Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Haw Par Villa

This place is a piece of Singapore history. A villa built by two brothers, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par who became self-made millionaires (probably billionaires in today's money) from the Tiger Balm empire stretching from South East Asia and eventually the world. This villa was built for the amusement and education of the local people.
Almost every Singaporean I know who grew up in the 50s and 60s era has a photograph taken at the Haw Par Villa arch entrance. It was a place not to be missed.
However, by the 80s, the place got too expensive to keep and was leased out to an American operator who attempted to Disneylandised the place. Fun rides were put in and human mascots with dress forms more compatible in Disneyland than the Aw's earlier Chinese kitsch and naivete, were introduced. Naturally, it all failed to flow with the spirit of the Villa. The attempt to add sizzle to the Villa failed miserably. Gate takings soared in the beginning, but quickly fizzled away when word got round that the refurbishment of the Villa into an amusement park lack lustre. The Villa was eventually closed for a time.
Recently, I noticed that it has opened again, so I make my way there for a day's outing back in time!
This post is quite a handful. Many pixs to illlustrate both the beauty and the naive generation of Singapore art related in simplistic high moral ground.
[Warning: Beware of the gory details in some of the pixs. You may like to skip some pixs or the entire post if you are faint hearted!!! :) ]

This is the ticket booth set up in the 90s by the American operator changing about $16 per person! It was outrageous, considering that the Aw brothers built the place so that everybody could enjoy it for free!

This Herculean character riding on a mythical beast is likely to be a creation from the 'American era'. The original figurines, as you will attest to later, do not use tame colours like these. Neither do they have any muscular looking male characters.

.AWesome Haw (tiger).

Boon Haw (Gentle Tiger) and Boon Par (Gentle Leopard). Awsome names that match the prowess of two skilful and benevolent brothers.


What would we call our kids these days to make billionaires?

Toh Gates and Ma Kan Buffet? :)


This is the famous archway entrance where most Singaporeans have had their photograph taken against.

The memorial of Aw Boon Par.

.This is a miniature size of a typical taoist temple. There used to be many such temples in rural Singapore. You can still find a few of such temples in Pulau Ubin. (see our coming post on Pulau Ubin)

This is the famous laughing Buddha. Some say it is the most photographed one in the world.

. While the first statue of Buddha was a tiny one to remind us of his tranquility and peace. Subsequent statues all get larger and larger. Definitely larger than life!


You will see later that there are full of these moral stories depicted by various figurines in this park. This one probably tells the story of a woman who was forced into prostitution because of her husband gambling debts.


This is the monkey magistrate with monkey assistants in the Monkey World. Still happens in many countries, sadly.

I think this is a Balinese import. Could be imported during the 'American era'.

Don't you love the kitsch?!!!

There are a few figurines that are out of place but not included during the 'American era'.

This is one of them. It is said that the Aw brothers wanted to include some of these foreign figurines in the Villa because many Singaporeans could not afford to travel overseas and this was a good way for them to enjoy the presence of some foreign icons.


Drumming up attention...

(Upper right corner)

Great formula passed down from the ancestors

(Upper centre) Szechuan Province Nan-kan Town House of Wide Healing

(Upper left corner)

guaranteed to cure a hundred diseases

A dead person was seen when (the ancestor) went to to look for herbs in the mountains
Even the Heavens got to know that (the ancestor) was determined to heal all the people in the world
And hence a wonderful formula that could help bring people back to health was found
However if one cannot be cured even after one asks (to the doctors and the Gods) it is fate.
Three generations (of our family) have walked around the world
And made ourselves famous by spreading the good formula to the people
If the formula does not work
We promiss to return double the amount that was paid (for the formula)

"In our womanly form, they will not suspect we are spider spirits..."

What a timeless saying. Applies those days as it applies now! Well metaphorically that is! :)

Indeed, some things never change.

This is the epic of the Monkey God.

This is the entry to the villa.

This is the Tiger Balm publicity automobile that made its rounds the villages and towns often received with warm welcome from the natives. The Tiger Balm automobile arrival was received as if the circus has come to town.
. This is the surreal dwelling of rodents.
It does has a streak of eeriness. Perhaps with the deliberately depicted human-like expressions of rodents. Were they trying to say that some of us baddies may be reincarnated as rodents???

The scare story deepens...

Look at these buried bodies with their heads sticking out and bleeding!!!

This is the ultimate!!! Entry to the 10th Courts of Hell.

Trying to bribe the formidable looking guardians with a drink.


Your local guide through the Courts of Hell.

Notice that the face of the one on the right is morphed from a tortoise.

This is the Golden Gate to Paradise. For those who did no wrong during their time on Earth.

. Now the grilling starts...

Drag them, whack them...

Were you a cheating type when you were alive?

We now dig your heart out!!!!


Or drop you in deep freeze on the mountains.

Don't know what this devil with a long tongue is doing to this young girl...


Or drown in the sea of fire...

Or chop you into half...

Or throw you in the valley of knives...

Or just grind you into paste like sambal...
For those of you not from the region, sample is a chilli and prawn paste.

Not enough, we will reincarnate you into goats and pigs...


This one has his head chopped off...


This one prefers a longitudinal slice...

Some light at the end of the gory tunnel. We all drank from the cup and forget what we have seen.

Meanwhile, it's still a peaceful sunny day outside.
Repent. There is still time!!! :)

These two look like newbies during the 'American era'. You can tell as the colours used are not primary (kitschy) colours and are less contrasting. The faces are also less glazed. Besides, that looks like an American dragon to me.

This Kuanyin (Goddess of Mercy) look very different from most others I have seen. She doesn't have the serenity we normally see of one. Instead, she looks worried.

More morals..
This one tells of the naughty boy who doesn't like to go to school.
The mother told him that he should study hard and get a good job, like his neighbour who has now become a accountant with a big company! :)
They didn't tell him that if he did eventually become an accountant, don't join a big company called Arther Andersen, as he will end up losing his job and be on the streets again!!! :)
Isn't wonderful when we know the future?!

These beautiful giant masks are also recent additions.

Now some commercial break...
This wraps up the story of two brothers who came to Singapore with very little but built an empire out of a secret formula from his grandfather. It was reminiscent of a time when Singapore was a land of opportunities for hard working immigrants from China.
Now what do we have?
Speculate on the property boom due to the coming of the casinos? :)

I love this place. My friend thinks that it is a bit out of synch with the times with their naive and simplistic stories told from a high moral ground. To me, this is precisely what makes this place charming and a testimony of the past when the majority of Singaporeans were uneducated or even illiterate. It was a time when we had people who didn't even know how to write their own names, let alone read the newspaper. Times were different.
Literacy rate among the young is now 100% and child mortality rate has fallen to be one of the lowest in the world. Tubercolusis whilst almost a plague in the 40s and 50s is now wiped out.
While technology has made our lives better, it is also a source of distraction and sometimes temptations. In that, some things never change. I get the point that the Aw brothers were trying to impart to their audience, except that nowadays, it needs a touch of sophistication and subtlety.
Oh yes! As for the gory pictures in the 10 Courts of Hell - take it with a pitch of salt.
God is loving, not one that imposes fear. Religions use fear to control believers. God is loving, God is forgiving and God is omnipresent. Feel better now? Don't worry. You still have time to repent. :)


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