Singapore’s Haw Par Villa: Not Your Average Theme Park

The Haw Par Brothers, creators of the Tiger Balm in the early 1900s, developed an unique educational and cultural exposition. It’s themes are universal and not just Chinese. What is bad is bad and cuts across all nationalities.

Haw Par Villa—formerly known as the Tiger Balm Garden—is an 8.5-hectare Asian cultural park, the last of its kind in the world. Built in 1937, Singapore’s largest outdoor art gallery is the brainchild of Aw Boon Haw, millionaire philanthropist and marketing extraordinaire who gifted the world Tiger Balm.

The eclectic park is a treasure trove of Asian culture, history, philosophy and religion—quirky yet enlightening at the same time.

Economist Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution writes ,

It has its gruesome side, as illustrated by this look at a traditional site for visits, Haw Par Villa:

Thousands used to throng the park, and it once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with attractions like Singapore Zoo and Jurong Bird Park. “Every Singaporean over the age of 35 probably has a picture of themselves at Haw Par,” said Desmond Sim, a local playwright. Those pictures would probably include the following statues, each made from plastered cement paste and wire mesh: a human head on the body of a crab, a frog in a baseball cap riding an ostrich, and a grandmother suckling at the breast of another woman.

But the highlight of this bizarre park are the Ten Courts. A tableau of severe disciplines are shown in painstaking detail, along with a placard stating the sin that warranted it. Tax dodgers are pounded by a stone mallet, spikes driven into a skeletal chest cavity like a bloodthirsty pestle in mortar. Spot the tiny tongue as it is pulled out of a screaming man, watch the demon flinging a young girl into a hill of knives. Ungratefulness results in a blunt metal rod cutting a very large, fleshly heart out of a woman. Perhaps the most gruesome depiction is an executioner pulling tiny intestines out from a man tied to a pole. The colons were visible and brown. The crime? Cheating during exams.

Quality of People and Workplace Engagement

Yishan Wong on engineering management,

The quality of coworkers is the single greatest determinant of workplace happiness, and fully engaged participation by everyone is the primary way by which everyone exercises direct power over making their job experience better.

Intimacy and Vulnerability

American psychologist and Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach writes in Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha (2003):

The intimacy that arises in listening and speaking truth is only possible if we can open to the vulnerability of our own hearts. Breathing in, contacting the life that is right there, is our first step. Once we have held ourselves with kindness, we can touch others in a vital and healing way.

Einstein Took Naps

Science journalist Zaria Gorvett on Einstein’s quirky habits:

Luckily for Einstein, he also took regular naps. According to apocryphal legend, to make sure he didn’t overdo it he’d recline in his armchair with a spoon in his hand and a metal plate directly beneath. He’d allow himself to drift off for a second, then—bam!—the spoon would fall from his hand and the sound of it hitting the plate would wake him up.

True Tolerance

Robin Hanson of Overcoming Bias on what it means to be tolerant:

“Tolerance” is a feel-good buzzword in our society, but I fear people have forgotten what it means. Many folks are proud of their “tolerance” for gays, working women, Tibetan monks in cute orange outfits, or blacks sitting at the front of the bus. But what they really mean is that they consider such things to be completely appropriate parts of their society, and are not bothered by them in the slightest. That, however, isn’t “tolerance.”

“Tolerance” is where you tolerate things that actually bother you.

The Blood Brother of Corporate Evil

Charlie Munger at the 2005 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting,

The history of much of which we don’t like in modern corporate capitalism comes from an unreasonable expectation, communicated from headquarters, that [corporate] earnings have to go up with no volatility and great regularity. That kind of an expectation from headquarters is not just the kissing cousin of evil. It’s the blood brother of evil. And we just don’t need that blood brother in our headquarters.

Gratitude and the Dignity of Dying

Renowned neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks, the bestselling author of Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, writes in the New York Times, upon learning of his terminal cancer diagnosis at the age of eighty-one,

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

Sacks famously noted, “my predominant feeling is one of gratitude.”

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

The close friendship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams started when they worked together on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, and in 1784. Jefferson was the runner-up in the presidential election of 1796, he became Adams’s vice president. They turned political rivals, when Adams ran for a second term in 1800 and two major political parties had emerged: the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. Jefferson became president.

They wrote numerous letters to each other for more than a dozen years after both had left the presidency. Jefferson’s estate in Monticello notes,

After fifteen years of resumed friendship, on July 4, 1826, Jefferson and Adams died within hours of each other. Their deaths occurred—perhaps appropriately—on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Unaware that his friend had died hours earlier, Adams’s family later recalled that his last spoken words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

The written words of Jefferson and Adams, however, survive to this day, preserving the rich legacy of their friendship, thoughts, and ideas.

Make the Positive Things Bloom

From Helen Tworkov’s interview with Thich Nhat Hanh in the Summer 1995 issue of Tricycle,

I have noticed that people are dealing too much with the negative, with what is wrong. They do not touch enough on what is not wrong—it’s the same as some psychotherapists. Why not try the other way, to look into the patient and to see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?

Waking up in the morning, you can recognize “I’m alive” and that there are twenty-four hours for me to live, to learn how to look at living beings with the eyes of compassion. If you are aware that you are alive, that you have twenty-four hours to create new joy, this would be enough to make yourself happy and the people around you happy. This is a practice of happiness.

Trusting in Love

Jack Kornfield in The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace (2002,)

Lovingkindness offers care and well-wishing to another without expectation or demand.

There is no distance between their well-being and our own.

True love is trustworthy. Our love for others is an expression of our trust in love itself. No matter what happens, we can still love.