Haw Par Villa, Singapore: The Ten Courts of Hell
Warning: You might find Haw Par Villa legitimately disturbing.
Imagine you’ve died. The whole ordeal is pretty undesirable (to say the least) and you’re hoping things will get better from this point in. Unfortunately for you though, death will not be the end of your suffering. You still have to make it through the perilous Ten Courts of Hell.
You timidly approach the entrance to a tunnel of darkness and find two giant beasts there to greet you (that is if “greet” means “stare at you in silence”). They are known as the Guardians of Hell and they landed the best job there is in the Ten Courts of Hell – guarding the gates and watching the dead freak out as they realise the afterlife is real. We’ll never know what they wrote on their resume to get the gig, but you can bet it was something like:
“Dedicated to upholding the highest level of security, experience in a range of commercial and industrial environments… in my free time I enjoy watching people’s physiological suffering.”
As you wilt under their gaze, contemplating your sins (argh, all that sex before marriage seemed so fun in life but I quite regret it now), they simply stare at you. It’s the kind of awkward stare that, in life, would have you irrationally pretending to be replying to a very important text message. In death, with no smart phone, you just awkwardly tug on your bottom of your shirt instead.
The guards stand tall and rigid and are drowning in heavy, ornate armour, trying that little bit too hard to look tough. They’d get away with it too, if they weren’t named Ox-Head and Horse-Face. The empty look in their eyes tells you they were bullied at school, probably because their names are literal descriptions of their appearances. While you internally laugh at their misfortune, slight grins begin to play on the edges of their lips… they know that, although the word “court” conjures up images of justice and people in funny wigs, the courts you’re about to enter are just really just a series of torture chambers. Laugh at my name now, suckers.
Experience Haw Par Villa, Singapore
If this is the kind of thing you’re into (seriously? did you harm any small animals in your childhood?), you can make the perilous journey through Chinese folklore for real at Haw Par Villa in Singapore. Built in 1937, by Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, AKA the dudes who made Tiger Balm, the park is designed to teach traditional Chinese values. There are over 1000 statues, including my personal favourites, “crab with a head on it”, and “nipple sucker” and you can easily spend a day trying to figure out what ethical message the creators are trying to express (don’t waste breast milk?)
But the main attraction is undoubtedly Haw Par Villa’s Ten Courts of Hell. The best part is, this journey through the torture chambers is totally free! Bargain! Just be careful with children… The costs associated with the counselling they’ll need to get over what they experience may outweigh the benefits of a free day out.
The First Court of Hell:
If you’ve lived a life of pure virtue, then the first court of hell will be kind to you. When your life is reviewed by King Qinguang, you’ll look back on the suckers waiting for their verdicts, stick out your tongue, and skip across the Golden Bridge into paradise. On the other hand if you’ve ever lied, cheated or worn too much bling, then when you stand in front of the mirror of retribution, all your sins will be revealed (there is an actual mirror in the first court of hell. I stood in front of it and my hairs sin of” inability to gracefully handle the humidity” was well and truly revealed).
Hiding your porn from others won’t hide it from the mirror of retribution.
What punishment you endure in the next nine courts of hell depends on the sins you’ve committed. If this doesn’t scare you into upholding morality, then nothing will.
The Second Court of Hell:
Inflicting physical injury, robbers: Thrown into a volcanic pit.
Corruption, stealing and Gambling: Frozen into a block of ice.
Prostitutes: Thrown into a pool of blood and drowned.
The Third Court of Hell:
Ungratefulness, disrespect to elders, escape from prison: Heart cut out.
Drug addicts & traffickers, tomb robbers, urging people into crime and social unrest: Tied to red hot copper pillar and grilled.
The Fourth Court of Hell:
Tax dodger, refusal to pay rent, business fraud: Pounded by stone mallet.
Disobedience to one’s siblings, lack of filial piety: Grounded by a large stone.
The Fifth Court of Hell:
Plotted another’s death for his property or money, money lenders with exorbitant interest rates: Thrown onto a hill of knives
The Sixth Court of Hell:
Cheating, cursing, abducting others: Thrown onto a tree of knives.
Misuse of books, possession of pornographic material, breaking written rules and regulations, wasting food: Body sawn into two.
The Seventh Court of Hell:
Rumour-mongers, sowing discord among family members: Tongue pulled out.
Rapists, driving someone to their death: Thrown into a wok of boiling oil.
The Eighth Court of Hell:
Lack of filial obedience, causing trouble for parents or family members, cheating during examinations: Intestines and organs pulled out.
Harming other to benefit oneself: Body dismembered.
The Ninth Court of Hell:
Robbery, murder, rape: Head and arms chopped off.
Neglect of the old and young: Crushed under boulders.
The Tenth Court of Hell:
Finally, after enduring all your punishments, you enter the tenth court of hell. Exactly how you manage to do this in two halves with no arms, head, heart, intestines and multiple stab wounds is unclear. Here you are given a magic tea to help you forget your past life and the horrible torture you’ve just endured, but good luck drinking it if you’ve recently had your body dismembered in court number eight and your tongue pulled out in court number seven. You really should have thought of that before you spread that nasty rumour about your ex.
But that’s all in the past now. It’s time to begin the process of reincarnation. You may awaken in the next life as nobility, common man, quadruped, fowl, fish or insect depending on how you behaved in your last life. YOLO? Think again.
Admission to Haw Par Villa is free! The park is run down and eerie, but that adds to the quirky charm.
The easiest way to get there is catch the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit… or as I like to call it the train). Catch the circle line (the orange one) and get off at Haw Par Villa station (CC25). The park is right outside the station.