On Easter Sunday I took a train to Schipol then flew home to Singapore via Paris. Some observations along the way…
On the Train
The first train was delayed and so I had to reroute when I arrived at Münster. New train took me through Hilversum. Just before I got off, an American boy asked me if this was Amsterdam. “Are you going to the airport or the city center?” “I don’t know, I’m on a school trip.” “This is not Amsterdam.”
The next train had a lot of men wearing scarves. They all got off at one stop and I figured they were off to see a football game.
At Schipol Airport
First thought: This is a nice little shopping mall, but there must be an airport in here somewhere!
I arrived early, and dropped my bags off at the check-in counter, where they now have these automated boxes that weigh your luggage and print out your tags for you.
Afterward I went to sit down at a bench and read for a while since there was nothing else to do. The lights above were dimming and brightening rhythmically, maybe to discourage people from sleeping there, but nonetheless, an older man was sleeping nearby, with a trolley of suitcases. After about an hour (and an entire packet of chocolates) I saw him get up and walk off to a corner. Then there was an oddly familiar yet inappropriate smell, and a sound of water flowing. I looked up and saw him in profile, standing with the trolley, and a cascade of water coming from the front of his trousers. He turned around and caught my eye, paused, and then continued nonchalantly on his way. I looked around and realized that nobody else had seen this happen: the man opposite me was listening to his music, the woman behind me was facing the other way.
Later on I saw a man with a really big moustache.
At Charles De Gaulle Airport
Having never been to Paris, I was originally worried about how the airport would be but the experience was very smooth. The strange convex exterior of the building was weird though, making it look like a starship. Uneventful otherwise.
At the boarding gate, I saw that everyone ahead of me was being greeted in French: “Bon soir!” (attendant scans the boarding pass) “Merci!” Some travelers responded in French, while others mumbled in English. I decided to try the French. “Bon soir!” I replied, and she scanned my boarding pass. Then a loud beep from the scanning machine. Uh oh. Please don’t start talking to me in French, please don’t start talking to me in French…. She looked at me, “do you speak English?” “Um, yes.” “Sir you will be sitting at the emergency exit row; can you confirm that you will be able to assist the crew in the event of an emergency?” “Yes…” I’m fooling nobody.
Flight to Singapore
Boring flight, but I did manage to get through two movies, though I could barely hear anything over the engine roar, and could barely see anything on the tiny screen. Eating with knife and fork is also a challenge when one’s elbows cannot extend more than 5 cm beyond the width of one’s hips.
Finally the arrival approach. The person behind me opened the window just behind my ear (there wasn’t one beside me) and I turned back to have a look. Still just clouds, and a few ice crystals on the window. Descending now, the captain says. I look again, and we’re almost through the cloud layer, and the ice has melted to droplets of water. I see islands (Malaysia? Indonesia?) and the wave ripples on the surface of water. I wonder if one could estimate one’s distance by the smallest objects that one is able to resolve. If I can just barely resolve people, and I know the width of people… but what is the angular limit of resolution of the human eye? (1 arc minute, apparently) We continue descent and I see ships, some at anchor, and some sailing. One larger ship was going quite quickly, leaving a churned stripe of turbulent wash behind, but also the bow waves spreading out behind. The sun was at just the right angle in the sky to make all this visible. I could even see the wake from that ship being diffracted around another anchored ship.
How high are we now? In the distance, the Singapore skyline, and I can recognize the buildings. It seems we’re just beginning to level with them. Can’t be much more than 200 m, which is roughly the height limits for buildings here. I recognize East Coast Park, Marine Parade, Siglap, I know people who are in those buildings right now as I’m flying above… Changi, the airport perimeter road, I can see the pink blooms of the bougainvillea bushes lining the road, and we’ve touched down.
Back home again after more than a year.
Stepped out onto the bridge to the terminal building, and the humidity immediately hits me. Zip through immigration (great to be a citizen) and to the baggage belt (“odd-sized baggage will be on the odd-sized belt”), and I see my mother waving at me from behind the glass windows. Definitely back home.