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.

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