In my ever-expanding quest to “do Singapore differently” (a quest which I will continue to re-name in every post), I ended up in some gardens run by the Haw Par Tiger Balm-inventing family. Way back when, I wrote a post about tiger-themed things in Singapore, but definitely didn’t realize I was only cat-scratching the surface of this family’s tiger obsession (and general insanity) at that point. While I looked into the gardens a little bit before showing up, most of the reviews on tripadvisor were focused on the insanity of the park being free, not the insanity of the park itself. Normally, free things in Singapore are a be-all, end-all event (people lined up overnight for a free egg McMuffin at McDonalds. In Canada, Subway – which is way more awesome than MickyDees – did the same thing, and I was able to stroll in for a free breakfast sandwich without encountering any line-up whatsoever)!
(Oh yeah, I’m talking about Haw Par Villa, not food – another Singaporean complaint on tripadvisor was the lack of on-site restaurants), ANYWAYS, the minute you walk in the park, you’re greeted with a detailed, and frankly rather terrifying statue of a tiger. While this should have set the tone for the rest of the experience, I instead brushed it off as having an unfortunate design, shuddered a little, then continued on my way.
The garden used to circle a mod house, which one Haw Par brother gave to the other as a gift (just for his birthday, no big deal). They were to be open to the public and told a series of stories that were meant to teach Singaporean children right from wrong and were to (also) be a gift of knowledge to the city (I don’t know about you, but as the brother, I’d feel kind of awkward having people romping around my yard all the time).
While, in theory, teaching people about life is generally a good thing, lessons can get kind of distorted when they’re coming from someone who drives a tiger-car around town on a regular basis:
In addition, its hard not to seem at least a bit disturbing when the main lesson you’re trying to teach (to children, remember) is about the Buddhist Legend of the 10 Courts of Hell. Now, I have nothing against Buddhism, I just think that the Haw Pars could have picked another, um, less graphic scene to depict than this one:
After barely making it out of the courts alive, I was let out near the entrance to a small pond, where even the turtles were cowering under a bridge in fear.
Moving on, the majority of the remaining gardens featured the tales of Tripitaka, Pigsy (a man with a pig’s head), Monkey God and Sandy (a sand demon). They embarked on a courageous adventure to obtain Buddhist scriptures and face their personal demons to obtain Budhahood. Their journey is complicated in that many of the entities they encounter believe that Tripitaka’s holy flesh will grant them immortality and as such, they are seduced by sexy spider women and have to fight off a small fire-demon child. Altogether, it’s a pretty awesomely action-packed story – and I’m not just saying that because it’s less terrifying than the 10 courts of hell!
As much as I loved Tripitaka’s tale, after that point the excessively bright coloured statues, along with the excessively hot Singaporean sun, were both starting to wear on me, and all I could bring myself to notice were the increasingly scaring facial expressions of the statues.
Finally, I made it to the exit, where comparatively non-frightening Tiger Balm-holding tigers stood. At that point I realised the park is just a big marketing ploy to make tiger balm look happy and non-threatening, and also that the Haw Par brothers were most likely on a LOT of hard drugs.