Saturday, 15 June 2013

What fresh hell is this?

So just what does happen to us after we die?

It's a question that seems to have consumed our imaginations for centuries.

In his 14th-century poem Divine Comedy, Dante imagined nine circles of hell.

In Florence's Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Vasari and Zuccari graphically depicted Capital Sins and Hell (complete with pitch forks, fire, man-eating beasts and torture).

But in Singapore, the Haw Par Villa theme park has taken the depiction of hell to a whole new level with 3D dioramas showing human figures being beheaded, amputated and spiked.

If you've got a wayward child, a visit place is your best chance to scare them straight.

Entrance to Haw Par Villa

Originally known as the Tiger Balm Gardens (as it was built by the original creators of Tiger Balm), it showcases about 1,000 statues and 150 dioramas representing Chinese mythology and Confucianism.

It's an overwhelming and confusing cross between family parkland, gaudy exhibition, and sadistic showcase.   And it's well worth the visit if you tire of traipsing Singapore's traditional shopping and food haunts.

The "highlight" is a walk through The Ten Courts of Hell, which documents the torments awaiting sinners in the underworld according to Chinese mythology and Buddhism.

The Ten Courts of Hell: you've been warned
Here it's all about impaling, amputation, fire, blood and gore.   It's really embraced the strategy of "don't just tell them, show them" for maximum impact.

Given the range of legless, armless and headless dolls on display, you sometimes wonder if you've just stumbled across the secret playground of a demonic child.  I can only imagine there's a stockpile of "spare parts" lying out back somewhere.

In between the fake blood and torture scenes, I also can't help but reflect on how different beliefs have imagined a fairly similar fate for those of us who choose a life of sin.

If it turns out to be true, it isn't pretty.

The Ten Courts of Hell: you've got to admire the dedication to detail

Highlighting the park's bipolar nature, a few steps away is the laughing Buddha who watches over the rest of Haw Par Villa's brightly-coloured menagerie.

Buddha keeping an eye over Haw Par Villa
A "fun day out for the whole family"?   I'm not sure.

But with enough gory visuals to guarantee nightmares after you visit, it's one theme park they won't forget.

The more sedate side to the park

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