We will remember every one of those moments here at Changi Airport before and after your flight. Perhaps not with our conscious attention, constantly shortened by this quickening pace of life, but with photographs that extend through time, devoted to keeping our memories alive.
Wherever our ultimate destination may be, these memories will help us to begin all over again.
Written by Samantha Tio
Edited by Tan Wei Keong