Hanging out at Haw Par Villa

Continuing on the blazing trail of our Chinese heritage, we visit a unique, otherworldly landmark known as the Haw Par Villa (aka Tiger Balm Gardens). The Haw Par Villa was opened by the Aw Brothers, whose family created the Tiger Balm ointment (used to cure headaches, muscle aches etc). It is internationally reputed, such that even UK pharmaceutical shops like Boots stock them! Fun Fact: Damian loves to use Tiger Balm (but we’re not sponsored in any way HAHA).

The Haw Par Villa was the former residence of the Aw brothers, who opened their gardens to the public in the 1930s. The grounds consists of statutes of various workmanship depicting Chinese folklore and mythologies; ancient tales such as Journey to the West and Romance of the Three Kingdoms are illustrated in dioramas (as you can see later)! The most remarkable of them is the Ten Courts of Hell, portraying Hell in a gruesome fashion.

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The entrance of the Haw Par Villa in the 1990s, with a magnificent structure of a dragon (credit: Google).
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Here’s the entrance of Haw Par Villa today; no more dragon 😦

Major renovations have been undertaken since the Singapore Tourism Board took over Haw Paw Villa in the 1980s. Nowadays, entry is free but the landmark remains a notable cultural site with many interesting tales of Chinese folklore. Let the journey begin!

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A lovely tourist was kind enough to help us to take a photo 🙂 This was Damian’s first time at the Haw Paw Villa, and he was very intrigued by the ambience, to say the least!
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The epitome of Chinese architecture, the great gate welcoming all guests. With keen eyes, we noticed that there was a leopard and a tiger on the left and right sides of the gates respectively. We soon learned that the animals symbolises the creators of the gardens, Aw Boon Haw (meaning ‘gentle tiger’) and Aw Boon Par (meaning ‘gentle leopard’).
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The Aw brothers certainly were wealthy; one of the cars they owned had a huge tiger head in at its front.

Instead of following the recommended route, we immediately headed straight to the Ten Courts of Hell. The attraction seemed to have changed in the sense that Sandra recalled, during her primary school days, sitting through a boat ride, seeing the ‘punishments’ from afar. Now, one can simply saunter through the attraction and get up close and personal with the exhibitions.

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We love how the Chinese character “平安” (which means “peace” in English) is juxtaposed against the Ten Courts of Hell. Many tourists would walk past this without knowing what it means (and sensing the irony heh heh)!
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Are you ready to enter the Ten Courts of Hell?

Viewer discretion: Many of the dioramas depict the process of being in Hell quite gruesomely, so we chose not to upload any specific image of them. Nevertheless, we think it would be quite an experience going there!

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The first thing we noticed when we entered the cave was these two mirror reflections on the right side. There was a sign that told us to look in the mirror to see our ‘sentence’; Sandra got a shock when the light exposed two scary-looking ancient Chinese guards. Admittedly, she screamed… So beware!
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Narrow pathway which one would have to cross through to finish the tour. Each section shows a stage of punishment based on the crimes committed.
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We survived the Ten Courts of Hell (although Damian looking perturbed by the experience)! We did notice that it was interesting how certain crimes were classified more heinous than others (for example, dishonouring your family members over petty theft), which reflects the Confucian values of filial piety.
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Boy were we glad to see the end of the Ten Courts of Hell! It is certainly not for the faint of heart!
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Walking around the Villa, we saw many Buddhist sculptures and we observed many Buddhists bowing before them.
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Sandra (posing hehe) taking photos with Damian’s Canon camera with the Holga turret lens attachment! We love how there are loads of live terrapins underneath the bridge!
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Ring the bell for good fortune!
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There are four memorials in the Villa, of which the tallest was in memory of the Aw brothers’ parents.
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So we were wondering why there was a Fujifilm sticker on the bench (sponsorship? heh).
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A row of dioramas depicting stories of moral teachings!
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Some of the folklore were not limited to Chinese customs but with a local taste in it! Look, a samsui woman!
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Sandra resting under a pagoda; be weary of insects! Insect repellants are a must-use!
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One cheeky monkey behind another! 🙂
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Damian appears confused as to why the two sumo wrestlers are fighting over Tiger Balm (or just really bad at posing HAHA)!
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Damian standing with the ‘Aw Bros’ 😀
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The hero for fighting against the Westerners in the Opium war!
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More sculptures towards the exit/entrance of Haw Par Villa!
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Classic ice-cream vendor! Maybe she has some fond memories of Haw Par Villa…

Before leaving the park, we decided to try our hand at using the Splitzer with our Lomo’Instant Camera:

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We are extremely please with how it turned out! The background and flooring allowed the two shots to blend in seamlessly. Extremely useful if you want to take a picture with a friend; a selfie just would not do! ðŸ˜€

Finally,  we did try our hand with the Holga lenses using the Canon DSLR! Here are some of our favourite pictures:

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Sculpture tree brunch near the Sun Wu Kong!
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In Haw Par Villa, there are duplicates of famous landmarks! It was dubbed an ‘international corner’ and served the purposes of attracting visitors from all over the world? We have our own imitation of the Statute of Liberty!
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A triune picture of Buddha!
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One of the filters of the Holga turret lens – the ability to produce natural white/green colours!
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Pure green filter; but fitting for a terrapin!
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Lotus flower having white/green filter!
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Sandra’s view of Damian when Damian took a picture of Sandra on the bridge with the Holga lens!
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More of Damian! 🙂

Overall, our trip to Haw Par Villa was really quite educational! We learnt so much about Chinese folklore, Singapore’s history pre and post- WWII and about an eccentric but wealthy family who continues to amass their legacy till this day!

Haw Par Villa will undoubtedly remain as a fond memory for many Singaporeans. In fact, the Straits Times have recently reported that Haw Par Villa is due for another makeover soon! We are excited to see what other changes the park would undergo… but for now, let us treasure our national heritage landmarks and we definitely recommend visiting Haw Par Villa!

NB: We have a new website layout! You’ll see the categories on the main webpage, making it more accessible to see specific photography content! We hope you’ll enjoy our new theme!

Till next time,

Damianwithsandra

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