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The Weirdness of Singapore's Haw Par Villa

Updated on September 5, 2016
CYong74 profile image

Cedric earned a bachelor's degree in communications studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, mythology, and video gaming.

Before glitzy casinos and futuristic parks, visitors to tropical Singapore were entertained by its zoo, its cuisine, and the macabre Haw Par Villa. A Chinese mythology statue park in the south of the city state, Haw Par Villa unfortunately went downhill in the late 80s after a fizzled attempt to integrate western-style entertainment. Thankfully, the park survived that slump, and has since reverted to its roots. Nowadays, it is easily reached from the downtown area, Best of all, it charges no entry fees.

Entrance to Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa entrance "signage"
Haw Par Villa entrance "signage" | Source
The Chinese style entrance arch
The Chinese style entrance arch | Source
A quirky reminder of the Aw Brother's most famous product.
A quirky reminder of the Aw Brother's most famous product. | Source

History of Haw Par Villa

The park, also known as Tiger Balm Gardens, was built in 1937 by Burmese-Chinese brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par after they shifted their business to Singapore. Now, depending on who you speak with in Singapore, you might get very exotic stories on why the park was built. (Some say the park houses spirits) Officially, or at least on tourist pamphlets, the park was an attempt to instill Chinese values through the telling of beloved Chinese myths. Something that it does pretty well with its many statues and elaborate dioramas. Incidentally, the Aw brothers also gave Singapore another tourism treasure. The Tiger Balm. A citrus scented herbal cream for various external maladies, such as muscle aches and insect stings, the balm is nowadays one of many "souvenirs" promoted to visitors to Singapore. I personally always have a small vial in my first aid box.

Depiction of Famous Chinese Myths

Diorama presenting the story of the Eight Taoist Immortals crossing the Eastern Sea
Diorama presenting the story of the Eight Taoist Immortals crossing the Eastern Sea | Source
Another diorama. This is of a battle scene from the classic story of "Investiture of the Gods"
Another diorama. This is of a battle scene from the classic story of "Investiture of the Gods" | Source

Practically all famous Chinese myths and legends are featured in the dioramas of Haw Par Villa. All displays are also accompanied by terse, well-written summaries, for visitors unfamiliar with these beloved stories.

Lessons about Morality

Tales of morality. The virtue of charity, the dangers of indulgence, etc.
Tales of morality. The virtue of charity, the dangers of indulgence, etc. | Source
The ugliness of violence is not shied away from in Haw Par Villa.
The ugliness of violence is not shied away from in Haw Par Villa. | Source

Morality is a heavy theme in Haw Paw Villa, and it is while promoting this virtue that the statues gets a tad disturbing. To punch across the message, many of the dioramas do not hesitate from gore and violence. Perhaps that's the intended effect. To shock so as to educate. This does work to a great extent, I have to say. I remember being quite disturbed when I first viewed the morality dioramas as a child. The message of helping the weak, and never to bully the unfortunate, stuck in my head for life.

More Scenes from Chinese Mythology

A sunken pond with Jiang Ziya, one of the protagonists of "Investiture of the Gods."
A sunken pond with Jiang Ziya, one of the protagonists of "Investiture of the Gods." | Source
The Chinese version of Maitreya Buddha, a jovial monk with a bag of goodies
The Chinese version of Maitreya Buddha, a jovial monk with a bag of goodies | Source
The world famous Monkey God, Sun Wukong.
The world famous Monkey God, Sun Wukong. | Source

Fortunately, other displays are less disturbing. A good many feature Buddhas and Taoist deities. The most famous Chinese mythological character, Sun Wukong the monkey god, also makes an appearance.

The Gruesome Ten Courts of Hell

Impaled on a mountain of knives.
Impaled on a mountain of knives. | Source
Dismemberment, in various forms, features in many of the hellish displays.
Dismemberment, in various forms, features in many of the hellish displays. | Source
Tongue snipping for liars and rumourmongers.
Tongue snipping for liars and rumourmongers. | Source

The most famous attraction of Haw Par Villa, and what cemented its macabre reputation, is its Ten Courts of Hell display. Now, this is gruesome. Far more gruesome than the morality dioramas. Evildoers are shown suffering in various horrific, gory ways in the Chinese Ten Courts of Hell. For visitors with children, you might want to check out the displays before allowing your kids near them. Some of them might be too disturbing. The above three images should give you an idea of what to expect.

Access

Haw Par Villa charges no entry fee, and is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm. To reach it, take the MRT (subway) CIrcle Line to Haw Par Villa station (CC25). The station has well marked maps, and if you use the correct exit, the entrance to the park is a one minute walk away.

A markerHaw Par Villa -
Haw Par Villa, Singapore
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    • CYong74 profile image
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      Cedric Yong 17 months ago from Singapore

      Thanks for commenting, AliciaC! The place is ... a little creepy, especially with it usually being quiet nowadays. But it's quite a visual feast, and offers a glimpse into the personalities of the Tiger Balm founders.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 17 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This sounds like an interesting place to visit, although as you say it might be disturbing for some people! I didn't know the origin of the Tiger Balm cream before I read this hub. Thanks for sharing the information and the photos.