Friday, October 23, 2009

Haw Par Villa

Definitely one of our strangest destinations thus far, Haw Par Villa (which Bryan has only recently learned to say, after spending a few weeks calling it Harper Village) is a park full of statues and displays depicting scenes from Chinese mythology. The park is really large and just packed full of scenes from a number of stories. Haw Par Villa was formerly known as Tiger Balm Gardens, as the family that founded it also owns the Tiger Balm dynasty. The gift shop there has a wide variety of Tiger Balm products, and there's even a tiger print car with a huge tiger head ornament mounted on the front of it. Awesome.A lot of the statues were quirky, but the strangest part was the ten courts of hell. According to Chinese tradition, the ten courts of hell are where you go to receive judgment and punishment for your sins after you die. These displays were located in a giant cave in their own part of the park. The cave is guarded by two giant statues called "Ox-head" and "Horse-face," the traditional guardians of hell.

Once inside, there was a separate section for each court, where people were shown being punished for their wrongdoings. It was pretty intimidating, and there weren't many kids around, but the ones that were there looked a little frazzled. The first court of hell is where everyone goes to be judged based on their actions in their most recent life. If they've been virtuous, they get to go on to paradise. Those who have been evil in their most recent life are sent to the appropriate court of hell to receive punishment. The first court of hell is for a variety of crimes, including robbery and prostitution. The punishment for robbery is to be thrown into a volcanic pit. For corruption and stealing, the punishment is to be frozen into a block of ice. And most gruesome is what happens to prostitutes- they're drowned in a pool of blood. The pictures below are someone being burned in the volcano pit, and the scary demon guy who's burning him.The third court of hell is where people who disrespect their elders get their hearts cut out (see below) . The same punishment is applied to people who are ungrateful and to people who escape from prison. This is also where drug addicts and tomb robbers are "tied to a red hot copper pillar and grilled."The fourth court of hell is reserved for tax dodgers, those who refuse to pay rent, and business frauds, and their punishment is to be pounded by a stone mallet (below-it looks more like a spike mallet to me, but I'm no torture expert). Some of these sins seem so random to me- why is there a special punishment reserved specifically for people who don't pay rent?! The same layer of hell is for those who disobey their siblings (I wasn't aware that I had to obey my brothers...I'm doomed) and for those with a "lack of filial piety"- respect for parents and elders. People who are disrespectful are ground between two large stones.The fifth court of hell is for those who plotted someone's death in order to gain their money, and (this is one of my favorites) money lenders who charge outrageous interest rates. These offenders are thrown onto a hill of knives.In the sixth court of hell, cheaters, kidnappers, and people who curse suffer a similar fate, and are thrown onto a tree of knives. I wondered if Chinese parents ever threatened their children with "If you say that word again, you'll be thrown onto a tree of knives in the sixth court of hell!" It seems a lot more terrifying than the standard American "I'm going to wash your mouth out with soap!" This part of hell is also reserved for those who own porn, waste food, and "misuse books." These people all have their bodies sawed in two. So, seriously, finish your peas. In the seventh court of hell, so-called "rumor-mongers" have their tongues pulled out and rapists are thrown into a wok of boiling oil. Down in the eighth court, causing trouble for your family will get your intestines pulled out. Also, harming others to benefit yourself results in bodily dismemberment.
Robbers and murderers have their head and arms chopped off in the ninth court of hell (below), and those that neglect the old and young are crushed under boulders. Finally, in the tenth court of hell, everyone is taken to the Pavilion of Forgetfulness where an old lady named Meng Po provides a cup of tea that makes people forget their past lives. After the tea, everyone moves on to the Wheel of Reincarnation, where they are reincarnated as either an animal or a human. Those who have led righteous lives are reincarnated into a life of comfort, and those that have led unsavory lives come back into the world to lead difficult lives full of suffering.After getting through the ten courts of hell, there are still plenty of oddities to take in. In the middle of the park, there's a pond with a couple of pagodas. And in the pond there's a bunch of turtles!! Red-eared sliders, of course- they are everywhere. The pagodas were really pretty and colorful too, and one had a huge Buddha on top.One part of the park has a little village that's below ground level, and you can look down into it. I don't think the builders of the village intended for it to flood but it did, and it actually gave it a neat effect. Now it reminds me of an ancient town that's been cursed with a massive flood- pretty cool. The whole place (except the sinister hell part) reminded me a bit of Mother Goose Land in Canton, OH. Mother Goose Land was a park in the town where I grew up, and it had a fairy tale theme. There were a bunch of big statues- the old woman who lived in a shoe (which, if I remember correctly, was also a sliding board), a big blue whale, and a castle turret. It was a great place to play and being at Haw Par Villa made me think of it- especially with some of the fantasy elements, like this turtle working as a waiter. The childhood memories inspired me to play like a kid, so I crawled into a pagoda.Here's me, rubbing the giant laughing Buddha's belly for good luck! And my favorite picture of the day- Bryan enthusiastically high-fiving some crazy-looking gorilla.

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