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My 27-Hour Vacation in Singapore’s Changi Airport

Beneath a giant glass dome, where a waterfall plunges 130 feet through a forest, and a winding path leads past palms and fig trees, orchids and anthurium, a robot came rolling around a bend.


It was about five feet tall, and cruising my way. In its frame were shelves of bottled water and, with a lilting voice, it encouraged passers-by to grab a drink. Delighted, I obliged. Alas, the robot didn’t stick around for small talk — and neither did I. It was time to cross a Sky Net suspended more than 80 feet in the air.



So began my airport vacation.


Before you recoil at the thought of an airport holiday, let me explain. This is no ordinary airport. It’s Singapore’s Changi: part theme park, part futuristic pleasure dome. And while an airport is typically a limbo — a swinging door between where you’ve been and where you’re going — Changi is the rare airport that invites you to stay.


Indeed, it’s so inviting, that while planning a trip to Southeast Asia, I suggested to my husband that rather than just transit at Changi, we stay overnight. The plan was to spend 27 hours taking advantage of its dazzling attractions. I could idle in the rooftop Sunflower Garden; watch butterflies in the tropical sanctuary; get lost in the Mirror Maze; zoom through a tube slide; and explore indoor “walking trails,” as verdant as any found outside. Never mind airplanes. Changi’s website reads like a brochure for an all-inclusive resort: free movies in 24-hour theaters, retro arcade games, light-and-sound shows starring the soaring waterfall spilling from an oculus in a roof.


The back story


Last year, more than 65.6 million passengers passed through Changi. That put it among the top 20 airports in the world for passenger traffic, cargo and aircraft movements in the latest World Airport Traffic Report from Airports Council International, a trade association. Yet as busy as Changi is, for the last seven years air travelers have voted it the world’s best airport, according to Skytrax, the London-based air transport rating organization. This year, Changi upped the ante by opening Jewel Changi Airport, a glass-and-steel shopping and entertainment complex accessible to travelers and locals alike.

去年樟宜机场接待了逾6560万旅客。在行业组织国际机场协会(Airports Council International)发布的最新《全球机场客流量报告》(World Airport Traffic Report)中,樟宜机场跻身全世界客运、货运与飞机起降量的前20名。根据总部设在伦敦的航空运输评级机构Skytrax的报告,虽然如此繁忙,过去七年里航空旅客依然将樟宜评为世界最佳机场。今年,樟宜进一步加码,开放了星耀樟宜机场,一座面向旅客和本地居民的玻璃钢铁结构购物和娱乐综合体。

While more airports are introducing diversions besides upscale shopping and eating — like the opening this year of an infinity edge pool and observation deck at the TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City — none have pushed the envelope as far as Changi — and Jewel is the latest evidence of that. Yes, there are fashionable restaurants, shops and bars. But there are also eye-popping gardens and whimsies that wouldn’t be out of place in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory: Animals made of bright flowers; a field where children can play amid fog that rises from the ground; a glass-bottomed bridge; a hedge maze with blooms that snap closed before you can stop and smell that they aren’t real.

越来越多的机场增添了除购物和美食之外的消遣项目,比如纽约约翰·F·肯尼迪国际机场(John F. Kennedy International Airport)今年开放的TWA酒店就设有无边际泳池和观景台,但没有哪个机场能像樟宜这样推陈出新。星耀就是最新的证明。没错,里面有时髦的餐厅、商店和酒吧,但还有惊艳的花园和像是威利·旺卡(Willy Wonka)的巧克力工厂里的新奇事物:鲜艳花朵制成的动物、地面会升起雾气的儿童游乐园、玻璃地面的悬桥和繁花盛放的树篱迷宫,里面的花朵会突然合上,不给你机会驻足嗅闻,发现它们不是真花。

It’s a far cry from what we normally think of as an airport. More than a century ago, The New York Times reported that an aviation pioneer named Alberto Santos-Dumont had “coined a word.” The year was 1902 and the word was airport. Eventually, airport would be defined in Merriam-Webster as “a place from which aircraft operate.” Yet airports are not just physical launching pads. They are psychic ones, too. While waiting to board, the mind takes flight. It’s this enforced pause, when the mind can wander and reflect, that is one of the unsung benefits of air travel.

它和我们通常概念里的机场相差甚远。一个多世纪前,《纽约时报》报道名为埃尔贝托·桑托斯-杜蒙(Alberto Santos-Dumont)的飞行先驱“发明了一个词”。那是1902年,那个词就是airport(机场)。最终,韦氏词典将机场定义为“飞机运行的地方”。但是机场不仅是物理上的起飞坪,还是心理上的起飞坪。候机时人们的心灵会起飞。这被迫的停顿,让人可以出神和反思,这是飞行旅程被埋没的好处之一。

So what happens to a traveler when an airport is a high-octane destination unto itself? I checked into the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport (named the world’s best airport hotel for the fifth consecutive year, according to Skytrax) to find out.


Sunrise check-in


It was 7 a.m. when I arrived at the Crowne Plaza, which I chose because, despite being in a terminal, the hotel feels a bit like a tropical resort. (This was, after all, a vacation.) There’s an outdoor pool and lounge chairs, wood decking, islands with palms. You can practically swim up to some rooms. Open-air hallways flanked by reflecting pools let in the Singapore heat and lend a sultry atmosphere. And the hotel’s location next to a bridge to Jewel means you can walk right into Changi’s latest draw (though it’s worth a Skytrain ride sometime for a close-up of the waterfall). Since my flight was arriving in the morning, I’d arranged to pay an additional fee (160 Singapore dollars, or about $118) to check-in early, so there was no wait for the room. (Those who wish to stay right inside Jewel may want to give the nascent Yotelair a try.)


A morning stroll around Jewel


After unpacking I headed over to Jewel, which its architect, Moshe Safdie, described in Architectural Digest as a kind of “mystical paradise garden.” Standing on a viewing deck amid its tall trees and thousands of lush shrubs — the waterfall pouring right through the building — you can’t help but be enchanted. I marveled at its inventiveness, scale and beauty. Visitors wearing backpacks and wheeling luggage stopped to pose for photos, the falls hissing behind them like a newfangled Niagara. When sunlight hit the water just so, there was even a rainbow.

放下行李之后,我出发前往星耀。它的建筑师摩西·萨夫迪(Moshe Safdie)在《建筑文摘》(Architectural Digest)里说,它像是“神秘的天堂花园”。站在观景台上,被参天大树和数千棵茂密的灌木环绕,瀑布穿过建筑飞流而下,会让你忍不住陶醉其中。它的新意、尺度和美丽都让我惊叹。背着背包和拖着行李箱的游客都会停下摆姿势拍照,瀑布在他们身后发出嘶嘶声,就像是一座新潮版的尼亚加拉瀑布。阳光照到水上,甚至还会出现彩虹。

As with all wonderlands, though, there’s a fine line between fantasy and dystopia. Looking around, it isn’t hard to imagine a future in which everyone lives in domed cities in temperature-controlled, never-ending summers. Signs refer to “trails” that you can “hike,” as if Jewel’s smooth, clean floors are rugged arteries through the wilderness. The trees and shrubs around the waterfall have a corporate name: the Shiseido Forest Valley, after the Japanese beauty company. The waterfall is officially known as the HSBC Rain Vortex. And it’s surrounded by stores and restaurants, allowing a visitor to keep one eye on the jungle-scape and the other on the latest fashions at Calvin Klein — or the queue for Shake Shack. The result is a staggering display of artificiality and nature, with lights that can turn a waterfall crimson, or make it seem as if you’re dining al fresco under a starry sky.

不过,和所有的奇境一样,幻想与反乌托邦只是一线之隔。看向四周,不难想象一个所有人都住在穹顶城市里的未来,里面四季恒温,夏天永不落幕。标志指向可以“徒步”的“走道”,星耀平整干净的地面就好像穿过荒野的崎岖要道。瀑布边的树林和灌木丛有商业冠名:资生堂森林谷,即那家日本化妆品公司。瀑布的官方名字则叫汇丰银行雨漩涡。瀑布周围是商店和餐厅,让游客能够一边欣赏丛林景色,一边在Calvin Klein的商店里留意最新的时尚,或到Shake Shack餐厅排队。由此产生的是一种人工和自然的惊人展示,灯光可以将瀑布变成深红色,或让你感觉自己仿佛在星空下就餐。

Beneath that sky, on Jewel’s tree-lined top floor, is Canopy Park, where we went to try theme-park style attractions (standard tickets for adults start at 5 dollars): mazes, slides and the Manulife Sky Nets, one for bouncing, the other — the one I would soon choose to follow — for walking.


Late-Morning balancing act


“Just don’t look down,” my husband said.


Reader, I did. Far beneath my sneakered feet were the tops of people’s heads and I instantly imagined falling through the net into the display of acrylic boxes at the Muji store below. I gripped my husband’s arm while a woman who looked to be about 70 bounced past us, hands in the air, grinning and waving at a little girl not far behind.


Eventually, I made it back to terra firma where I realized that land-based activities, like the Mirror Maze (for which I’d been given a foam noodle to tap the space in front of me as a way to avoid bumping into a mirror) were more my speed. Indeed, while Cirque du Soleil-style recreation is novel and fun (ahem, for some), Changi is at its best when it conjures something of the spirit of its home, of Singapore, the polished “city in a garden.”


Green, blooming spaces — cactus, water lily and orchid gardens; ponds alive with koi; Jewel’s indoor forest — beckon with flowering plants, palms and water flowing over rocks into pools and ponds. The soothing sound of water is one of Changi’s most delightful features. Even in Jewel, while flitting from store to store, at some point you become aware of a quiet roar. Turn in its direction and where you expect to see yet another string of dazzling shops, you find instead that the wall has fallen away and in its place is an opening to another world: that massive waterfall splashing through a garden, a fine mist spraying up from the valley below.


We followed the waterfall below ground, riding an escalator to the basement levels of Jewel, where the water barrels through an immense clear column encircled in part by tables for nearby eateries. A couple on a bench were chatting, facing the falls, as if in a park. Others were snapping photos of children as they pressed their palms to the column between bites.


Lunchtime restaurant-hopping


With award-winning restaurants and specialties from Singapore and throughout Asia (Singaporean cuisine from Violet Oon Singapore; hotpot from Beauty in The Pot), we treated lunch at Jewel like a cruise ship smorgasbord. A friend who lives in Singapore joined us for dim sum (prawn dumplings, shredded chicken spring rolls, barbecue pork buns) at Tim Ho Wan, an outpost of the Hong Kong-based Michelin-star winner (even so, it’s surprisingly affordable). Afterward, it was on to Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta, a branch of the first ramen restaurant to receive a Michelin star, where we had the Shoyu soba; followed by raw milk, soft-serve ice cream from Japan’s Icenoie Hokkaido; and “botanical gelato” in flavors like white chrysanthemum (imagine the taste of flower florets and cacao nibs) from Birds of Paradise.

星耀有着许多获奖餐厅,可以品尝到新加坡和亚洲各地的美食(Violet Oon Singapore的新加坡菜;美滋锅[Beauty in The Pot]的火锅)。我们在星耀吃午餐时,就像是在游轮上吃自助餐一样。一个住在新加坡的朋友和我们一起到添好运吃点心(虾饺、鸡丝春卷和叉烧包)。这是一家总店位于香港的米其林星级餐厅(即使如此,价格之实惠还是让我意外)。之后我们去了日本荞麦面餐厅茑,这是第一家获得米其林星的日本拉面餐厅的分店,我们吃了酱油荞麦面。然后我们吃了日本的Icenoie Hokkaido的生乳软冰淇淋,还有Birds of Paradise白菊花口味的“植物意式冰淇淋(想象一下小花和可可粒的味道)”。

All afternoon we browsed regional snack and confection stalls as if we were at a street market. At Rich & Good Cake Shop, known for its Swiss rolls, a sign said that “due to overwhelming demand and limited stock,” each adult was allowed only one item. Of the small boxes, the sole remaining flavor was durian, a fruit with a smell so pungent, that it’s not allowed on public transportation in Singapore. Meanwhile, over at Irvins Salted Egg, maker of salted egg-flavored treats, almost everything was sold out, though I managed to procure a bag of salted egg potato chips (8 dollars) that I later discovered regrettably lived up to the brand’s “dangerously addictive” tagline.

整一个下午,我们就像逛马路集市一样流连于地方小吃和甜品摊位。以瑞士卷出名的裕佳西饼店(Rich & Good Cake Shop)里有个告示牌写着:“由于供不应求,备货不足”,每个成人限购一件。店里小盒的只剩下榴莲口味,但由于气味过于刺鼻,这种食物不允许带上新加坡的公共交通工具上。与此同时,在制造咸蛋口味零食的Irvins Salted Egg那边,几乎所有商品都已经售罄,但我还是成功买了一包咸蛋薯片(8美元)。不久后,我后悔地发现,这个品牌标榜的“有上瘾危险”所言非虚。

The evening show


Evening came quickly, and with a puff of mist from above, the first of the free nightly light and sound shows at the Rain Vortex began. We joined the scores of visitors slipping out of stores and leaning over balconies, smartphones at the ready, to watch the waterfall try on a kaleidoscope of colors and projections set to rousing music. Perhaps more impressive than the show is the fact that an enormous waterfall can be controlled as if it were a kitchen appliance. Something about this might niggle at the back of the mind as the hours go by. Your animal instincts — initially numbed by Jewel’s astonishing landscape — prick up, and you begin to feel restless, for you know that while there are plants and trees, there’s nonetheless a ceiling between you and the sky.


Dinner, drinks and late-night shopping


After the show, under cafe string lights on Jewel’s top floor, we had dinner at Tiger Street Lab. I enjoyed flatbread with shrimp, guacamole and mango salsa, as well as a half pint of Singapore’s Tiger Beer, while intoxicated by the sweet scent of the boneless coffee pork ribs (deep-fried and coated with caramelized coffee sauce) by Keng Eng Kee Seafood. Locals, too, come to the airport to eat, socialize and, as another friend living in Singapore pointed out, study, thanks to free air conditioning and Wi-Fi.

演出结束后,在星耀顶层的咖啡厅灯串下,我们在Tiger Street Lab享用了晚餐。我品尝了配有虾、鳄梨酱和芒果莎莎酱的面饼,以及一杯新加坡虎牌啤酒,同时还被琼荣记海鲜餐厅的无骨咖啡肋排(油炸并包裹着焦糖化的咖啡酱)的甜香气味所陶醉。当地人也会来机场吃饭、社交,还有正如另一个住在新加坡的朋友指出的——学习,这要感谢这里的免费空调和Wi-Fi。

We followed dinner with a passeggiata past the glow of gift shops like Naiise Iconic (the Singapore-based store where you can buy books about the city, home décor, and knickknacks like luggage tags) and Supermama (another Singapore-based design shop with crafts such as porcelain plates); Japanese retailers, including Tokyu Hands, where I snapped up designed-in-Japan stationery; and global behemoths like Apple, which offers a “photo-walk” in Jewel for those who want photo-taking and editing tips for capturing the surrounding architecture, gardens and Rain Vortex.

晚餐后,我们漫步走过散发着柔光的礼品店,例如Naiise Iconic(新加坡本地商店,在这里你可以买到关于这个城市的书、家居装饰,还有行李牌等小物件)和Supermama(另一家新加坡本地设计店,出售如瓷盘等手工艺品);日本零售商包括东急手创馆(Tokyu Hands)——在那里我抢购到日本设计的文具;还有像苹果专卖店这样的全球巨头,它为那些想捕捉建筑、花园和雨漩涡影相的人开设“照片漫步”的服务,提供拍照和编辑的指点。

An encore before bedtime


As night settled in, we found ourselves under wire-mesh clouds twinkling with Swarovski crystals for the evening’s second sound and light show. Too beat to cap it off with a movie, we strolled back to the hotel and slept soundly in the shadow of the Changi Control Tower.


I barely heard the planes gliding by overhead.


Morning reflection in the gardens


It was the grandeur and hyperreality of Jewel I was most looking forward to when I first arrived for our Changi vacation. Yet after much wandering around the waterfall, in and out of stores and mazes, over and under lookouts, beneath the sprawling dome, I had begun to feel as I were being swallowed. In the mood for a little less razzle-dazzle, I found it in the gardens sprinkled throughout the terminals. These are Changi’s intimate breathing spaces, home to big fish and small scenes of tranquillity.


In the Sunflower Garden, a young man with a backpack walked among the stalks. In the Orchid Garden, an old man was resting beside a pond filled with koi. On a little bridge over the water, a couple embraced. Each garden has a sign or two with facts about nature or Singapore’s culture. One in the Sunflower Garden tells of how sunflowers may be used, including in the production of fabric and paper, paint and cosmetics. In the Butterfly Garden, I read about metamorphosis, from egg to imago.


This leading-edge airport, home to robots and a Rain Vortex, is also home to the simplest of delights: sunlight, flowers (most of them real), flowing water, and here and there, a tree to sit under and daydream. In the final hours before my flight, walking beside Sago palms in the Cactus Garden, I passed a young woman stepping out of her sneakers to lie on a bench with a book in the sun. Above a pond in Terminal 3, a man held his smartphone so that a child on the other end of the line could watch an orange fish swim. In Terminal 2, a girl showed her mother a woodblock print she made at a public art station. Here, waiting feels like living.


Stay too long, though, and you risk sensory overload, or worse, taking the place for granted. And that would be a shame, for the airport is a gift to travelers. Changi even offers free tours of the city to visitors staying for less than 24 hours if there are at least five-and-a-half hours before their connecting flight. But for those who don’t have time to leave the airport and see Singapore proper, Changi’s gardens and playful attractions are the next best thing. All that’s required is a willingness to embrace the fantasy.

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