written by Caroline
Dave and I decided that after a gargantuous eight-course meal (indicating that my grandaunty was present at the time), we would lighten our digestive load with a stroll. We were at Marina Bay Sands – the attractions deemed too expensive for our wallets, so I suggested that we explore Haw Par Villa, also known as Tiger Balm Gardens.
Haw Par Villa had originally been the residence of two brothers, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, sons of the herbalist who created Tiger Balm. During World War II, the villa was abandoned due to the Japanese invasion and was eventually resurrected as a tourist attraction in 1994 with various dioramas illustrating legendary Chinese folklore and served to educate the young about Buddhism and Chinese mythology. I had first visited Haw Par Villa as a young girl in 1995, when it was still bustling with tourists. Much of the experience had been forgotten, but I remembered being fascinated by the grotesque-looking statues and thought it would be interesting to relive the memory of the place.
With our Peking duck-filled bellies, we waddled off from the opulent airs of Marina Bay and took the MRT to Haw Par Villa. A thick canopy of trees loomed above the entrance of the park, and it was eeriely quiet albeit the chirruping birds. We headed up a pathway surrounded by garishly painted life-sized statues, and eventually came across a cave guarded by two demon guardians, Horseface and Oxhead.
This was our introduction to the Ten Courts of Hell. The first scene depicted one of the magistrates of the Afterlife holding the trial of the deceased, weighing out their good virtues from evil. Evildoers were sent to the Underworld; each court of Hell managed by a magistrate to torture the guilty depending on the acts of crime they committed. In the Eighth Court of Hell, one was sawn in half lengthways with intestines and organs ripped out (this was if you cheated on your exams, mind you). If you wasted food or dabbled with pornography, your body would be cut in half and mutilated by being thrown into a tree of knives in the Sixth Court of Hell.
Once fulfilling their punishments, the newly repentants would be given a magical tea from an old lady that would make them forget their past life. They would then enter the Wheel of Reincarnation, taking one of the six paths to their next life as either a nobleman, a labourer, an animal or some extremely lower form of life. (See here for a more detailed description of the Ten Courts of Hell: http://wheresidewalksend.com/court-of-hell/)
We walked out of the caverns of Hell to find more life-sized figurines. It seemed that the sculptor of these statues was a bit of an odd, sadistic pervert – figurines included a woman being suckled by an old lady, a gory diorama of rats in combat with blood-stained white rabbits, scantily-clad women about to eat a monk, and crabs with human heads. There were also a few oddballs like the statue of Liberty and sumowrestlers.
The place was semi-abandoned – most of the villa was closed off; the amphitheatre that was once used for acrobatic shows was in shambles, shrouded by large white sheets caught in the towering trees; the koi pond was stagnant with a thick layer of brown scum, now a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The vicinity looked almost haunted as we both stood alone amongst the distorted gazes of the statues. According to a Singaporean blog, Going Places, the security guards working at Haw Par Villa believed that the statues were dead humans covered in wax and came alive at night. The thought makes me shudder to think of the horrors that would arise…should the stony chambers of the Inferno awaken amongst the hundreds of sinister faces, at Haw Par Villa.