26 August 2011

tiger balm and a dirty knee

It's eight weeks until my birthday. In bingo terms it'll be my dirty knee.

My dearest friend is flying all the way to Singapore to help me celebrate, and to ease herself over a broken heart. So I decided to spend the time between now and then becoming a better me: me V2.0. If I achieve the five mini-goals that I set each week, I hope to be bursting with a joie de vivre that she'll be helpless to resist. Also I'll be able to enjoy her visit more, indulge quite a lot, and start the next year on a high note.

This week, one of my mini-challenges was to save lots of money by doing loads of free stuff. So, as well as making these strawberry muffins (so as not to waste a packet of fruit too sharp to eat) and downloading free colouring-in sheets for The Boss from Ottobre and Sarainklings, I set off on an adventure to Haw Par Villa.

If you're at all familiar with that curious panacea for all ills, Tiger Balm, then you already know how the Haw Par brothers made their fortune. With it, they created this villa and the surrounding "Tiger Balm Gardens" and filled it with more than 1000 gaudy, kitsch and sometimes grotesque statues depicting Chinese mythology and legend.

My husband has always refused to go. He's quite a curious and adventurous person, but this simply held no appeal for him. But I had a morning to spare, and other than the bus fare, it was free...

So far, so "whatever" right?

Well, then it all starts to get wild.

The thing that was most confusing was that, surrounded by vibrant colour, I found it almost impossible to see things I wanted to photograph. There are a few snaps that came out quite interesting - I particularly like the Buddha who overlooks the container port (below) - but mostly it was just overwhelming. Overwhelmingly odd.

I try to be rational, so I try not to say wishy-washy things like this but, it just had a really negative vibe. I can't be more specific than that. And what's most confusing for me is that, aesthetically the statues at Haw Par appear to use similar materials, techniques and colours to those on the south Indian Hindu temples here in Singapore. I imagine it must even be the same craftsmen who maintain them. But the temple statues, surrounded by garlands and smoke and voluptuous aunties in dazzling saris, are uplifting and joyful and surprising, where Haw Par is baffling, peculiar and a bit unsettling.

I can't figure out why. A religious aspect is present in both so it's not a lack of devotion. And some of the Hindu legends are equally gruesome, depicting similar beheadings and disembowelments. But in any of the Hindu temples I'm always itching to get my camera out and capture some of the magic (this photo of Sri Mariamman was taken on my crappy wee phone, while I hopped up and down in my bare feet on the burning paving stones, but doesn't it still manage to look fascinating?).

Sri Mariamman Temple, Pagoda Street, Singapore

I love solitary exploring, and I have a soft spot for Tiger Balm, that priceless bartering commodity from my school days. So I'm glad I went to Haw Par Villa. And it was free, so that's one of my mini-goals well and truly checked off. Shame about the gym aspect of this week's list... Here's to more dedication during week two of project me version two point zero.

Linking in with Sweet Shot Tuesday

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