Haw Par Villa was built by the sons of the creator of Tiger Balm, Asia’s favourite cure for whatever ails you. Muscle soreness, chesty coughs, headaches, seasickness, injuries caused by motorcycle accidents; there’s no bodily malady that cannot be improved, if not cured by the forceful application of Tiger Balm by a complete stranger with motherly intent but no understanding of the concept of personal space. Well, at least that’s my experience of seeking medical advice in Asian pharmacies.
Befitting of some of the disconcerting experiences that I’ve had with Tiger Balm the product, the theme park that it funded is also perturbing. Filled with detailed, illustrative dioramas a trip to Haw Par Villa, formally known as Tiger Balm Gardens, takes visitors on an unsettling journey into Chinese mythology and the 10 Courts of Buddhist hell.
It is also an engaging graphic representation of what happens when your dad has too much money.
Haw Par Villa is located in Pasir Panjang and is adjacent to the Haw Par Villa MRT station. It’s easy to get to and free to visit which is a good thing because I don’t think that you should have to pay for the psychological trauma that a visit here may bring. The internet is riddled with stories from native Singaporeans who after a family or school visit to Haw Par Villa have suffered nightmares for weeks. And I do have to wonder if their parents then attempted to cure them with Tiger Balm.
I’d read plenty about how peculiar Haw Par Villa was before visiting and so upon arriving I was not too surprised to be greeted by some puzzling statues. For example these crazed goats that obviously want to eat humans that were positioned across from this happy looking dinosaury creature that was probably just there to lull me into a false sense of security. Because things definitely went down hill from here on.
There were these bloody heads staring vacantly from their places on a rock ledge.
And this gang of evil rabbits and rats doing goodness knows what.
I hadn’t even made it into the 10 courts of hell yet!
A trip through the Haw Par Villa 10 Courts of Hell leaves no room for ambiguity regarding what will happen if you’re bad person and you end up in Buddhist hell.
For example the 5th court of hell is reserved for money lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates. This brings to mind the many times in recent months that my mortgage repayments have gone up outside of official interest rate rises and I picture the people in middle and upper management at my bank being thrown down a hill of knives with their families watching on from the viewing tower above. A lightness blooms deep in my soul. Suddenly I’m feeling better about this place.
I don’t know what moralistic lessons learnt from my visit to Haw Par Villa. But one lesson I’m taking away from my journey through Chinese folklore is that having too much money is definitely a thing. And it can be a gloriously epic and strange thing.