Haw Par Villa worth preserving: Operator

A visitor posing for a snapshot at Haw Par Villa yesterday. In August, the Singapore Tourism Board, which owns the park, appointed travel company Journeys to manage the site over the next three years.
A visitor posing for a snapshot at Haw Par Villa yesterday. In August, the Singapore Tourism Board, which owns the park, appointed travel company Journeys to manage the site over the next three years.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A gate at the park’s entrance, an exhibit from the 10 Courts of Hell and a pagoda over the water.
A gate at the park’s entrance, an exhibit from the 10 Courts of Hell and a pagoda over the water.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Haw Par Villa is home to statues and dioramas depicting Chinese legends and folklore.
Haw Par Villa is home to statues and dioramas depicting Chinese legends and folklore.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Journeys’ first step is to restore and reinstate sculptures in their original positions after some were removed and placed in storage by previous operators.
Journeys’ first step is to restore and reinstate sculptures in their original positions after some were removed and placed in storage by previous operators.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Journeys plans to eventually push for 1937 park to achieve national monument status

Haw Par Villa, the 1937 Asian theme park off Pasir Panjang with its topless mermaids, peering pandas and impaled heads, could be worth preserving as a national monument, said the travel company now in charge of the site.

Journeys, which is Haw Par Villa's newly appointed operator, plans to eventually push for this status.

Its first step is to restore and reinstate sculptures in their original positions after some were removed and placed in storage by the park's previous operators.

Experts, such as Singapore Heritage Society executive committee member Yeo Kang Shua, believe that Haw Par Villa deserves to be protected as it is "internationally renowned", with regional links due to the business empire of the Aw family.

It is also the last such park in the world, having outlived its sister park in Hong Kong, which was sold in 1998 and demolished.

Journeys, which specialises in heritage-based tours, plans to dive into old documents and photographs of the villa to restore it to what was originally envisioned by its creator, Tiger Balm tycoon Aw Boon Haw.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB), which owns Haw Par Villa, appointed Journeys in August to manage the site over the next three years. Entry to the park will remain free, and Journeys will introduce daily paid tours led by its staff.

The STB also has plans to improve the landscaping and pavements of the 8.4ha park, with input from Journeys. Its spokesman said the STB recognises the significance and heritage value of Haw Par Villa.

Journeys has been tasked with the responsibility of "conserving and sharing this part of our heritage with others", she added.

Under the Preservation of Monuments Act, a national monument should have historic, cultural, traditional, archaeological, architectural, artistic or symbolic significance, and be of national importance.

Preservation is the strictest form of legal protection - building owners cannot alter or repair any national monument without the National Heritage Board's approval.

There are 70 national monuments today, including landmarks such as Jurong Town Hall and the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

Journeys also aims to conduct an oral history interview with the park's artisan - Teochew-speaking Mr Teo Veoh Seng, 81. Mr Teo has been painting, restoring and maintaining Haw Par Villa's 1,000 or so sculptures and dioramas for the past 68 years.

The park is home to statues and dioramas depicting Chinese legends and folklore, including classics such as Journey To The West, Eight Immortals Crossing The Sea and the 10 Courts Of Hell.

Other curious and larger-than- life structures include hybrid creatures such as chicken-headed prostitutes and pig-headed men.

Experts, such as Singapore Heritage Society executive committee member Yeo Kang Shua, believe that Haw Par Villa deserves to be protected as it is "internationally renowned", with regional links due to the business empire of the Aw family.

It is also the last such park in the world, having outlived its sister park in Hong Kong, which was sold in 1998 and demolished.

Beyond the physical aspects of the historic Tiger Balm Gardens is also the narrative of family ties and community spirit, which Journeys hopes to showcase.

Behind the park lies the story of two Chinese-Burmese brothers who, after developing the highly successful Tiger Balm ointment in their mother's kitchen, channelled much of their wealth towards society.

They opened the park to share Chinese values against the surge in Western ones, and to provide a recreational space for Asians.

There is also the tale of brotherly love - the older Aw had built a private residence which overlooked the sea within the hilly compound for his younger sibling.

Dr Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore, believes that a "proper master plan" on its management is in order, while Dr Yeo said conservation guidelines and maintenance method reports should be produced for the space.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'Haw Par Villa worth preserving: Operator'. Print Edition | Subscribe