Serpent Across the Mekong: Day of the Sign Banning Durians on Public Transport

My molded plastic seat hurtles sideways at 50 miles an hour. What passes for countryside in Singapore — carefully tended simulacra of jungles, housing blocks painted vaguely sinister shades of pastel with posters proclaiming “RACIAL HARMONY FOR TOTAL DEFENSE” (this being Singaporean code for “BE HAPPY OR I’LL KILL YOU“) — pass behind the head of the youngish Chinese office lady tapping away SMSes opposite me on her Hello Kitty-encrusted mobile, perfectly round glasses (but, not, thankfully, the moustache) robbed from General Tojo’s grave, complexion of a peach that ought to have been thrown out a few days ago and bouffant Kimjongilesque haircut enhanced by a constellation of expensive prohibitions, from flammable materials to stinky fruit, plastered on the wall beside her. A hypnotic spray of dots near the ceiling (1 center hole, 4 around it at the compass points, multiply by three to 12, shift and repeat 12, shift and repeat 12, shift and repeat 12, end) audibly advises us in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil to press the Emergency Communication Button if we see anything suspicious.

Imagine Changi Airport as a cluster of fire engine red water-filled balloons, quivering in the tropical heat, pressurized dihydrogen monoxide squirming for release from its plastic confines. Shortly after station CG1 “Expo”, the Kawasaki Heavy Industries/Nippon Sharyo C751B segmented steel bullet punches its way underground with a WHUMPP, first heading due north, then curving 90 degrees to pass under runway 02L/20R and then — we enter Matrix bullet-time here — squarely impacting into Terminal 3, which implodes in slow motion with a PLOOSH, showering rain on all sides, as the train punches a hole on its way in and, within seconds, punches out. The train is now braking for CG2 “Changi Airport” (an eerily distorted “All passengers please disembark” announcement plays in the background), but it still retains enough motive power to poke about one carriage length (23 meters) into Terminal 2, which punctures with a less convincing PHLUMPP like punching a fat kid in the abdomen and, Newton’s laws being in effect, disgorges its load of water towards the offending object.

A last pitter-patter of drops and we return to real time. Only Terminal 1 and the pathetic shrunken little brown lump of the Budget Terminal, hanging from the deflated remains of T2 like a colostomy bag, remain intact, if wet. I have chosen my seat in carriage 5 of 6, which positions me next to the up escalator into T3, where I trek past the orchideous Crowne Plaza and board the Changi Airport Automated People Mover System. A Mitsubishi Crystal Mover on the PMS(*) North route B-C Landside beeps its way to Station B, and I board and take the front seat facing the Emergency Escape Hatch, staring ahead through the plexiglass at three parallel tracks diverging to lurk into and sneak around Terminal 1. (*) Yes, it really is called the “PMS” in bureaucratese.

In the interest of narrative continuity, Terminal 1 fails to implode on arrival at Station C. I obtain a near-rectangular piece of cardboard at check-in desk, insert a rounded piece of plastic and an opposable digit into the appropriate orifices of the Enhanced Immigration Automated Clearance System, take yet another escalator to the Commercially Important Passengers level (always a depressing reminder of why airlines value me) and enter.

Changi’s Thai Airways lounge has undergone a welcome refurbishment since my last visit here. It’s been afternoon for a while now, but they’re still serving breakfast, including specimens labeled “Smoked salmon butter lettuce sandwich” and “Chicken mayonnaise butter lettuce croissant”, and I sample both before realizing that “butter lettuce” is not a meltingly smooth cultivar of Lactuca sativa, but two separate ingredients.

Outside, T1 is being refurbished for the third time since 2003, wiry little Bangladeshis in dusty blue overalls nipping their heads out from partitions covered in meaningless slogans selling an Exciting, Vibrant and Enjoyable Changi Experience(tm). This time, they’re ripping out a perfectly functional ceiling and rebuilding it again a little higher up.

At gate. Boarding starts.


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