Haw Par Villa is a Chinese-themed park well-known for housing many tableau depicting scenes from Chinese history and culture, such as the ‘Legend of the White Snake’. I have visited Haw Par Villa more than 5 times in my life and I have never felt tired of going there. What makes it so attractive? For me, Haw Par Villa is a place that offers more than just paint-peeling statues.
On my first visit there, I was truly taken aback by one of the tableau: A woman breast feeding an elderly woman! It is widely known that the Chinese in the past valued women being reserved and self-respecting. Hence, it is rare to see Chinese women baring their breasts in public. Hence, the story behind this tableau awed me. This act reflects filial piety, an essential value greatly emphasised in Chinese culture. The elderly woman was too frail to feed on solid food and had to depend on breast milk for nutrition. This scene showed me how strongly the people of the past were rooted to the value of caring for their old folk.
If that isn’t enough to visit Haw Par Villa, you should go to hell. No, I’m not swearing at you but you definitely have to go visit the Ten Courts of Hell — one of the biggest attractions here! Inside, there are 10 different sections of Hell that the Chinese believe sinful people will experience after they pass on, depending on the sins committed while they were alive. Punishments range from the severing of body parts like the head and tongue, submerging into hot oil, to relentless whacking by ferocious the gate keepers of Hell. Remember your parents nagging at you to not disobey them or else…? While the depictions did not really frighten me, I was deeply amazed by the riotous imagination behind the portrayals of these statues and the use of vivid colours to elucidate the scenes of what the Chinese perceive as “Hell”.
Many will attribute the low visitor count at Haw Par Hill to the need to travel a long distance just to view some lurid statues, coupled with the humid weather in Singapore which makes walking even tougher. However, visitors would appreciate the uniqueness of these statues when they go the extra mile to understand the stories and values these statues represent. This is what makes Haw Par Villa so attractive: it’s exclusively endemic to traditional Chinese beliefs. This place is truly one of a kind.