Sometimes you visit beautiful places and you love them! Other times you see ugly places and wish you’d never wasted your time! And then there are these places that are ugly maybe (by conventional standards), a bit extravagant, of questionable aesthetics and with no apparent reason of existence! Such thoughts stick in your head so much sometimes that they make you wanna find more about them, about the state of mind of their creator and you end up loving them in the end! Haw Par Villa falls obviously under the latter category and justifies its title as the weirdest attraction of Singapore effortlessly!
Be prepared for 80’s hairstyled crabs, trees of knives, breastfeeding grannies and pigs in underwear among other things!!!
What is Haw Par Villa?
Haw Par Villa was built in 1937 by the 2 brothers that developed the Tiger Balm ointment (Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par), hence its original name, Tiger Balm Gardens. Their vision was to depict scenes from Chinese mythology, folklore, history, religion and moral values, mainly through a series of sculptures and dioramas.
The grounds were open to the public, and even had a zoo. During World War II the two brothers abandoned the house and fled overseas. Japanese forces took over, using it to watch over ships at sea.
In 1985, the Singapore Tourism Board acquired the land and the dioramas and sculptures were restored. The park’s name changed to Haw Par Villa Dragon World. The high entrance fees however discouraged visitors, resulting in big financial losses, which lasted for about a decade. As a result, the management was forced to provide free entry in 1998.
Haw Par Villa is famous for its gruesome depictions of Chinese folklore’s 10 Courts of Hell, which we’ll talk about later!
Admission to the park is free.
The attractions and the WTF moments!
There are two kinds of attractions:
– the “serious ones”, where the aesthetics have gone wrong and
– the complete WTF ones!
Let’s see some of the first ones:
– This mermaid party for example!
-This tongue cutting!
-This depiction of the Living Buddha Ji Gong!
Top Haw Par Villa WTF Moments:
Blame it on my ignorance or the poor depiction/representation/portraiture done by the artists, but these would have to be the Top WTF moments of Haw Par Villa (in no particular order, though the last one’s my favourite!):
Look at this one! There’s the villain on the right: He looks mean, aggressive and very determined to kill the dragon. Then there’s the dragon itself not giving a single damn! He’s full of arrogance and confidence! And then there’s the guy at the back shitting his pants and having this funny face, as if he’s the one being attacked!
So this guy’s in underwear and decided to take his frustration on the lady with the fruits! Or he’s just being sweet to her and she just can’t be bothered! Or maybe this is the chinese folklore version of All men are pigs! What do you think?
You can call me ignorant, uneducated or blind, but what do koalas (as well as kangaroos and kiwi birds on their left, but not on this photo) have to do with China, Buddhism or any Singaporean related folklore?
Just 2 cockroaches kissing! No big deal!
Just one of the very modest and discreetly branded cars of the Tiger Balm owners and park founders!
This one has made me and most people go WTF over and over again! What is going on here? There’s clearly a mother and a baby, so why does the granny have to breastfeed instead? 😀 The first time I saw it I had to ask 3 of my colleagues, who were of Chinese heritage, but of different national background (China, Malaysia and Singapore): No one had a clue!
So, after some research, here’s the answer: It’s actually a story of filial piety (孝), one of the basic principles of Confucianism, and it’s about expressing utmost respect for one’s parents. So, in this diorama this lady breastfeeds her mother-in-law, who is sick, as a sign of respect and devotion! I think the artist went a bit overboard here… Especially when the eldest son is playing with a fruit, while the baby is performing another set of sit ups in the background! 😀
The main attraction: The 10 Courts of Hell!
For some it’s the highlight of their visit, for some it’s the only reason to visit Haw Par Villa and for others (especially Singaporeans over a certain age) it’s the reason behind their childhood nightmares!
The 10 Courts of Hell is a Chinese belief about what happens after one’s death. When one dies, they have to attend the First Court of Hell. In this one King Qinguang conducts preliminary trials and each prisoner is judged according to their deeds in their past life. The “good” ones will be led over the Golden and the Silver Bridges to reach paradise. The “evil doers” will be taken to a subsequent Court of Hell to be punished.
Some of the stories/beliefs are already quite brutal, but it’s also the gruesome depictions of them that make them so… memorable/haunting/appalling (you choose the word!)! That’s why parents are advised to use their discretion when it comes to their children visiting the Courts.
Do you think I’m exaggerating?
If the Fifth Court finds you guilty of plotting someone’s death for their property or money, you’ll be thrown onto a hill of knives! If this is not enough, the Viewing Home Tower is there for you to see how your family’s suffering as a result of your actions!
If the Sixth Court sees that you’ve misused books, owned pornographic material or wasted food, then your body will be sawn into two!
The Ninth Court is somewhat stricter: If you’ve robbed, murdered to raped (fair accusations this time!), your head and arms will simply be chopped off!
That’s not it though! After serving their sentences, prisoners arrive at the Tenth Court, where King Zhuanglun passes his final judgment. Afterwards, they’re taken to the Pavilion of Forgetfulness, where an old lady offers them some magic tea, which helps them forget their past lives.
Then they go through the Wheel of Reincarnation and, based on their past life, they’ll be reborn either as a human or an animal and will lead a life of ease or comfort or one of sorrow and suffering!
If by know you want to pull your eyes out with a knife, I understand!
Regardless if Haw Park Villa has been designed or executed up to your liking, it also has this educational character that makes for another reason to visit it.
It’s also an off the beaten path attraction of Singapore and it definitely is something very different to see!
How to get there
Haw Par Villa is conveniently located very close to the Haw Par Villa station of the MRT Circle Line, so it’s very easily accessible.
My Snapchat Story
Covering my last visit to the Haw Par Villa was one of my most enjoyable Snapchat moments yet! And thanks to the feedback I got, a lot of you loved it, too! Since Snapchat Stories have a very limited lifespan, I thought I’d share the Story here, as well!
For Stories like this and to follow my travels in real time, add me on Snapchat!