Making chicken rice at Haw Par Villa

From ‘Market Tiger Balm with Haw Par Villa’, 8 May 2011, Your Letters, Sunday Times.

(Sng Cheok Kye): …I would like to offer two suggestions on how the tourism board can make this landmark (Haw Par Villa) more attractive to tourists.

Market Tiger Balm – …Have a slogan: Find Tiger Balm in Haw Par Villa – free. Build a small Tiger Balm factory in Haw Par Villa, showing a production line along with a running commentary. Allow tourists to bottle the balm during the tour of the factory. I think all tourists, young and old, will enjoy the experience.

Offer tourists at Haw Par Villa another learning experience: Teach them to make a Singapore dish – chicken rice.

I haven’t been to the attraction myself in decades, but the images of hellish demons, blood and gore remains seared in my mind till this day, which is really what Haw Par Villa is about, a twisted, quirky oddity nestled amongst the glitzy , sanitised tourist package that is Singapore. The relic and its low budget though charmingly gratuitous depictions of the Chinese Netherworld have even gained international fame, or notoriety (depending on your tolerance for  bloody mutilation and evisceration), as one of the world’s  Top 10 weirdest Theme Parks.  A feat that eludes our other shiny, boring, arts -and science-themed tourism darlings that merely ape other more famous icons of the Western world; a uniquely Singaporean weirdness that wouldn’t have existed if we had listened to the complaints of a couple of Beijing professors claiming expertise in Qing and Ming dynasty history but no sense of  kitsch at all (See below, ‘Cut out sex, gore from Haw Par theme park’, 29 Oct 1986, ST). A traveller on Tripadvisor labelled Haw Par as ‘Disneyland on acid’, which despite the generally scathing review, sounds flattering to me considering the irony of our drug trafficking penalties here. Conservation, not rejuvenation, is in order, before we lose the last remaining ‘strange Oriental exotica’ in this sterile playground we call home, leaving travellers with cultural scraps like lion dances, unimpressive temples or glum funeral practices like burning hell money for dead people.  None of which even coming close to the bizarre, surreal C-grade fantasy that is Haw Par Villa.

By turning Haw Par Villa into the  medicated balm equivalent of a Hershey’s chocolate factory, it would be a loss not just to Singapore, but to Asia as well. Besides, most ‘factory themed’ attractions revolve around famous food and beverages, and most Singaporeans would rather pay to have all-you-can-drink homegrown Tiger beer on site, or even an ‘Old Chang Kee Curry Puffery’ and eat all the deep fried sotong balls they want, than  be given camphor-laden paraffin FOC for their arthritic grandmothers to smother on at home. The second suggestion on chicken rice, however, sounds as strange as a Haw Par Hell-torture exhibit itself. Aside from the fact that the only thing in common between Tiger Balm and Chicken Rice is that both have an animal in their names, all the soothing analgesic properties of Tiger Balm will have no effect whatsoever on the ensuing nausea suffered by tourists eating chicken rice in the presence of decapitated heads, severed limbs or old men suckling on breasts.

Ancient Chinese filial piety

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