I mentioned to the monkies that we would be visiting a theme park one Saturday morning and you should have seen how their faces lit up as visions of 'Universal Studios Singapore' and 'LEGOLAND Malaysia' came to mind.
Thing was, I had a different type of theme park in mind.
If you are reading this and remember going to Haw Par Villa (虎豹別墅) when you were younger, congratulations - you have a childhood. No doubt it would have been a place that would have featured in many children's family outings back in simpler days.
Built by Burmese Chinese entrepreneur and philanthropist Aw Boon Haw for his brother Boon Par in 1937, Haw Par Villa was one of a few places in old Singapore where locals could visit and spend time with family while learning about Chinese and Asian values and beliefs.
It must have close to 20 years since I had last set foot into the colourful grounds of Haw Par Villa. So the wifey and I thought it would be a good idea to expose the monkies to a different world of theme parks... and to relive our childhood memories at the same time.
And considering the sprawling nature of the park, we thought we had better let them bring along their skate scooters as well.
Haw Par Villa is divided into several areas, with each portraying stories and folklore based on famous Chinese mythological personalities, deities and legends. From the ‘Eight Immortals’, to ‘Jigong’, 'Journey to the West,', or 'Madam White Snake' - the diversity of exhibits at Haw Par Villa is mind-boggling, even for me til this day.
Truth be told, it did look a wee bit run down but while we were there, I could see that there were some ongoing restoration works at some of the exhibits. Which is obviously great news, because this is one place that should be preserved for the younger generation.
Younger generation like my monkies, who probably came in contact with these Chinese legends for the very first time at Haw Par Villa.
And they were deeply intrigued, stopping at the sculptures and its corresponding signs to understand what they were depicting.
Of particular interest to the boys especially was this row of dioramas which preached highly on messages of morals and Confucian ethics.
The wifey and I were kept rather busy fielding loads of questions from the boys, but that all paled in comparison when we approached the highlight of Haw Par Villa.
How can I ever forget the Ten Courts of Hell? It was named Eighteen Courts of Hell back then, but I don't think the gruesome nature of it has lessened. This used to be a place where parents will tell their kids not to be bad or evil, or risk being horribly punished in the courts of Hell.
When I was young, I remember cowering in fear when I first saw the exhibits. And it was those days where we living souls had to get onto a slow boat ride and sail through the belly of a large-sized dragon to view them. Speaking of boat rides, does anyone remember the rollercoaster-like water flume ride that was incorporated into the theme park back in the 1990's too? I absolutely loved that.
Anyway, as we approached the entrance of the Ten Courts of Hell, the monkies' mannerisms could not have been more diverse. Ale was expectantly subdued and tense, while Ash was squeamish but yet curious. And Ayd? He was so excited about entering the premises that he led the line from the onset!
The Ten Courts of Hell depict various horrible punishments that awaited the souls of sinners in their journey to reincarnation. Truly the stuff that nightmares are made of.
So you have been forewarned - extremely gory and graphic photos ahead.
As we entered on foot, a tableau of severe disciplines in painstaking detail greeted us, along with a sign stating the sin that warranted it at each Court of Hell.
So if you are guilty of wasting food or misusing books, you are punished at the Sixth Court of Hell by having your body sawn into two. Or for infidelity, your will be thrown into a valley of knives.
Or for cheating in examinations, your intestines and organs are pulled out in the Eighth Court of Hell. A little harsh I admit, but people got to learn it through the hard way I suppose.
As expected, Ale shut her eyes really tight during the entire journey. Ash was visibly afraid... especially when we came to the punishment for telling lies, which was cutting off one's tongue if you must know. Hmmm, I wonder why...
As for Ayd, he spent the entire time zipping from court to court and spending a few minutes reading off punishments that came with the sins on the signs. Extremely enthusiastic. In fact, he can even remember some of them when I quiz him now!
Scary images aside, the monkies did enjoy the day out at Haw Par Villa. They mentioned that it was interesting to find out so much about Chinese stories and their interesting characters. Plus, I think it was really fascinating and refreshing for them to see the various sculptures as compared to the mainstream cartoon characters at theme parks.
For me, I loved how Haw Par Villa has still maintained its rustic feel all these years. Stepping inside definitely made me feel like I was stepping back into the good old days.
Haw Par Villa
262 Pasir Panjang Rd, Singapore 118628
Opening Hours: 9am - 7pm Daily
Limited paid parking available at entrance
MRT Station: Haw Par Villa