Journey To Haw Par Villa

Posted: February 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

Captain’s log                                  Stardate: 63991.8 (Feb 24th, 2013)

Its been seven years since I’ve last visited this place. Can’t recall much back then. So in order to recap, I join in for another one of SPI historical tour to this once popular theme place. Lead by our SPI historian, who was a former employee of the place, he shall share with us the history, the Chinese folklore, legends and Confucianism teachings to 11 excited participants who had join in the tour. 3 members, including myself will assist him with the tour. At the same time, learn about the place.

The park was built in 1937 by the Burmese brothers, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Book Park. They were the developers of Tiger Balm and back then, Haw Par Villa was originally known as “Tiger Balm Gardens.”

In 1988, the Singapore Tourism Board took charge of the Tiger Balm Gardens and renamed it “Haw Par Villa Dragon World”. The “Haw Par” is to reflect the memory of the Aw brothers. The “Haw” and “Par”, which literally mean “tiger” and “leopard”. The dioramas and statues were restored, while plays, acrobatic displays, and puppet shows were organised and held there. There’s over 1000 statues and 150 dioramas that dramatise Chinese legends and folklore. Haw Par Villa is like no other place in the world for most people.

The management imposed entrance fees but the high fees discouraged visitors, so the management incurred a loss of S$31.5 million after 10 years. The park management made profit during its first year of operations after renovations in 1994, broke even in 1995, but started making losses over the next three years and was forced to provide free entry in 1998.

In March 2001, the Singapore Tourism Board renamed it “Tiger Balm Gardens” and entrance fees dropped. The park is now open every day from 9am to 7pm and admission is free. However the name “Haw Par Villa” was heard pretty often. So to many, its still Haw Par Villa.

Now its easily accessible to the park since there’s the Haw Par Villa MRT named after it. Its one of the stations from Circle Line. It will lead you right to its doorstep! =)

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As I remembered back then, the park was so quiet. So peaceful and calm. And I remember how my younger brother, who was only 5 years old that time started crying to some of the statues there which terrifies him. Some say there’s a lot of scary things there.

And when comes to scary stuff, the place was known to become the source of popular ghost stories. Most of it were been shared by former employees, as to how they had experience like they had been “watched” by some of the statues. Some even claimed that the statue heads will turn. Others will claimed that a statue will “disappeared” and “reappeared” again the next day. True?

Main attractions you can find were dioramas of scenes from Journey to the West, Fengshen Bang, The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars, Legend of the White Snake and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. There’s statues of mythological figures such as the Laughing Buddha and Guanyin, and historical personages such as Jiang Ziya, Su Wu and Lin Zexu. There’s even the 12 animals found in the Chinese zodiac. There are also monuments dedicated to the Aw brothers and their parents.

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But one of the most popular attractions were the Ten Courts of Hell. Its all contained in a dimly lit long tunnel in a shape of a dragon. But sadly you will no longer find the dragon there. Now covered by grey stone walls. I wonder why it was been taken out…. Seriously, the dragon was awesome!

The Ten Courts of Hell will introduced you the various gruesome depictions of the punishments in hell you will get for the bad deeds you had committed when you are on Earth. Its based on Chinese mythology and Buddhism. Inside the tunnel, there are exhibits in the form of figurines to depict the Ten Courts of Hell. Seeing how scary some of the exhibits were sure freak out some kids. Like how terrified my younger brother was back then.

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Most people will ask, whether Haw Par Villa will be demolished anytime soon. Well, certainly the future of the theme park is in doubts. But I really hope the Government can preserve this place for future generations to learn more about it.

Sure, the place does look old, rundown. But overall the garden is well-kept and clean. But as told by our historian, one has to first understand the stories that inspired the creation of the statues. It is only when one starts to understand the stories, that one can know the language that these statues speak and perhaps even a message from the Aw brothers legacy.

Nevertheless I’m satisfied to join in this historical tour. Who knows, I might visit this place again. Its really a good educational place for younger generations to learn about its culture, philosophy and the legend behind all this. It might have lose its glorious moment before it was left emptied. But as long as it attracts people, and where it should be, it will never lose its trademark =)

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