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April 05, 2006

Singapore
What the Hell is Wrong With Me?

Here comes a bunch of place names. I'm not making any of them up.

I flew out of Gulung Mulu yesterday and landed in Miri with no idea how I was going to get to Bandar Seri Begawan for my flight the next day. I found a cab driver who was willing to take me. He had wirey, cat-like whiskers growing from moles beneath each eye. After a mutually unenthusiastic negotiation we settled on a price of just under $70 for the two hour drive, but first we had to stop by his home so he could switch cars and grab his passport.

I Sudoku'd my way across Brunei, lamenting only slightly the lack of effort I put into seeing the strange little country.

Overslept and arrived late at the airport this morning, then realized I'd thrown out my ticket. To get a reissue, Royal Brunei Airlines requires you to go in person to the police station and fill out a report.

For real.

With five minutes until the plane began boarding, I threw a tantrum and demanded an alternative. They proposed buying a brand new round-trip ticket and refunding it on arrival in Singapore.

Done. Got on the plane.

Now here I am in Singapore, ticket refunded. I have five days until my flight out of Bangkok to Dubai. I want to go to Laos and dance with some Buddhist monks. I've heard tell of a place called Luang Prebang. It's difficult to get to in the time I have, but possible.

I could pick where to spend my layovers; Singapore, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Vientiane. That decision is easy. I just want a comfortable place to sit and write, and for that, nothing beats Singapore.

Then I think; why even leave the terminal? Changi is one of the finest airports in the world. Swimming pool, free movie theater, orchid garden. I am for want of nothing.

I'm struck with a small epiphany. The distinction between Singapore and its airport is a minor one. The entire country feels like one very large departure lounge; spotlessly clean, no distinct smells, climate-controlled, no one is poor, lots of shopping, no real culture, pleasant enough for the moment, but not a place you want to stay very long.

This makes sense. The city was founded to be a gateway. It is between places, and somehow immune to the realities of true placehood.

In the midst of my cute observation, a much bigger one hits me.

I like being in airports.

I like it a lot. I'm sitting at a mural window watching a thunderstorm wash over tailfins; Qantus, Garuda, Emirates. I can go anywhere from here, because I am nowhere. I have only what I can carry, and that's enough. I'm in transit.

Transit.

And for as long as I remain this way, I'm okay. When I stop moving, that's when problems catch up.

But this isn't right, is it? Surely this is not the way it should be. Airports are soulless, antiseptic. Why am I at peace here? Why am I only happy when I'm going somewhere?

I don't know. I suppose, looking at myself from afar, the question itself is fairly obvious.

What is this guy's deal?

But it's only just occurred to me. It took 49 flights in twice as many days for me to notice. This is abnormal. Abnormal, maybe, in a bad way.