I have never dropped acid. But thanks to Haw Par Villa, I think I can image what that must be like–because it’s the strangest trip I’ve ever taken.
What is Haw Par Villa?
Previously known as ‘Tiger Balm Gardens’, Haw Par Villa was later renamed after its former owners, the Aw brothers – Boon Haw and Boon Par, who made a fortune in the early 1900s selling Tiger Balm, a cure-all paste created by their father.
Haw Par Villa is like no other place in the world, with over 1,000 statues and 150 dioramas that dramatise Chinese legends and folklore. Founded on Chinese legends and values, this historical theme park has large, imposing statues from famous legends of old – featuring characters like Fu Lu Shou, Confucius and the Laughing Buddha.
As I walked around, I tried to read the information plaques to better understand what I was seeing. Much like the statues themselves, some are in better repair than others. I was familiar with some of the stories (Madame White Snake, for example) and others were new to me.
I reached out via twitter as I was there asking what people thought of/remembered about Haw Par Villa.
I tend to think of myself as a fairly liberal parent. I’m strict about school and behavior, but I don’t filter music for the girls and I don’t believe in censoring books (if you want to read it, read it). I’m open minded. Haw Par Villa put that to the test–I can’t imagine bringing Ellie here (Rhi is too young to comprehend what she sees–or that’s what I’m telling myself).
As you would expect in a park paid for by the inventors of Tiger Balm, there was a lot of Tiger statuary.
While it is at times extremely confusing and creepy, Haw Par Villa is also beautiful. The morning I was there, I saw fewer than 10 other people. Solitude is not something you often experience in Singapore. While the bizzare statues FAR outnumber the beautiful, I saw beautiful statues as well.
Singapore isn’t a country that places a lot of value on its past. Since I’ve been here, the Urban Redevelopment Authority gazetted Bukit Brown cemetary for demolition (see Kirsten’s moving post here), and closed the historic Tanjong Pagar train station (see Flora’s post here) in favor of Woodlands Train Checkpoint. Knowing that, I’m somewhat surprised Haw Par Villa has survived, and is even being maintained by the Singapore Tourism Board, especially as it doesn’t produce any sort of financial profit (I doubt that 5 dollar parking fee pays for the guard-I was the only car there last Friday, and the park itself is free).
While I’m sure that I could learn many a lesson from the statues at Haw Par Villa, my most common reaction was to tilt my head to the side and try to figure out just what was going on, even with the help of the plaques (and there isn’t always one).
Or perhaps not. Now I’m wondering if that kid isn’t screaming “MOM THERE ARE PEOPLE DYING OVER THERE, WHY ARE YOU STILL TALKING TO YOUR FRIEND ABOUT YOUR NEW PAIR OF SHOES????? MOOOOOOM!!! MOMEEEEE!!!!” I don’t understand what the seemingly disconnected halves of the tableau are supposed to teach me.
However, the kitschy and random statues are not the big attraction at Haw Par Villa. The 10 Courts of Hell is. I won’t go through each court and what the punishments are (if you want to see that, this post by Where Sidewalks End does so) but a few of the highlights
- Rhiannon should probably take note that disobeying a sibling means spending some time being ground by a stone…and hand over the crayon.
- I can look forward to getting my body sawn in two for misusing books, possession of pornography (I wonder if I’ll do some drowning in blood like the prostitutes for writing pornography as well?), breaking written rules and for wasting food–I’m guilty of all of them.
- Cheating on an exam? I have some former students who can look forward to their intestines and organs getting pulled out.
There are also serious consequences for things like rape, tax evasion, driving someone to their death, robbery and so forth.
As if the 10 Courts of Hell isn’t disorienting enough on its own, you emerge from the dark cavern to this statue…
However, none of what I’ve highlighted thus far wins the crown for weirdest thing I saw at Haw Par Villa. The image below wins that prize.
It’s a theme park highlighting Chinese Mythology and Confucian lessons for the local population. The country is a former Brit Colony, but it became a colony in 1824, which is over fifty years after we declared our independence.
There is no plaque to explain the presence of a mini statue of liberty. There is NO other statue relating to another country such as France or Brazil.
Just a random, inexplicable minature Statue of Liberty.
So many questions about this.
If you’d like to see more photos of my visit to Haw Par Villa, go check out my set on Flickr here.
If you’d like to read more about other blogger’s visits to Haw Par Villa (and if you have a blog post, link it below in comments and I’ll add it to the list)
- Syntaxfree “Haw Par Villa: Hallucinations, Hell And The Hokey Pokey“
- Read about Claire’s visit to Haw Par Villa over at The Dot Diaries.
- Oh Look, Krill! went picnicking with friends at Har Paw Villa.