Lion City: Layover in Singapore

Lion City: Layover in Singapore
Lion City: Layover in Singapore

After months of manic planning, with over eight different connections lined up by bus, train, and plane (all booked one-way), the day arrived for my departure from Tokunoshima for the Christmas holidays.

Though my nerves stretched taut as violin strings, I had to smile when the Lord granted me an auspicious beginning in a reminder of his covenant-keeping: A rainbow brightened the clouds as I waited for my first leg of transport, a bus to the island airport.

As I was flying to the southern hemisphere in the thick of winter, then stopping by in the mountains on the way back, I had packed for all climates. Even so, the first major shift in climate greeted me earlier than expected — at the airport in Kagoshima. From my semi-tropical island, we touched down in the midst of a snowfall!

From a full day of school to the bus to last-minute souvenir shopping at the island airport, I followed a short flight to the city with a shuttle to the train station. After collecting my ticket for the first bullet train the following morning, I staggered off to the commuter hotel situated just blocks from the station. A late night pizza place caught my eye; I ducked in to order a box of portable nourishment to sustain me for the next twelve hours. While the chef whipped up a three-cheese bianca, an Italian newspaper clipping framed at my table charmed me with an account of Italian restaurants in Tokyo (Italian does seem a favorite foreign cuisine here).

Armed with a piping hot pizza pie, I collapsed into bed with my bags still packed and ready for departure in just under six hours.

This itinerary, mad as it might sound, struck me as a substantial improvement over my usual 15 hours overnight on the ferry — impossible in this case, as I would never have arrived in time to catch my international flight from Fukuoka. Japan’s iconic shinkansen would shoot me to the Fukuoka airport in time… I hoped.

As it turned out, only the charity of the flight attendants delivered me to the gate in time. Though I caught the bullet train without a hitch, I arrived at the Fukuoka airport to find the line for security wrapping the entire perimeter of the terminal. I joined at the back of the line, speechless with amazement, only comforted by the sight of attendants trotting around with signs for an earlier flight hoisted on their shoulders. When it came time for me to board, they tracked me down and sped me through the express line in time to board. (“Please run!”)

Flying from Asia to Africa seems to necessitate 12 hour layovers somewhere. After scrolling through countless options, I had settled on Singapore, having it on good authority from internet forums that Changi Airport offered a world-class stay. Regrettably, COVID restrictions are still depriving us of the free city tour, so I struck out to explore alone.

First, though, there was plenty to occupy me in the airport itself. Butterfly garden, movie theater, spas, children’s carnivals, restaurants and shopping — ten hours wasn’t long enough to do it all. On the advice of the flight attendants, I made a beeline for the Jewel waterfall.

After a much-needed head and shoulders massage (my masseuse just shook her head when I loaded up my luggage again), I braved the metro for a ride to Gardens by the Bay. The city’s waterfront attractions boasted Christmas lights and flower gardens, but since the sun had long set, I settled for the enigmatically titled Cloud Forest.

After wrangling in vain with an ATM and luggage lockers, I won my way into a marvelous mixture of greenhouse, virtual reality, and Jurassic Park. Interactive exhibits reminiscent of the Museum of the Bible mingled with local flora on the route to the top floor. Then the path spiraled down past glass flowers and animatronic mythical dinosaur beasts, with displays themed after the new Avatar movie threading throughout.

animatronics at the Avatar-themed Cloud Garden

Both impressed and a little bemused, I wended my way from the exit to the mobbed taxi stand. Anxious in case I faced another backlogged security line at the airport, I peered into the back window of a cab rolling up and found it empty. To my astonished delighted, the driver waved me inside. “This is winter for us,” he informed me serenely as I peeled off my sweaters and collapsed panting into the backseat. My weather app had reported 80 degrees during the daylight hours.

It was 10pm when I presented myself for my 1am flight. The guard at the security gate scoffed cheerfully at my boarding pass. “Too early! Come back in two hours!”

Disgruntled, I made the best of my fruitless hurry by scouting for much-needed refuel in local cuisine. The airport offered a row of 24 hour “street food” carts, with a station for ordering by tablet. The Hainanese chicken vendor (#1 food recommended in Singapore) had closed down, to my exasperation, but it proved serendipitous. The kaya toast I resigned myself to purchasing instead more than made up for its unassuming appearance. Its sweet, creamy spread tasted thick like apple butter but with a mellow custard flavor that spurred my taste buds to applause.

When I reached my gate at last, South African accents lilted in my ears. The time showed 1 am — it was Christmas morning somewhere.

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