by Kerry Tolson @kerrytolson.com
'Come on, hold my hand, we're going to hell.' A sentence you wouldn't expect to hear from a parent to their child. But these were the tender words we hear a dotting dad cheerfully murmured to his sweet toddling son of about 3years-of-age as we followed them under an arch and into a cave.
And hell it was!
It had me pondering the question:
What in the hell do they put into Tiger Balm!
... and was this the result if you rubbed on too much?
Day three of our jaunt around Singapore found us wandering through the extremely bizarre garden-gnomes-on-crack wacked-out gardens of Haw Par Villa, theme-park and the one time home of the Tiger Balm barons and brothers, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par.
Though I should add, there's not a single garden gnome to be seen among the 1000 garden statues that make up this park. however gorillas, mermaids, camera wielding badgers, gun toting elephants, dali-esque giraffes, human-headed-sword-waving crabs are all there, mixing it with serene buddhas, jitterbug jiving couples and crazed-eye white rabbits that would look right at home in a Monty-Python skit. The acid-trip psychedelic landscape is seriously mind-blowing and has us spinning between the emotions of screaming with laughter and being seriously freaked out.
Just to give the heads up....
disturbing images coming up
like this one....
and this little eye opener
One of three 'Tiger Balm Gardens' in the Asia region (the other two - Hong Kong and Fujian, China - are no longer operating), the Singapore garden opened to the public back in 1937 as an educational facility to teach the Chinese values, mythology and folklore blending Buddhism and Confucian philosophy and expression through various dioramas and displays... but for the life of me, I can't quite figure out what the display above is trying to express... besides milk... 'breast is always best' perhaps. ***
Located well and truly off the regular tourist stomping track, unless you're into shipping containers and cranes then this area would be right up your alley - it's next door to the cargo docks - the theme-park is considered one of Singapore best kept secrets, rarely visited by the tourist hoards. However it is quite possible that every single citizen of Singapore has visited these gardens at least once in their life.
Possibly when they were a child
and quite likely when they were being naughty.
And this could be the reason as to why children are so well behaved in Singapore.
You see the main attraction of this park is HELL.
In fact all Ten Courts of Hell, where the punishment for crimes and misdemeanours are very clearly spelt out.... in gory bloodied graphic detail - and not just the biggies like murder, rape, corruption and dog-earing books (that's a body sawn in half offence! misuse of books).
But also the important crimes. The felonies that drive parents insane - like ,not eating dinner (wasting food - also a sawn-in-half offence), causing trouble for parents (intestines ripped out) and annoying your sister...or brother (being grounded by a large stone).
I can just hear it, it'd be none of this
'wait till your father gets home' threats
or 'if you don't do as your told, you won't be going to the pool '
or 'if you don't stop touching things, I'm going to rip your arms off!'
No, it'd be
'Right! that's it, I taking you to Hell...I'll show you how your arms'll be ripped off'
So, off to hell we skipped,
first past this pair of cuteness - the Haw Par Tiger cubs
then past this not so bundle-of-cuteness
and this too bizarre for words scene
and into the dragons belly we went.
The "Ten Courts of Hell" originally burned away in the tail of a dragon, but over the years the tail became a bit drab as the park fell into disrepair when visitor numbers dropped and so in the spruce up which began in 2011, the tail was turned into a cave depicting hell complete with eerie atmosphere, glowing paint that looks like fire and a bit of musty stink... (tho I doubt the scent wasn't quite what they had plan).
All the big crimes were there;
Corruption - thrown into a volcanic pit;
Rape - head and arms chopped off;
Exorbitant interest rate money-lenders - thrown onto a hill of knives;
Gamblers - frozen into ice blocks;
and Inciting social unrest - tied to a red hot copper, pillared and grilled. (hmmmm a certain pollie of a 'great-again' country might be hoping that's not what happens)
Wandering through it gave us the heebie-jeebies....
...seriously, it fricking freaked me out!
Time to find something cute......
.......although still looking freaky weird
As we giggle our way around we notice there were exhibits that just didn't seem to fit the Buddha/Confucian/Taoist ethos such as - the statue of liberty standing near a pond, in the background a colourful pagoda. Or a cane-toad riding an ostrich.
Or a group of picnicking gorillas, near an oversize, bizarrely coloured kiwi being followed by a line of crazed-eyed kangaroos. And if Hell doesn't give me nightmares, then these horror of every aussie-childs nightmare, the 'dropbear' - huge incredibly evil-looking koalas - will!
Further along are walls of the dioramas depicting scenes of 'everyday' life in very over-reaching realms; a romancing couple chat while an elderly woman tries to steal the woman's bag; a police office questions a man near his car while a woman lies on the road, blood 'pouring' from her head... just up from him is another woman running down the hill, angst written all over her face, yet just near her a group of men play card, gambling and laughing.
Further along a boat is sinking. On the top deck it looks like a scene from the movie 'Titantic' with 'Rose & Jack' . Below them sharks gobble up people as they fall into the waters...
and then there's the bear hunt.
The bears are winning.
Although, the bears look eerily like oversized sheep.
Although there's not a lot of people wandering around the park, there is still quite a bit of activity happing, with a full construction site banging away... sans any barriers. Everything is getting a sweep of glowing colour and the stark contrast between the freshly painted pieces and the faded, paint-curled sections, even in the same exhibit, adds to offbeat atmosphere of the park. As we make our way up through the terraces we find we need to hop-scotch the tools, the wet cement, wet paint and the various vehicles driving around the site.
Interestingly the park is also a memorial with three monuments dedicated to the brothers and their parents.
Despite its gaudiness, bizarre kitsch bewildering scenes, the gardens truly are amazing and delightful to walk around. And although Hell has given me the shivers, the dioramas of the Journey to the West better known as 'Monkey' brought back fond memories of childhood. Not to mention the reminder of my mother's voice constantly telling me 'cleanliness being next to godliness.... so don't forget to wash those ears.'
Haw Par Villa can be reached by the MTR - Circle Line. There's no café/shops in the park or near it (that we saw) so take water/munchies with you. Currently entry is free. There is not a lot of shade either, so take a hat and slap on that sunblock. This place is a great way to spend an afternoon (or morning) and capture some really great 'out-there' photos.
*** (I later read that this is piece is the representation of the ultimate display in filial piety: a woman feeds her mother-in-law while her baby cries. it's all about holding elders in highest respect. )
to my darling daughter-in-law, a glass of wine will be more than fine.
by Kerry Tolson @kerrytolson.com.
Instead we duck back into the shopping mall, down the escalator and find ourselves ‘picnicking’, Asian style – mouth-watering Vietnamese fare and cheap beer in enamel cups while sitting on cute plastic stools with a 'field of grass' table.
It's still raining after lunch, so we head for the National Museum of Singapore located in a beautiful 1887 Renaissance-style building filled with endless rows of arches and a massive ‘white-house’-esqe dome. The museum is the oldest in Singapore, although it’s original name was the “Raffles Library and Museum”.
Its building is a big favourite for photographers of all scopes. There are ‘shoots’ everywhere – wedding pics, fashion shoots, photography-workshops – all taking place while we wander through the stunning architecture - and inadvertently photo bomb the equally stunning images with 'the-drown-rat'-in-the-background' pose.
Most of the exhibits are free, and I'm particularly interested in the What is Not Visible is Not Invisible , the light and texture installation from the French Regional Collections of Contemporary Art (FRAC) but before we even step out of the main foyer of I'm gobsmacked at the enormous sphere of pots and pans suspended above my head.
Aptly named 'Cooking the World' (by Subodh Gupta), it's a representation of the surplus and shortage throughout society - though with that many pots in the kitchen, I'd be mithering about the shortage of dishwashers.
We go up the ramp to the glass dome to see the exhibit "Story of the Forest" , and I notice out the corner of my eye a sign warning about possible Vertigo and or Epilepsy. “Ah” I think, “strobing” and behind a black curtain and into a pitch-dark black ‘nothingness’ I go.
No sooner do I step into the room than I immediately feel a spinning sensation as neon colours flash all around me. But it’s not a strobing, no, the dome is a huge moving screen-ball and the images of trees, flowers and ‘who-knows-what-they-are’ travel about. Mal keeps walking ahead, totally oblivious to my ‘spinning’… although I’m actually standing very still… and my sudden need to throw-up. I turn quickly and try to find my way back out through the curtain, but that isn’t very successful and I end up becoming tangled in it and bumping into people trying to come in to the exhibit. Mal continues wandering off into the ‘forest’.
Outside, I take deep gulps of air and end up with the head spins. Gripping onto the glass banisters I try to calm myself and focus on the beautiful crystal triangle lights above… turns out when you’ve got vertigo, looking upwards is not a good idea.
Within minutes Mal comes strolling over from a totally different direction to where we had entered. He's surprised to see me. “How did you get here before me?’
He hadn’t even missed me.
At the What is Not Visible is Not Invisible exhibit I see a sign warning of high voltage and that touching the exhibits may cause fatal injuries. Nerves about possible ‘side effects’ get the better of me and I quiz the poor door attendant as to ‘how can I get out quickly if I have an attack’ and ‘what if I faint?’ By the look on the poor woman’s face she is horrified at the thought of a museum attendee collapsing in the exhibit and suggests that I ‘walk around the exhibit very quickly’.
Wandering back towards Raffles Plaza we find ourselves in the grounds of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd admiring the beautiful Christmas Orchestra lights when I notice what appears to be a person wrapped in a blanket lying on a bench seat. As I draw closer it becomes apparent that it is a sculpture... of a homeless person.
One of the things I love about Singapore is the eclectic mix of sculptures dotting the city and the nation as a whole; many quirky, modern or representative of the past, but most of all I love that this neat orderly city isn't afraid to 'court' controversy in its art expression. And this sculpture was a prime example of making a statement and encouraging people to think.
Called "Homeless Jesus" the piece by Timothy Schmaltz is one of fifty Homeless Jesus installations throughout the world including one at the Vatican City. Life-size and very much lifelike, it is only by getting up close and personal that you notice that the form is representative of Jesus by the two nail holes in the feet of the sculpture. Installed in November 2016, the piece has ruffled quite a few feathers, with calls to have it removed as it 'demeans' the neighbourhood or that it is a misrepresentation of Jesus.... 'Jesus was never homeless nor a beggar according to the bible' was a quote of one of the detractors - of course the fact Jesus wandered around the desert for forty days and nights seems to be lost on the person who said it...
I find this piece an interesting juxtaposition to the installation of the pots and pans, and contemplate that even in comfortable prosperous Singapore there is an fractional element of homelessness; invisible it would appear, dossing down in the voids of apartment buildings, sleeping in tents on the white sands of Sentosa, even blending in with the sleepy 'in-transit' travellers at Changi Airport - invisible but definitely there and making 'do' with selling tissues at the food courts and receiving assistance from various groups or the Cathedral, which distributes some 150packages each Sunday.
Meanwhile back in vibrant Chinatown thousands of lanterns dangle in garlands over the streets, swathes of red and gold adorn buildings and enormous Roosters and hens galore bedeck the road verges. In a less 24hours we'll all be celebrating the 2017 New Year, but Chinatown was hanging in anticipation for Lunar New Year - Year of the Rooster - which was happening in less than three weeks.
Hello! I'm Kerry
. . . a plan-nothing, have no idea where I'm going travelholic.
A daughter of the gypsies and the wife of a workaholic, I'm forever wondering 'What's over there?' and devising ways to squeeze through the barbed-wire fence of small-business ownership responsibilities and every-day life tangles to discover it.
and this is my book.