In the last three days, we’ve been to two different places called Sentosa (Malay for peace and prosperity), and the differences between the two show some of the differences that have grown between Singapore and Malaysia since they split 42 years ago.
Sentosa Island in Singapore is a very strange place. It seems to be one of the most popular local resorts for Singaporeans, but the attraction is largely artificial. There are beautiful white sandy beaches, but the sand was imported from Indonesia, and the view from the beach is of passing freighter and tanker ships and of refineries. There are beautiful gardens of spices and flowers (mainly orchids), but strangely the gardens have plastic statues of Western fairy tales. There are some exhibits on the beauty and history of Singapore, plus an aquarium that is supposed to be great, but the only attraction on the island that seems authentic are the remnants of a British fort that was overwhelmed by the Japanese in 1942 (the Japanese came by land instead of by sea, rendering the fort worthless).
Today in Malacca, Malaysia, we visited another Sentosa, Villa Sentosa. It’s a private home built in the 1920s in the traditional Malay style where the family still lives. It’s an unofficial museum that is open to the public, and an elderly member of the family led us around the house, showing us awards, art, furniture, clothing, and other possessions that the family has picked up over the years. It’s a very interesting visit, to see where and how an actual family has lived in the same house for 9 generations.
Singapore has a lot more money now than Malaysia does. When Singapore wants to celebrate the spirit of Sentosa, it goes all out, making a huge resort with an attraction to appeal to anyone. Malaysia doesn’t have the money or control to do all that, so Sentosa there is a family sharing its history simply and beautifully.
We could spend a full weekend at Singapore’s Sentosa, but I think I learned more from Malaysia’s.