We arrived in May or June of 1981, so it must have been one of the last flights touching ground at Paya Lebar. I remember nothing of it.
I do remember Changi Airport.
We flew to the Netherlands three times, but we also went on holiday to Sri Lanka, Bali and the Philippines. My father travelled a lot, and we often went to see him off or pick him up from the airport. When we arrived in Singapore in 2011 I did not remember the arrival hall, but I dimly recognized the hibiscus and palm tree lined road in front of the terminal.
The light bulb did not go off until I spotted Changi's airport traffic control tower.
I knew Schiphol's air traffic control tower always felt a little off. A bit squashed, the ball on top not quite round enough, the colours a tad beige. I chalked it up to rose-tinted memories. But as it turns out, it was just the wrong tower.
The next time Man Tamtam, Blondie and I went to Changi, I recognized the carpet. I don't think the design has been changed in the last thirty years.
I feel comfortable at Changi. It is, of course, the world's best airport, but then, Schiphol usually scores quite high as well on those lists. And I never feel at home at Schiphol (mostly, I feel like leaving).
When I walk through Changi's hallways, there is residue of good feeling swirling around, a wake of half-forgotten feelings of excitement to pick up papa, memories of the big bunches of purple orchids he would bring for mama and the up-ended ice cream cones in the shape of clown faces called 'San Francisco' that I always used to get. Once we got to the car I used to climb all over the back seat (this is the era before seat belts), curling up on the floor behind the driver seat, or lying horizontally across the back.
One time we picked up my father after I had gone swimming, and I was all huddled in a big terrycloth towel. It must have been evening, and I was rosy and everybody was happy, and the car windows were open so there was a breeze and that warm Singapore smell.
My mother tells the story of how she lost me at Changi, because I was transfixed by women in beautiful saris and had followed them down the hallway and around the corner. "You've never lost that love of colour and sparkle", she says, shaking her head.
When we left Singapore to go back home in 1984, of course we left from Changi. My mother had gotten me a long-sleeved hibiscus pink dress, made out of terry cloth. I remember admiring myself in the mirror of our Singapore hotel room, wondering when we would go back to our own house. I think I wore the dress on the plane, to keep me warm.
I don't remember wearing the dress ever again.