I recently spotted on Facebook a picture that a friend took of his children making sandcastles. This reminded me of a few photos taken in 1985 when my parents brought me to Sentosa island for a day of sun, sand and sea.

Growing up in Singapore in the 1980s, Sentosa was the de-facto playground away from home. That was before the island and its somewhat wild nature got overtaken by the banality of Universal Studios and mindless casino gaming.

My dad tried to teach me to swim and I had an inflatable ring with Superman prints to keep me afloat. In spite of my dad’s occasional encouragement and Superman by my side, I never quite mastered the art of swimming – I blame it on a lack of coordination and a dislike of water getting into my eyes.


Building sandcastles was a much easier task.

It’s amazing what you can learn about physics from this simple activity. Such as how water adds as a binding material for sand, but only if you add the optimum amount, which usually is just a little bit of H2O. Too much water, your sandcastle collapses into slush – in which case you try to rescue the situation by digging a trench in the sand and thus creating a moat around the castle.

Trivia: NASA sent samples of sand into space to study its properties, as well as how the grains of sand behave when water is added, in the absence of gravity.


Building sandcastles is also a lesson in patience and concentration.

Even though this was almost 30 years ago, I still remember feeling a little frustrated to see the sandcastle (or rather, the sand mountain) next to mine progress steadily faster, higher and bigger than mine. Never mind that this was made by a group of grown-up men and the five-year-old me had been mostly left on my own to shape my little sand hill. I recall looking up at my folks in slight despair, only to be encouraged by them to continue working on my sandy kingdom.

When was the last time you built a sandcastle? Tip: The recommended ratio of water to sand for building sandcastles is 1:8.

Back then, going to Sentosa almost always included a visit to the wax museum. Below is the scene of the treaty signing led by Sir Stamford Raffles with Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdul Rahman to establish Singapore as a British colony. Date: 6 February 1819.


The insect displays were also pretty cool, as was the air-conditioning in the space.


In the photo below, you can see the skyline of Singapore’s central business district. Much has changed in the recent decades, including the rising of several landmark buildings and skyscrapers. I wonder what this view looks like from Sentosa today.


These photos were taken by my parents using what was probably a point-and-shoot Nikon analog camera. I did some quick re-touching in Photoshop of the digital scans of the negatives, which had, unfortunately deteriorated with age and humidity.

To end this post:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
~ Auguries of Innocence, William Blake

20 replies on “Lessons in Sandcastles

  1. Angelina, having come across your blog, I was so happy to know that I might see photos of my spiritual (if not literal) home of Singapore. But with that happiness, there is a genuine sadness of things lost; love, opportunity, history. Sentosa was a special place to me and I am afraid to see it again if it is now as you describe.
    Thanks again for a lovely post.

    1. Funny thing is that I seldom blog about Singapore but am happy that you’ve enjoyed these posts/photos. There’s been a fair amount of development (residential and commerciall) on the island in the past years but maybe there are still some parts of it that have not changed too much, maybe the beach areas?

  2. these photos remind me of the task I have been shelving for last couple of years…of scanning the photos of our childhood! BTW, you look like a natural at modelling( 2nd last photo) 🙂

    1. My move to Belgium was the main trigger that prompted me to haul the stack of negatives to a photo shop to get them scanned. It was worth the expenditure and now I can ‘flip’ through those family albums whenever I’m at home in Brussels 🙂

  3. You make me want to go to the beach and experiment with some sand castles!

    I can’t stand water in my eyes either, which is one of the reasons I never took to swimming either!

  4. Nice post. I visited Sentosa island as a kid myself, in 1986. (Our family traveled to Singapore twice, 1986 and 1988). I really enjoyed the cable cars (though I had already been on cable cars in Nanital, India), the monorail (a first for me) and the wax museum. That’s like a dream now.
    More recently (2006) transited through Singapore, on my way to Sydney, but didn’t go out of the airport.
    It must be soooo different today. Am guessing you haven’t been to Sentosa island for while now.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I’ve never ridden in the cable car in Singapore. Always went to Sentosa by car or on foot, across the bridge. Wow, you remember the monorail! I’ve almost forgotten about it. I loved taking the monorail in Sentosa – super cool to be passing so close by the trees. It’s a shame that the monorail is no longer there.

      I did go to Sentosa when I was back in Singapore in October as a good friend’s wedding was at one of the hotels on the island. But didn’t see much of the island as we drove straight to (and from) our destination. On a previous occasion when I was back for a visit, a friend brought me to the casino and Universal Studio development. Fortunately the latter was closing as I didn’t like it much, though it was interesting walking through the public areas of the casino and observing the various supposed fengshui symbols.

      1. What no monorail anymore, that’s a disappointment. Yes, I remember it well, more so thanks to the photographs.
        I didn’t realise there was a bridge there, I remembered it as being only two ways to the island, either by cable car or ferry, I guess I was wrong. That was loooong time a ago.

  5. Love your old (analog) family photos, keep them coming. You gave away your age – though I would have guessed ~10 years younger from some of your selfies. 🙂

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