It was dark and spooky. I could feel the chills on my skin, as we sailed through the dimly lit tunnel, passing grotesque figurines with anguished expressions. I was scared and holding on tightly to mum’s hand… Afterwards, I could only remember thinking how good it felt to be under the sun and that brightness was much welcomed.
It was the year of 1991. I couldn’t recall much about the family outing, except for the sense of relief that I felt when we emerged from the Ten Courts of Hell and of course, those moments captured in time by yellow-stained photographs. We were at the Haw Par Villa ‘Dragon World’.
Dragon World has since ceased to exist, with the iconic Dragon being put to sleep and permanently removed from site. Yet, this landscape of Chinese mythologies and morality live on. Today, it is commonly known as the ‘Haw Par Villa’.
Imagine an oriental version of Alice in the Wonderland, with overly colourful characters and scary but valuable lessons to be learnt. Instead of falling down rabbit holes, be prepared to head into caves where tigers reside. The characters are still queer but (thanks god!) not cranky and you would never feel alone! After all, it is a theme park that place great emphasis on family love.
The most memorable part of the site would probably be the Ten Courts of Hell, which unsurprisingly survived the dragon… Nowadays, one may stroll leisurely or run through this visual-sensitive and fearful tunnel (as opposed to old times when one sail along).
In celebration of TourismFifty and SG50, there are (yay!) FREE-guided tours and talks on Haw Par Villa in the month of March (check out details at bottom of page). This morning, I joined the free tour by the good people of Journeys Pte Ltd to rediscover this wonderland of my childhood and be a part of the Haw Par Villa story. Again.
Here’s sharing some interesting information that I didn’t know then (or I might have forgotten)…
1) There was a mansion named Haw Par Villa, built by Mr. Aw Boon Haw, for his beloved brother, Mr. Aw Boon Par. They were the geniuses behind Tiger Balm! The garden surrounding the mansion used to be called ‘Tiger Balm Gardens’ and was generously opened to the public for leisure as well as education on Chinese values. The villa has since been demolished.
2) Haw Par Villa got its name from the last character of the two brothers’ names. ‘Haw’ refers to Tiger while ‘Par’ is leopard. Hence, it is not surprising to see various sculptures of tigers and leopards around the park.
3) Circle motifs and spheres are widely used around the park to symbolise family harmony. This (once again) emphasizes the importance of family to the Aw brothers.
4) There are many rolling mountains and caves in the park (makes for great exercise!), supposedly needed by the tiger and leopard for security and to mark their territory. From another perspective, these quiet places provide the solitude needed for reflection & meditation in the Taoist context. Did I mention that this park reflects influences of Confucianism, Taoism and (Chinese/Hindu) Buddhism?
5) Besides loving each other, the Aw brothers’ loves were expansive! The elder Aw had 4 wives while the younger one had 3! The villa used to have 3 entrances and it was speculated that the different entrances were constructed for each wife.
6) Situated near the entrance of the Ten Courts of Hell, the wishing well with a Guan Yin statue was said to be built by construction workers to seek blessings and a piece of mind when conducting changes to ‘Hell’.
7) Spot some sumo wrestlers, the Statue of Liberty as well as Kangeroos and Kiwis? These oddities are part of the ‘international corners’ contributed by Mr. Aw Cheng Chye (son of Aw Boon Par) during the 1960s. It was probably a way to share parts of the world to the local public who could not afford to travel.
8) The four family memorials vary in size, according to seniority. This showed a form of respect, which is part of the Chinese culture.
9) … … And so much more! The gaudy figurines and underlying messages never fail to reiterate important values in life. From small details to huge monuments, each ‘installation’ has something to impart.
I am glad to have visited Haw Par Villa today.
Over the years, this park has been somewhat neglected and often underrated but I like to believe that it remains special to many Singaporeans. For me, this wonderland means more than plain old fun and fond memories. The legends, folklores and Confucius teachings depicted in colourful and sometimes scary diorama and exhibits imparted life and moral values that help shaped the person I am today.
Reliving Haw Par Villa
HAW PAR VILLA
Address 262 Pasir Panjang Rd Singapore 118628
Opening hours Daily 9am – 7pm
Admission Fee Free
Casual & light clothing with comfortable footwear (be prepared to walk for a minimum of 1 – 2 hours)
THINGS TO BRING
Camera! There’s plenty of photo-taking opportunities!
Cap & Sunglasses (open air and unsheltered walkways)
Umbrella (in case it rains)
Light snacks – the deli/canteen is not always open
Reliving Haw Par Villa FREE-guided tours fall on 15, 16, 22, 23 March 2014 from 9.30am to 6pm. More information is available at xinmsn.com/rediscoversg!
The above information has been complied based on various sources, including my own experience and should only be used as a reference. For more information on the destination, please visit: http://www.yoursingapore.com/content/traveller/en/browse/see-and-do/arts-and-entertainment/architecture/haw-par-villa.html