Haw Par Villa: Hallucinations, Hell And The Hokey Pokey

Spread the word – Haw Par Villa is the best trip you can have in Singapore without risking a criminal record.

[For non-Singaporean readers: Haw Par Villa is a statue park in the west of Singapore, built in the 1930s by two tycoon brothers who made their fortunes in Chinese medicinal ointment, and it’s full of garish life-size statues commissioned by the brothers to portray stories from Chinese mythology and traditional Chinese values.]

Haw Par Villa’s been terminally uncool ever since that spectacularly failed themeparkesque revamp in the late 80s, but no one seems to have noticed that they’ve since reversed many of the ill-advised changes that led to its downfall. It’s free to get in again these days (apart from the $5 parking charge and the $1 entry fee to Hell), and they’ve removed all those ridiculously kitsch additions like the rides and shows. So now, just the ridiculously kitsch original statues are left.

I took first Alec and recently Russ to it, and I think I wouldn’t be overstating things to say they both left a little changed by the experience. I don’t usually like to post too many photos in an entry, but my words really can’t do justice to the lurid reality of Haw Par Villa on their own, so forgive me if you’re on a slow connection and this entry takes a while to load. As usual, click on the photos for larger versions, and oh, be warned: CONTAINS WEIRD STATUE NUDITY.
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The Mitre Experience

It takes a special sort of person to appreciate the Mitre Hotel, which is why the only people I’ve ever taken there have been the Orgers and Alec. Last week a second Orger outing was organized by Don and Yen, who hadn’t had the “Mitre experience” yet but were determined to before the place either got a) more popular or b) razed to the ground by order of the public safety powers that be. And of course, as we knew they would, they loved it. (Read Yen’s love here.)

We perched on the dusty couches, sipped our sub-$4 beers, and talked about ghosts. (Terry and Don had just seen Shutter and were impressed.) At first we were the only ones there. Later, a couple swam into view, apparitions emerging from the black deeps beyond the porch lights. At some point a dog started howling in the distance.

I forgot to bring my camera this time, so these pictures are from when I took Alec there. They’ve been left fairly dark and dingy rather than sexed up too much in Photoshop, but still don’t even come close to evoking the atmosphere of the place – they lack the creepy walk up the driveway, the smell of musty decay, the feel of the brittle upholstery crunching beneath you as you sit down and crane your neck at the gaping holes in the ceiling.

Interior of Mitre Hotel bar
From the bar, looking towards the door
Mitre Cat
On the wall next to the bar
Old Door Grill
A close-up of the door grill, including the pack of stray chairs which lurk outside

Singapore Art Museum

I don’t know if I’d rate the Singapore Art Museum particularly highly if I were a foreigner, because it would be full of names I’d never heard of. Even visiting it as a Singaporean, most names apart from Chen Wen Hsi, Georgette Chen and Ng Eng Teng draw a blank with me. But I found myself enjoying the museum’s permanent collection more than the Rodin exhibition we’d primarily gone to see; perhaps I subconsciously prefer painting to sculpture, or modern over classical, or perhaps it was just the familiarity of paintings I’d seen before on previous visits to the museum – I don’t know. It’s three in the morning and stream-of-consciousness is about all I can manage.

I like this museum, always have. I like its retention of the simple beauty it must have had as a school, the spare elegance it still has as an art museum. Today the revelation hit me that my parents walked the same corridors I was walking down, in the days when it was St Joseph’s Institution and they were students there. They met and romanced here. It’s a beautiful place to be able to remember falling in love in, I think.

I was also struck by the thought that this awareness of a personal history can only happen for me in this country. As far as England is concerned, I didn’t exist before 1999.