It was Christmas Eve, and we had embarked on what I call our "Last Changi Holiday of 2010", thus titled because we spent a lot of time at Singapore's Changi Airport enroute to other destinations.
But we didn't mind at all. In Skytrax's World Airport survey conducted last year, the airport won two major awards - Best Airport and Best Leisure Amenities. Truth be told, Changi is first on my list of airports, too, because the immigration counters never have queues, and there's plenty happening to keep Calvin, our feisty eight-year-old, and us occupied for hours on end. Besides, hanging out at Changi doesn't cost a thing, unless you count duty-free shopping.
For example, take the Orchid Garden and Koi Pond, a gloriously landscaped oasis of bright, darting fish and riotous blooms right in the middle of the departure lounge in Terminal 2. Calvin discovered the garden in April, and has visited it on every single stopover since, taking time to sniff at the displays of dendrobium orchids, his favourite, and the curiously named Vanda Miss Joaquim, a hybrid that is Singapore's national flower.
Calvin and I love shopping for chocolates at Changi. My husband takes advantage of this to skulk off unnoticed and enter his name in the numerous raffles the airport always runs (he's going to win the next one and then live like a sultan, he's been saying ever since our first Changi stopover many moons ago) .
While the airport has a variety of great restaurants, we always pop by the scrupulously clean Food Gallery upstairs for generous bowls of noodle soup, salapao (oversized steamed white dumplings with savoury fillings that our child would happily live on if I let him), and endless pots of jasmine tea.
On our last visit, we discovered something new beside the Koi Pond - a long table laid with wooden stencils, stacks of paper and bowls of crayons. Calvin went wild. Within minutes he had a steadily growing pile of art beside him. He was soon joined by half a dozen children and a bent Chinese woman who was at least 80 years old but managed to effortlessly turn out one perfectly executed stencil after another. Calvin befriended her and, despite not speaking a common language, they soon had an animated conversation going.
Later, about 15 minutes before we had to report to our designated gate for the flight to Bangkok, our final destination, we wandered upon Changi’s pièce de résistance – an enormous slide at one end of Terminal 3. Four storeys high, the Slide@T3 is the tallest in Singapore, and Calvin stared up at it, full of wonder, while we gently dragged him away, checking our watches and making pointed comments about missing our flight.
“It’s OK, Mum,” said Calvin, following us out of the fun zone. “I know we’ll be here again when we’re flying back to Abu Dhabi, so I’ll check it out then. Also, I have a date with Grandma Li at the stencils that afternoon.”