insomnia in the singapore international airport
| My eyes were bloodshot and glazed over like a seventh grader on pot. As I lethargically trudged down the walkway, I received countless blank stares and dirty looks. To be honest, I may have been a bit stoned, but purely on sleep deprivation and jet lag. For the last thirty hours I had been on and off airplanes and in and out of countries, airports and consciousness. For the next eight hours I would be stuck in Singapore International Airport.
I had been here once before but only for an hour to catch a tight connection to Kuala Lumpur. It was now 12:30 A.M., which was God only knows what time back home. What was left of my sanity screamed in my ear like an obnoxious alarm clock. I should have had at least two nights sleep since my departure. Illuminated signs for American fast food restaurants, and various bars and smoking lounges lit the corridors. Naturally, these were the only open establishments at this hour. A neon blue and yellow sign hanging from the ceiling caught my eye. “Movie Theatre” it read. A cheesy American movie with half the screen taken up by subtitles sounded refreshing after the last two hours of attempted conversation with a sullen Malaysian bartender who comprehended generously half of the words from my mouth. I plopped down in a stiff “cushioned” chair and stared at the huge screen as I drifted into an even deeper state of comatose. Leprechaun in the Hood was the big feature tonight—a true American classic. The room was dark and empty save for a young Asian couple spooning on the ground with a “complimentary” airline blanket draped over them.
As exhilarating as Ice-T and a leprechaun puppet drinking hard liquor and mercilessly killing truly were, after about an hour, I felt that this enormous network of terminals and closed shops surely had more to offer me. Foreign takes on American clichés were quite entertaining. On a surprisingly long horizontal escalator on its way to nowhere in particular, I passed football shaped “sports bars” and McDonalds restaurants serving rice patties and whole chickens. It was approaching 5:00 at this point, and I figured I owed it to myself to see at least one Malaysian sunrise in my life. I walked out a subtle side door with blatant bright red characters above it. I guess “exit” signs transcend language.
The first step I took out the door, I was greeted by an intense blast of hot, dank air. I’m glad I didn’t stay to see what the weather was like in the middle of the day. The rising sun cast an eerie glow over the makeshift garden that surrounded me. Dozens of thin crooked light poles, which appeared to be superimposed from a Tim Burton storyboard, were scattered around the plot of land. The only real life to be seen were eight-foot high walls of ivy and novelty sized sunflowers. Hundreds of glowing yellow sunflowers. The looming sun, now orange as an overripe tangerine, created hundreds of stretched out shadows, each with a dozen perfectly symmetrical points, just like the huge flowers. These shadows covered virtually every square inch of the pavement and beds, though each one was somehow distinct. Even the ivy was reflected onto the earth, and created its own elaborate maze of optics. I reached in my bag to grab my old manual Ricoh, and in the process, incidentally gazed at my watch. My flight boarded in a half hour. I frantically zipped up my bag and ran through the terminal to catch the plane.
Perhaps it was for the best that I didn’t have time for a picture. Pictures only render memories concrete. They only take the imagination out of recollection. Film captures reality, and reality is not always the most moving sight. Maybe this sunrise and unique effect of shadows and light was in fact an everyday event. Maybe it wouldn’t look as amazing in a dull black and white photograph. That still-frame exists only in my head, and as time passes, I am sure that memory will only become more vivid and intricate; it will never fade or wash out like a finite strip of film. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a memory must be worth a million.