Wow. Where to start? We didn’t know what to expect when we ventured out with friends to Haw Par Villa in Singapore. Not many expats have been there, but ask any cabbie if he can take you there and he’ll probably emphatically agree while he smiles and recalls how he used to go there as a child.
Haw Par Villa (formerly Tiger Balm Gardens) was created in 1937 by two brothers from Burma who made their fortune from inventing Tiger Balm. It’s an outdoor park with hundreds of statues, vignettes and dioramas from Chinese folklore and Confucianism. Haw Par Villa has been in and out of debt for the past 70+ years, but these days admission is free if you’re up to seeing one of the oddest places in Singapore.
Color and creativity are rampant throughout the park, but it doesn’t take long to realize that so is a very dark and twisted sense of storytelling. From the scary faces to the mythical creatures to the old woman nursing from the young woman’s breast… it’s slightly shocking in its irreverent display.
Here we are about to enter Haw Par Villa’s Ten Courts of Hell. Remember the Dr. Seuss book called “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” that was so happy and optimistic about your journey in life and all the good things you’ll accomplish? The Ten Courts of Hell is the opposite… the antithesis… it’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go in Hell if you’re a robber, kidnapper, loan shark, drug addict, rule breaker, food waster or otherwise a criminal.
The Ten Courts of Hell are housed in a “dragon tail” and depict all the various punishments for sinners and criminals. Depending on what terrible thing you’ve done, you may be gutted, sliced in half, beheaded, frozen or thrown in a pit of lava (among other things). Kind of odd that Singaporeans were taken here as children — but it seems most have since grown up to be respectable adults.
Peaceful, multicultural family life is portrayed in some of the seemingly happier displays at Haw Par Villa.
But every now and then a sick and twisted sculpture brings you back to Haw Par Villa reality — like this one with a cleaver-wielding young man being fondled by an older gentleman.
Even the animals are slightly suspicious, as if they might peck your eyes out or swallow you whole if they find out you’re not a good person. Watch your back!