Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Weird and bizarre

Recently, Discovery Channel featured an Indonesian man who was afflicted by warts that grew out of control and made his limbs appear to be like tree bark and roots. It was really bizarre as he did look half man half tree.

That got me thinking more about strange and bizarre stuff that I had seen over the years on my travels. I started to list some of the weird and perhaps bizarre things i had seen that I might want to blog about. The list went like this...

Mystery Road at Jeju Island, where vehicles roll uphill.
Japanese love hotels.
The ultimate in kitsch!
Phallic festivals in Japan.

Thaipusam at Batu Caves (not weird but bizarre penitents)

Top left - Japanese Love Hotel
Top - Phallus Matusri in Kanagawa Japan

Left - Thiapusam at Batu Caves.

Then it struck me that one of the weirdest and extremely bizarre places can actually be found right here in Singapore! It called the Tiger Balm Gardens a.k.a Haw Par Villa.

Haw Par Villa was built sometime in the 1930s by a philanthropist Aw Boon Haw. On a hillside by the sea (now reclaimed), he built a mansion with a sprawling garden and decorated the garden with dioramas depicting Chinese virtues, tales from folklore and Chinese mythologies.
Thrown open free for public viewing, the Tiger Balm Gardens must have been one of the earliest theme parks here. I still remember being there as a child with my parents in the 1960s. As a child it was already a scary place for me.

What is really weird and bizarre about the place are the statues depicting life, or rather what life would be without religion or virtues. It is a place highlighting human failures and faults. Macabre scenes of hell and punishment dominate the dioramas.

Unfortunately, the Haw Par Villa appears to suffer from an identity crisis. You are not sure what the theme park is all about. It's as though someone with a deranged mind designed the place. You have scenes from Chinese folklore like the Monkey King to the Statue of Liberty, from Japanese Sumo wrestlers to graceful Thai dancers. Scenes of human virtuosity to horrific scenes of gruesome torture. Really weird.

The most infamous of all the dioramas there is the depiction of the Ten Courts of Hell according to Chinese beliefs. Hell seems to be all gore, torture and mutilation. Hey, aren't they dead already? Apparently the dead do still feel pain and the officials in Hell just love to give them more pain. Well, it's hell, right?
Here are some pictures of the weird dioramas.

Sadly today, Haw Par Villa, or sometimes called the Tiger Balm Gardens, is an anachronism.
The statues, themes and gaudy colors just won't cut it with today's generation.
Compared to other theme parks today, with exhibits housed in air-conditioned environment, with multimedia presentations, looking at statues at Haw Par Villa is downright passive and boring.

Previous attempts to update and modernize Haw Par Villa have failed miserably and today it is best served only as a fading memorial to the legacy of the Aw Brothers' philanthropy.

1 comment:

  1. Frankly, the site is not worth preserving... it's so eerie...