Of Monsters, Men and Mythologies: The Dioramas of Haw Par Villa

Posted: September 9, 2016 by vequinox in Literature

Messy Lines

A snarling tiger will greet you when you step out of Haw Par Villa MRT station.

This is Haw Par Villa, known also as the Tiger Balm Gardens. If you walk through its towering gates, past that snarling tiger, an exhilaratingly weird and technicolour trip into Chinese mythology awaits. These aren’t the quaint “Gardens” of the colonial imagination, manifested at the Singapore Botanic Gardens; nor the ‘Garden’ of Lee Kuan Yew’s ‘Garden City’; nor a ‘Garden’ of super-trees that cost a billion taxpayer dollars to build. These ‘Gardens’ are more brilliant paint and plaster than neat, landscaped greenery.

A Rich Man’s Gardens

Haw Par Villa opened in 1937 to the public, the brainchild of Aw Boon Haw, the Burmese-Chinese business tycoon behind the Tiger Balm brand of medicinal products. Known as a colourful and flamboyant personality, Boon Haw had the Villa built as a gift for his brother, Aw Boon…

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