Memories of the Haw Par Villa - Our SG50 e-book project

Thursday, October 09, 2014

SG50 Memories of the Haw Par Villa by Simply Lambchops

If you were born in the 1980s or earlier, I am sure you will remember this well-known place in the picture, and most probably, have a picture of yourself taken there. Yes, I am referring to the Haw Par Villa Dragon World, or originally known as the Tiger Balm Gardens before 1988. This majestic garden was built in 1937 by Aw Boon Haw for his brother, Aw Boon Par, who were both tycoons of the Tiger Balm ointment that the locals would be very familiar with. Back then, it was THE attraction and 'oriental Disneyland' of the era and families would spend their weekends or public holidays there, viewing the statues and giant dioramas of Chinese mythology and Confucius teachings, and scaring their kids with stories of hellThe name was later changed in 1988 after the Singapore Tourism Board took over the running of the place, and iconic features like acrobatic shows and two water rides - a slow boat ride through the dragon's body and a rollercoaster-like flume ride - were added. Sadly, these iconic features have been removed since 2004. 

The flume ride which was so popular in the 1990s. 

Stage performance (1991)

Funny street performance about Wu Song and Pan Jin Lian (1992) 

Stage performance (1994)

As I flipped through old photo albums of my parents' collection in search of pictures for a SG50 e-book project initiated by the Ministry of Education, it brought back many memories of this place. I wouldn't say that the recollection of this place is all fun and pleasant, considering gruesome images of the Ten Courts of Hell still haunt me till today. Despite that, the Haw Par Villa was built with the intention of imparting traditional Chinese values. Through the Chinese stories and fables revealed by the sculptures all around the park, children learn the importance of being filial, and to have a good character grounded on sound moral values which are relevant in modern times. That is the beauty of the Chinese culture and values - being diligent, respectful to the elders and upholding integrity are some of the many values we still impart in our Chinese families, in the hope that our children will be exemplary in the society, especially when they are independent. 

Even small things, like the water
mist, fascinated us back then

I do have mixed feelings about the Haw Par Villa though. Much as I loved this place when I was younger, it was mainly for the water rides and the company as the visits were usually gatherings with my extended family. Never did it once occur that I should revisit the Haw Par Villa with my children each time I drive past this place. Maybe it was the (too) graphic human sculptures with their heavily-painted faces that gives me the creeps... or animal sculptures that look too real for comfort. It is just too visual for young children and parental guidance is highly recommended. Also, stories about the punishments in the Ten Courts of Hell are no longer relevant for my family due to differences in religious beliefs, although there are strong learning points we can glean from each court and its reasons for the extremely harsh punishment. 

Nonetheless, this place comes with a rich heritage and all things traditional, should not - and must not - be replaced with modernism. For a place like the Haw Par Villa which was initially built on strong brotherly love, and deep-rooted in values and virtues of the Chinese culture, it will be a physical reminder of the long history and significance it holds in the past as it sits quietly on the hill of Pasir Panjang Road. We need to continue preserving this area to give locals and tourists a chance to learn about our culture through a unique educational experience. We are already seeing many Chinese traditions and customs being slowly replaced by modern thinking in the hearts of young Chinese families. Will we come a day where our children only knows ang-moh stories like Harry Porter or English fables, and no longer recognises Chinese stories which were once popular and widely read by our older generations? I too, realise that Ch and L have not been very exposed to Chinese stories and folklore which I am familiar with, and I attribute this to my own doing. I am starting now, and am doing a little more to read stories about the Monkey God to them. 

Singapore Tourism Board (STB) can certainly step up on its strategies to promote the Haw Par Villa to the younger generations which are lured to more happening theme parks like the Universal Studios. I am heartened to read that in March this year, the STB organised a Reliving Haw Par Villa Festival and saw an overwhelming turnout. Currently, guided tours of the place are also available for a fee for those who want to gain more insights about the sculptures and dioramas. Hopefully, with more support from the public, this faded attraction can once again, relive its glorious days. 

What do you remember most about Haw Par Villa? 

(I could not find any pictures of the gruesome sculptures from the old photo albums. Perhaps... it was an intentional act by my parents to leave only the fun memories of that place, and not the giant dioramas and statues that probably scared me back then.)

Other information:

Opening hours 9am to 7pm daily
Admission fee Free 
Address 262 Pasir Panjang Road Singapore 118628
How to get there Easiest by MRT. Alight at the Haw Par Villa MRT station

[This post is a contribution to the SG50 e-book initiated by MOE to commemorate Singapore's 50th birthday next year. You can read more about the heritage of the Haw Par Villa during its glorious days here and here.]

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