First of all, let me just say this is the only place in the world you can safely say the 4-letter-word in front of your young children. Yes, it is H-E-L-L.
So, why do I wanna go to hell? Hell, why not?
It’s been a really long while since I have been back at Haw Par Villa, specifically, 24 years. Can you blame me? What was once a super tourism spot of Singapore and the region, with a million visitors a year, had become something of a joke and an eyesore in the beautiful town of Pasir Panjang. It is no wonder young, intelligent and liberal thinking individuals like us no longer find Haw Par Villa an attraction.
However, we did mention this place to Grace in passing and she really wanted to see what the hell it was so we promised her we will bring her one day.
Today happened to be that fateful day.
The entrance was quite foreboding but we came across these two Tiger Balm mascots that were kinda cute. But we weren’t here for kawaii-wannabes so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, gross, bloody and kitschy?
Let me just say that I’m not going to go into the history of the place, you can get that from Wikipedia or Atlas Obscura. I am just going post all the pictures I took and give them captions of what I think is going on. If you are looking for a serious review, let me say that this isn’t it.
Hell: Level 1
An evil grinning goat greets you. Instead of a soft wooly coat, its skin is as prickly and hard as its heart.
If you think rats are the worst creatures on the planet, you should know that they get up to even more heinous acts when nobody’s looking. Stabbing, murder, riots… I don’t know how the rabbits fit in this story but don’t trust them either! Fluffy is up to no good.
Standing before the overlords of hell and there’s the famous celebrity Tripitaka. Can I have an autograph? I think he’s kind of busy.
Ten Courts of Hell
Walking straight through the gates of hell. Oooooh.
There are apparently 10 courts of hell that you can be sent to, to serve your sentence for all the crimes you have committed in your life. Talk about spoiler alert!
Some small samples of crimes include prostitution, murder, theft or something as minor as feeding your homework to the dog. Okay, I made that last one up. But they are apparently very specific. The book of judgement must be really thick.
The punishment also varies according the severity of your crime. E.g. thrown into a boiling pool of blood spa if you are a prostitute. Did you know disrespecting elders and parents is one of the worst crimes out there and deserves dismemberment or something? No prizes if you can guess what kinds of people came up with that particular “law”.
As the courts gets darker and darker, both literally and figuratively, the end of the 10th court comes to view. And you pick up the (remaining) pieces of yourself and join the long queue to reincarnation so you can get the chance to do it all over again. Here’s an idea for when you get a second shot at life: Why not try to commit some new and different crimes so that you can experience another level of the courts when you die? Oh joy!
Out of Darkness, Back Into The Light
After exiting the courts, we were greeted with this.
Nope, nothing kinky is going on. Supposedly this wonderful woman is breastfeeding an old lady cos she is hungry and poor. How sweet. But her spectator son at the background doesn’t look right in the head, literally.
After walking the courts, it is probably a relief to be out in the open where things are less weird compared to hell.
Animals with Dentures
Wait, I spoke too soon. What the hell is this creature?
Apparently these are hippopotami and did you know hippos have immaculate dental hygiene, I mean just look at those pearly whites? It should be proud.
This primate needs braces though. He should have gotten some tips from the hippo neighbour.
What the hell is she doing here? Is she lost? Is there some folklore or legend I should know about? Someone please tell me what is going on!!!
Theme Park Proper, Albeit Fishy
Meanwhile, it gets every more confusing as classical and french music plays in the air and mesmerised us into just accepting our fate and stop questioning the inevitable.
(Couldn’t they have Chinese instrumental music or those soundtracks that are usually played in old Chinese zombie movies? It was rather counterproductive to the atmosphere of a fantasy Buddhist theme park.)
This mountain conceals fantastic creatures which can only come to you in your dreams/nightmares. I wonder what the architects of the park added into their pu-er while dreaming up these strange structures.
I have to be very honest, I have absolutely NO idea what is going on here but I’ll watch that movie.
Pfft, those bimbotic mermaids get all the fame. Where is the Disney movie of the Clam Chowder Princess? Shellfish maidens aren’t actually selfish at all, and should also be represented more in mainstream media.
You are what you eat. Fish lady is trying to butcher up this fish, perhaps to finish her transformation from part-woman, part-fish to all ichthyes. Eat more fish yo!
I think I know this. It is the Asian version of Michelangelo’s famous “Birth of Venus”. Not quite what I envisioned.
No clamshell or starfish boobs support here, she is baring it all for everyone to see. I think this might be the Conch or Snail Girl story where she secretly appears in the day to clean and cook for her saviour. No wonder he loved her, I would want a naked lady cleaning my house too. Probably.
Back to Normalcy
Of course there are normal beings depicting some old Chinese legends and fairy tales. They are not total monsters. For example, this is a fairy.
And this is a man. Doing something with that some other thing.
And a whole lot of thing is going on here but I’m too hot and bothered to explain.
Wait, I had no idea Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit was Chinese folklore?
In case you are wondering, the wonderful land down under is also represented here. Welcome to Australia. You might think I have stopped becoming surprised but Haw Par Villa just keeps on giving.
The tortoise decided to cheat in the Rabbit vs Tortoise race and enlisted the help of an ostrich instead. Note the awesome and absolutely inaccurate depiction of the teeth on the birds. One of the sculptors was a dentist in his or her past life for sure.
If those don’t look like koalas, it is because they don’t look like koalas but I assure you they are koalas.
I think the heat has got to us. These ladies know a good time! I just wish this was real water as it is really hot now.
Mermaids are perfectly normal compared to this masterpiece in insaneness.
As far as I know, most of the crazy half-people, half-seafood statues comes from the chinese mythology book Shanhaijing 山海经. I did some research to see what was that all about.
(Source) I still do not know what it is about.
Beware of the chicken-headed girl who would drag you into the depths of her chicken coop. Bok-bok.
Grace’s expression says it all.
In retrospect, the ten courts was a fantastic place to actually get away from the searing sun. Because it was so hot we could not wait to get the hell out of there.
You may be wondering if Haw Par Villa holds a place in our hearts as Singaporeans. In my case, no. My mind was not changed after coming here. My husband, daughter and I didn’t not gain anything except for being extremely sun-tanned after visiting for a couple of hours.
As a tourist attraction, the “hell” concept is weird, kitschy, and out of common sense. I can’t relate to it, much less let it affect my life. It only serves as a glaring reminder of how much our philosophy and views have advanced and, instead of bridging the divide, I can’t help but think that the comical, low quality plaster reproductions of the stories that our forefathers and ancestors used to believe in are quite lacking in the intelligence department.
As a park, it is deprived of nature or landscaping or anything that makes it comfortable and soothing. There’s so much paint and concrete in the place that it is literally walking into a frying pan as the pavement is baked by the fierce Singapore sun. There are few plants and trees to cool the place and nothing is natural.
Haw Par Villa, you will not be missed.