Sunday, March 16, 2014

Reliving Haw Par Villa

Photo courtesy of Belinda Tan.

Have you visited Haw Par Villa? What memories do you have of this place?

For myself, I recall vaguely that I had visited Haw Par Villa at least once when I was a teenager. At that time, it was reopened as a theme park called "Dragon World". Admission fees were rather expensive then. Thankfully, I had visited the theme park during a Family Day event organized by the company that my mother used to work with and much of the admission fees were sponsored for.

A photo that was taken at the then Dragon World, after Haw Par Villa was reopened as a theme park.

On 16 Mar 2014, I have the pleasure to revisit Haw Par Villa to check out one of the free guided tours and a series of performances that were held in conjunction with the "Reliving Haw Par Villa" event. The iconic dragon model that used to be featured in the "Dragon World" theme park is long gone. Thankfully, most of the statues and sculptures in Haw Par Villa remain in existence.

One of the entrances to the Haw Par Villa. Photo courtesy of Belinda Tan.

Held over two weekends in March (15, 16, 22, 23 March 2014), Reliving Haw Par Villa aims to encourage the public to relive Haw Par Villa in the 1960s through a series of free guided tours of Haw Par Villa, talks, cultural performances, nostalgic-themed food bazaar and a vintage flea market. This event is one of the series of events of Tourism 50 which commemorates 50 years of tourism development and promotion in Singapore.

Haw Par Villa is an apt choice to kick start the Reminisce phase of Tourism 50. It is a long-standing attraction and heritage park. I learnt that many decades ago, Haw Par Villa was one of the few places in Singapore opened to the public where the local residents could relax and spend time with their families while learning about Chinese values and beliefs.

The start of the guided tour. Photo courtesy of Belinda Tan.

Back to the free guided tour that I had attended as part of the Reliving Haw Par Villa event. The tour was curated and conducted by local heritage tour specialist, Journeys, which is one of my favourite local heritage tour providers. Each guided tour is about 1 hour in duration. Tours start every hour from 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. during the event. The details of the guided tour can be found at Registration is required. For directions to the tour registration counter, please ask the ushers for assistance.

Depicting the Eight Immortals. Photo courtesy of Belinda Tan.

During the free guided tour, we learnt about the Aw brothers, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par. We also learnt about the Tiger Balm ointment business which has been closely associated with the Aw brothers.

One of the entrances to the Haw Par Villa.
There is a statue of a Burmese elephant found near this entrance.
Photo courtesy of Belinda Tan.

The Haw Par Villa was built by Aw Boon Haw in 1937 for his younger brother Aw Boon Par. Decades ago, the Aw brothers had generously opened the gardens of the Haw Par Villa to the public. To educate the public on traditional Chinese values, sculptures and dioramas reflecting Chinese values and beliefs were constructed and placed in villa.

Our guide selected a number of noteworthy sculptures and shared with us insights behind each of the selected sculptures. I learnt that Aw Boon Haw had intended the sculptures in the villa to educate the public on traditional Chinese values.

Vices and the negative consequences.
Photo courtesy of Belinda Tan.

While I was at Haw Par Villa, I witnessed an elderly gentleman sharing with two young children about the values of thrift and non-wastage of food. He was sight-seeing with the two children at the 10 Courts of Hell. While they were looking at one of the dioramas, the elderly gentleman took the opportunity to educate the children on the values that were reflected through that diorama.

Inside the 10 Courts of Hell.

10 Courts of Hell.
The young and old visiting Haw Par Villa. Reliving Haw Par Villa.

One of my favourite section in Haw Par Villa was the Aw Family Memorials. This section of the villa is simple in its design and is a contrast to the colourful sculptures and dioramas in the other sections of the villa. This section pays tribute to the Aw family. The four memorials that are found here are dedicated to different members of the Aw family.

Aw Family Memorials.
Photo courtesy of Michael Fonseca.

During the tour, I learnt that Aw Boon Haw has a talent in coming up with innovative marketing strategies. I was rather intrigued by the various elements of marketing for the Tiger Balm ointment that can be found at various parts of the Haw Par Villa.

Where can you find this mascot?

To complete our experience of the free guided tour, each participant received a free copy of a souvenir booklet entitled Cultured Leopard, Rising Tiger: Finding Your Tao at Haw Par Villa. An Aw-some guide to the park and the Aw family and Tiger Balm story, that is researched and written by Journeys Pte Ltd.

Furthermore, on the weekends of the Reliving Haw Par Villa event, the first 1000 visitors for each day will each receive a Tourism50 goodie bag. A few lucky attendees of the guided tour will find themselves each awarded with a Tiger Balm product if they gave the right answers to the interactive quizzes conducted during the tour. It is rewarding to visit the Haw Par Villa on the weekends of the event, don't you think?

Photo courtesy of Michael Fonseca.

There are more! During the weekends of the Reliving Haw Par Villa event, there will be various cultural performances, a nostalgic-themed food bazaar and more. For more information, please visit

16 Mar 2014: Chinese Puppet Show performed by Sin Hoe Ping Puppet Troupe.
Kway Guat Huat's Popiah and Kway Pie Tee for sale at the food bazaar.
Delicious Handcrafted Durian Creme Brulee for sale.
Uncle G's crispy roast pork.

Part of the vintage flea market.
Photo courtesy of Belinda Tan.
Ramly Burger for sale. 

Special thanks to the guide who gave us the free tour guided tour. The tour gave me a better appreciation of the Aw family, the history of Haw Par Villa and glimpses to Chinese values, philosophy and beliefs through the selected sculptures. I look forward to more tours by Journeys.

Here, I would also like to express my words of appreciation to the Singapore Tourism Board for inviting me to the special preview of the free guided tour and the rest of the programmes of Reliving Haw Par Villa. I have had an enjoyable and enriching time visiting the Haw Par Villa as a resident local tourist. The visit has brought me to relive some memories of my past visits to Haw Par Villa.

A model of the mansion that was a part of the Haw Par Villa from 1937 to 1945.

Reliving Haw Par Villa
262 Pasir Panjang Rd, Singapore 118628
15, 16 , 22, 23 March 2014
9.30 a.m. - 6.00 p.m.
Admission is free.

Nearest MRT station: Haw Par Villa
Bus Services available: 10, 30, 30e, 51, 143, 188, 200, 175, 176.
Note: There will be no car park facilities at Haw Par Villa on event days. The nearest carparks are located at Yess Centre on 27 West Coast Highway and along Harbour Drive.

You may also like to read:

- Tiger Balm Garden by PChew
- My First Visit to Haw Par Villa by Thimbuktu
The Forgotten Theme Park of Haw Par Villa by Johnny Chen, GhettoSingapore.
- Friends of Haw Par Villa (Facebook group)

Saturday, March 08, 2014

A Changed World: Singapore Art 1950s - 1970s

A few months ago, I had the pleasure to visit the National Museum of Singapore several times to view an exhibition that features over 120 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures from the National Collection. This exhibition, A Changed World: Singapore Art 1950s - 1970s, will be ending soon.

Essentially, the exhibition A Changed World: Singapore Art 1950s - 1970s is a survey of Singapore art from the period 1950s - 1970s. During this period after the war, Singapore underwent significant political, economical and social changes. The urban landscape of Singapore also went through much changes. The exhibition showed how various artists have responded to the many changes through their art.

At this exhibition, there are audio dialogues that discussed some of the selected artworks and the artists. Having listened to a few of them, I have found that the audio dialogues have been successful in engaging the visitors to reflect more deeply on the various selected artworks and the changes that had taken place during the specified period. Do not leave this exhibition without listening to at least one of the audio dialogues please.

Ng Eng Teng's Mother and Twins.

Many of the artworks looked familiar to me. I have either read about them previously in books on Singapore art or seen them at another exhibition. Ng Eng Teng's Mother and Twins left a fairly strong impression on me because it was one of the few sculptures on display at this exhibition. This piece of sculpture somehow radiated an endearing quality. Do you feel that this sculpture speaks to the viewer with love?

Lim Hak Tai's Indian Workers Clearing the Jungle is probably a familiar artwork for anyone interested in the Nanyang style of art. This work is historically significant from the art history perspective so do not leave the exhibition without catching a glimpse of it.

Wee Beng Chong's Conflict and Tan Ping Chiang's Music.

A pair of works that stood side by side of each other also caught my eyes. These were Wee Beng Chong's Conflict (1978) and Tan Ping Chiang's Music (1979). While I do not think they were created to be placed next to each other, they do look very compatible when they were put together. Don't you think?

Lai Kui Fang's Construction of Sheares Bridge aptly documented a snapshot from a time in the past. So that was how Singapore had looked like before Sheares Bridge was completed! What a lot of changes that Singapore has undergone!

The many paintings inspired by the Singapore River also revealed the drastic changes that Singapore has underwent during the period 1950s - 1970s. Gone are the bumboats that brought goods and wares to the quay.

There is a cosy corner in this exhibition whereby visitors could sit down to learn more about the art from 1950s - 1970s. Even if you do not intend to browse through the materials, the cosy seats will entice you to.

See the changes that Singapore has underwent through this exhibition. The good news is that admission to this exhibition is free.

A Changed World: Singapore Art 1950s - 1970s
National Museum of Singapore
Exhibition Gallery 2, Basement
25 Oct 2013  - 16 Mar 2014
10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Free admission