Haw Par Villa

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I'm not sure if anyone knows this but I really really like Singapore, unlike a lot of Singaporeans my age but somehow Singapore appeals a lot to me - our government, our political system, our food and even though I don't think that everything here is perfect, it's good enough for me. I'm not afraid to say this because I know that it's not because my standards are low or that I have yet to see the world around me. In fact, I have, and I know that I do have a mind of my own, I've been overseas and I'm not saying that Singapore is the best but Singapore is still wonderful in many ways and I really like it. 

I believe that one of the reasons people don't particularly like Singapore is because we can get bored quite easily due to the limited number of attractions we have here, which is natural, considering the space constraints we face. One of my favourite things to do in Singapore would be to look for lesser known places to visit on my own! It's really an exciting activity to do but I haven't been able to do it as often recently because I've been getting increasingly busy. Some of the people who know me well personally might know that I enjoy bringing them to different parts of Singapore that are not explored much but are lovely hidden gems :') I'd be more than happy to bring people I know on food journeys in Singapore because there are so many wonderful speciality cafés and eateries dotted around this island. 

It is Singapore's birthday tomorrow and I would like to commemorate this by bringing you on a ride to explore one of the lesser known/visited places of this country. This place might draw mixed feelings from people and I can fully understand why though I personally like it and I have been wanting to visit this place for the longest time ever and I finally did so recently. 

Yup, this place is Haw Par Villa. 

I know that to many, it's this really scary place that is simply filled with statues to scare people - when my friends realized that I was visiting Haw Par Villa alone, the responses I got were expressions of shock and worry (which is really quite unnecessary, though appreciated). If explored with the right mindset, there is so much to learn from this humble place. 

Best of all, admission is free! :-) 

The first time that I heard of this place was when I was really young - I read a story by Bookworm Publishers, a local firm that produces books featuring Smarty, Simone, Porky, Louie, Edison and Sam Seng and the books featured a Singapore context which resonated very strongly in me. The particular story on Haw Par Villa was probably written when the place was at the peak of its popularity, when it was still a functioning theme park. The way they described the place in the book is a huge difference as to what it is today, and it upsets me that I never got to see the park when it was bustling with excitement though I believe that a huge portion of its past glory is still retained in the fine craftsmanship embedded in the statues. 

It still looks rather grand :') The weather that day was kind to me as well - it made the photographs I took turn out prettily. 

Just to give a brief background on this place, Haw Par Villa was built in 1937 by Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the two brothers who created Tiger Balm and established the brand (yup, that balm that our grandparents probably use) and it used to be a really popular place for locals to visit - it was free for all and then, Universal Studios or perhaps even Escape Theme Park did not exist. They even had acrobatics performances and puppet shows staged in this place and I think the atmosphere would have been quite amazing then! But they started imposing an entrance fee which caused human traffic to die down and now, even when entry fees are dropped, no one bothers to visit it anymore.

The names of the founding brothers displayed near the entrance of the park! :-) 

One of the reasons why people don't like to visit this place was probably because it was really out of the way - it is located somewhere along Pasir Panjang and it would not have been worth it to travel all the way there. I personally wouldn't as well but now, it is so incredibly convenient as a Circle Line station is directly outside the park and of course the station name aptly called "Haw Par Villa". I don't think there's any reason not to give this place a chance, really.

Intricate details on the gates of the park!\

It really does look gorgeous, doesn't it? :-)

Haw Par Villa mainly showcases Chinese mythology, legends and history and it is quite fascinating indeed! Occasionally, you'll stumble upon words of Confucius as well. If I'm not wrong, the main attraction - The Ten Courts of Hell - features a concept of Buddhism though most of it are just depictions of Hell in Chinese mythology. However, it is understandable if some are  more sensitive as to what they want to view so feel free to skip that attraction - it is, of course, the main attraction for a reason and it's really very artfully crafted. 

I shall let the photographs do the talking now :-) (I would like to warn everyone that some of this images are quite gruesome, because they were taken from the "Ten Courts of Hell" attraction and I apologize in advance)

The statues are really lifelike and I am really amazed at the level of mastery and skill taken to craft them. They are all really well maintained as well! 

Chinese mythology! :-) 

Outside the "Ten Courts of Hell" attraction! 

The "Ten Courts of Hell" cave - it's in the shape of a dragon and I think this photo is really funny because the attraction should in fact be looking dark and scary but due to the nice weather and  bright blue skies, it looks like a really happy photo with a beautiful scenery.  

Leading up to the cave, this popular Chinese saying was displayed prominently - 
It basically means that time will tell; those who do good would be rewarded and likewise, those who cause harm will be punished (I'm not entirely sure of my translation though) but essentially placing this outside the Ten Courts of Hell was to reiterate the Chinese folk tale that those who do harm will be sent to the different levels of hell, based on the extend of the harm they cause and that we should definitely be doing good instead :-) 

Accurately representing the Chinese mythology, "Hell" was guarded by a statue of an Ox and a Horse

The Horse! It looks really quite lifelike which impresses me a lot :-) 

One exhibit of the attraction - I'm can't remember exactly what this was depicting though, sorry! 

If I'm not wrong, according to Chinese legends, the King of Hell would judge each person based on the crimes they have committed during their time on Earth and determine which court to send them to. 

This is quite horrible :-( Oh and just a note: these statues are actually really quite small - don't worry they aren't life-sized or anything but the facial expressions are very detailed! 

Depicts one of the punishments, which is the Ice World, where sinners are frozen in ice which causes their body to eventually fall apart or broken into pieces :-(

Okay, I shall stop all these unpleasant photographs - if you're interested, you should visit Haw Par Villa and view them for yourself! :-) Also, I do hope I'm not offending anyone with these photographs but the "Ten Courts of Hell" is indeed the main attraction of Haw Par Villa and it would be strange if I didn't feature any pictures of it. To end off though, here are some more cheery photos! 

A huge part of the park is also dedicated to statues of the twelve zodiac signs :-) 

Panda! It looks fairly diseased though :-( It's not fat and plump either but perhaps that was how pandas were like long time ago in China!

Haw Par Villa is definitely a place rich with history and it features really well-made and life-like statues - it still amazes me that how intricate they all are! The place is also very tranquil and peaceful (even though there were some gruesome parts) which makes it a great place to get away from all the noise and activity from the city life. One should consider bringing more coins to purchase drinks from the vending machines because it can get really hot walking around in the place and there aren't any nearby shops. If you prefer a more indoor place to learn, there is also a museum within Haw Par Villa called the Hua Song Museum that showcases the life of Chinese migrants and the challenges they face. Admission fees do apply there though, but to the best of my knowledge, they aren't high. 

To conclude, I'd just like to say that an open mind is really integral when visiting this place because it could possibly lead to many complaints - the weather's too hot, there aren't any shops, there's no air-conditioning, it's so boring - but one can really learn a lot from the place and it's worth it to go there just to admire the artistry of the statues if not for anything else. In all honesty, even though I like this place, I know that a lot of people my age won't enjoy visiting Haw Par Villa; little kids might like it though because of the many cute statues of animals there. 

I would visit it again, and next time, I'd remember to bring coins :-) 

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