Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tiger Balm for a fevered brow

Today we went to Haw Par Villa, or, as it's more commmonly known, Tiger Balm Gardens. It was built as an amusement park in the 1930s, with a (now demolished) counterpart in Hong Kong. Mentholated body rub has been big business for a long time.

These days, amusement parks have rollercoasters, revolving teacups and other adrenaline-focussed machinery. I'm not sure what they had back in the day, but all that has survived are some rather strange statues.

It starts fairly normal; at the bottom of the hill is a tiger, a very big snake and a goat. As you walk up, you get fairly normal stuff like Buddhas and dragons, and then you're suddenly presented with a half-car, half-tiger snarling back at you. You carry on, and there's a diorama where angry rabbits are waving machetes at an army of rats that appear to have been in the first world war, because they've got Red Cross armbands and are helping wounded rodents to safety. Or eating them.

I said it was rather strange.
It was starting to rain, so we sought shelter in the Ten Hells. Again, back in the day they didn't really worry about child-friendly entertainment. There's a whole bunch of fairly badly executed depictions of what happens if you're a bad person. You'll be frozen, or burned, or thrown into a tree made of knives, or (if you're a prostitute) drowned in a pool of blood.

We never saw any punishment for using a prostitute, as opposed to being one, which seems a bit unfair. Perhaps the johns got thrown into the cutlery-based tree, but if so, that sin was conspicuous by its absence from the tariff that was listed on the wall of the Ten Hells.

There's a special hell if you ignore rules, but to make it worse at the end of the Ten Hells you get fed a cup of tea that makes you forget everything, and then you're reincarnated. That also seems a bit unfair, or a loophole: could you just claim you were suffering tea-related amnesia, instead of ignoring the rules?

After the Ten Hells (which used to be inside an enormous dragon, but are now stored in a big pile of grey concrete) there are some seriously angry animals, in cardigans and waistcoats, having a fight with a giant cockroach, and a woman breastfeeding a much older lady. Perhaps she's the woman who serves the tea.

The rain had stopped, so we walked around some more; we saw some rather grumpy looking amphibians, a man being seduced by spider women, and more smug animals. And then it started raining heavily, so we fled to the safety of the MRT station. All without paying a penny for this strange world of Tiger Balm-inspired oddity.

More photos of the wierdness are here.  All Tiger Balm, all the time...


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