Thursday, July 7, 2011

See you in hell

'We got totally lied to by our album covers.'
Bill in hell (Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey)

Remember I was concerned that I might have seen the best of Singapore on my first day here? I've never been more wrong about anything in my life. Today, I came across what is undoubtedly THE best thing in Singapore. Maybe in the whole of Asia. Hell, this might be the best thing there's ever been.

The Ten Courts of Hell at Singapore's hilariously dilapidated Haw Par Villa was apparently built to educate Chinese emigrants about their cultural traditions and beliefs, to keep them alive so far from home. But clearly, whoever built it had a bigger agenda than just education. There is no need for it to be as absurdly graphic as it is. I absolutely love it!

Like an over-zealous Sunday school teacher, this is an attraction designed to terrify young Chinese kids into being good, upstanding citizens. I first heard about it in a novel I read a while ago, in which a young Singaporean's grandfather took her here repeatedly to instil mortal dread. You can't imagine my delight to discover it's actually real!

There are only two ways this spectacularly grotesque attraction could be improved: if it included animatronics, and if I'd visited here when I was 10.

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

Ten Courts of Hell

Looking for hell (地獄)?

Even if you can't read Chinese, dismembered heads mean you're probably going the right way

Horse-face (牛頭) and Ox-head (馬面), the unholy double act, guard the gates of hell

First Court of Hell
(King Quinguang)

King Quinguang weighs up the deeds of your past life and declares a verdict.
It's brown-trousers time

If your past deeds were virtuous, you may pass over the Golden Bridge to paradise (swot).

If you've been a little naughty, but overall your good deeds outweighed the bad, you can take the Silver Bridge to paradise too. Just don't expect in-flight meals or complimentary towels

If your bad deeds outweighed the good, the Mirror of Retribution decides your fate

If you don't like what you see... man, you're so screwed

Second Court of Hell
(King Chujiang)

Those who inflicted physical injury, conned or robbed people will be thrown into a handily-labelled volcanic pit. Toasty!

For crimes of corruption, stealing and/or gambling, you're heading in the other direction - frozen in blocks of ice. Chilly!

And if you worked as or used a prostitute, be prepared to drown in a filthy pool of blood.

I'm not sure exactly how this works in Singapore, where prostitution is legal in certain areas. But trust me, we're only
beginning to touch on how mental this afterlife is...

Third Court of Hell
(King Songdi)

If you've been ungrateful, disrespected your elders or escaped from prison (this last one seems like an afterthought), your heart will be cut out

True to Singapore's severe stance on drug traffickers, those who deal in or use narcotics will be tied to a red hot pillar and grilled. Toasty!

The same goes for people who urge others into crime or social unrest... and tomb robbers. Again, this last one seems like it's just been chucked in arbitrarily. But stick with it, there's a
lot more insanity to come (wait till you get to Court Six)

Fourth Court of Hell
(King Wuguan)

Tax dodgers, rent avoiders and business fraudsters beware - your punishment is to be bashed upside the head with a stone mallet by this crazy guy who clearly loves his job

Ever disobeyed your siblings or failed to honour your parents?
Then get on down to the Fourth Court of Hell and join the big stone mash-up

It's like something from bloody Saw!

Fifth Court of Hell
(King Yanluo)

Further financial transgressions are punished in the Fifth Court, where a hill of knives (reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog games) awaits those who plotted another's death for his property or money, or charged exorbitant interest rates to borrowers

This poor sod really doesn't want to go on that knife

By contrast, this guy doesn't seem too fussed


Wondering how your relatives are getting on now you're no longer around?
This viewing tower offers a glimpse into the ways they're all suffering for your sins.

I hope you're happy now, you bastard

Some green guys having fun

Sixth Court of Hell
(King Piencheng)

Alright, this is where things get silly.

Cheating and cursing receive the same punishment as abducting someone - namely, being thrown into a tree of knives (not sure how this is any different from being thrown onto the hill of knives, practically speaking)

Okay, are you ready for this? Possessing pornographic material, 'misusing' books or breaking written and rules and regulations mean your body will be sawn in two.

But that's not all - this is also the punishment for
wasting food. It's the ramblings of a mental!

Seventh Court of Hell
(King Taishan)

Been spreading vicious rumours or sowing discord between family members?
Say bye bye to your tongue, while you're still capable.

The punishment fits the crime! For once

If you committed rape or drove someone to their deaths, it's out of the fire and into the frying pan - your punishment is to be stir fried in a giant wok. (I'm not making this up)

Eighth Court of Hell
(King Dushi)

Lack of filial obedience (again) or otherwise causing trouble for your parents or other family members will lead to your intestines being yanked out.

But get this - this is also the punishment for
cheating during exams. Paying attention, kids?

If you've ever harmed other people to benefit yourself, prepare to have the harm inflicted back on you a thousandfold as your body is gruesomely dismembered

Ninth Court of Hell
(King Pingdeng)

The penultimate Court of Hell, and finally we have some tangible crimes - robbery, murder and rape are all punished by chopping off the head and arms

This is also the punishment for all other unlawful conduct.
So wait... what was the point of the previous eight courts?

And weren't rapists already punished back in Court Seven? If it's a choice between being decapitated or stir fried, I'd probably go for the former

Don't go neglecting the old or the young, now.
Not unless you fancy being crushed under boulders

Tenth Court of Hell
(King Zhuanlun)

Iiiiiit's final judgement time!

After your ordeals, it's up to King Zhuanlun to decide whether you've learned anything from this borderline insane punishment system and can return to the land of the living, or if you need another session on the tree of spikes to really think about what you've done

Drink the tea of forgetfulness and you can wake up in your new life without the mental scars of your ordeals.

(Until you visit Haw Par Villa in Singapore and get unpleasant acid flashbacks)

Spin the Wheel of Reincarnation! What'll it be, fate...?


  1. How does it work if you've done more than one? Do you just walk along until you get to a gate that you can tick off or do you have to go through all of them and face punishment at each one?

    Out of curiosity, of course. It's just that, er, my friend might have done one or two of these things. What's his name? Oh... why do you need to know that? That's not important right now. Stop asking so many questions.

  2. It just doesn't seem fair - I never normally waste food, apart from one time recently when I was unable to finish a Japanese dessert of ice cream and hot sweet potato covered in green stuff on account of it being disgusting. For that one lapse, I might now be sawn in half.

    What I really like about this 'attraction' is the mix of feelings and agendas that seem to underlie it - concern from Chinese immigrants that their culture might be eroded and forgotten, and a more disciplinarian concern that their kids should be scared into succeeding and not let the side down.

    Either that, or I just loved the over-the-top gore. The Fourth Court is the funniest - such a splatter-fest!

  3. It also doesn't say how severe something has to be. When I was a kid I once bit my brother and hurt him, does that mean I get thrown in a volcano?

    I've also gambled: frozen in ice.

    I'm sure I've been ungrateful for something at some point: heart cut out.

    Definitely disobeyed my siblings ("Please don't bite me"): mashed by a stone!

    I've cursed once or twice: tree of knives

    Used a book to prop up a wonky table: body sawn in two (seems a bit harsh)

    Not listening to my brothers: intestines removed

    Still, at least I avoid the pool of blood, the grilling on the red hot pillar, having my head bashed, the hill of knives, my tongue being cut off, the giant wok, gruesome dismembering (I think), chopping off of arms and head (I can see why that wasn't at the start)

  4. I'm pretty much the same - at least, I avoided all the same punishments you did (and probably only those ones).

    Assuming I didn't make it over the bridge, I'd be valid for:

    #2 (volcano + ice)
    #3 (heart cut out)
    #4 (mashed)
    #6 (tree of knives + sawn in two)
    #8 (intestines pulled out - I don't think I cheated at exams, but in my A-level German class we all tricked Frau Bonner the German assistant into basically rewriting our rubbish essays for us, and that sole 'A' was probably vital for me scraping an eventual 'C' at German A-level)
    #9 (crushed under boulders)

  5. This was all very interesting and amusing. I also see myself as going into many of these frankly questionable punishments, I waste food all the time, boy am I in for a bad time.

    I remember those waxwork places, I did get scared by them and I recall that book of pictures you brought back, those really freaked me out. I could likely look back at them and laugh now but those things were really freaky when I last saw them.

    At least I could drink the tea of forgetfulness. So all is well.

  6. I don't think I would have shown it to you if it didn't scare you. Why would I ever have treated you nicely? Just more reasons I'll be going into that volcano.