Haw Par Villa

Singapore, where I live, is quite conservative when it comes to sex.

There’s censorship of television, movies and plays.  Visual pornography is illegal (writing erotica is not, thankfully).  Male/Male sex is still illegal, although it is not often prosecuted (with the PM recently saying they won’t repeal the law because “that’s the way it’s always been”).  While we have sex shops, the boxes are censored–there are pieces of black electrical tape over any breasts, genitalia or butts displayed.  Three years ago there was an article in Time Out Singapore called Sex Positions of the Chinese Zodiac, and the stick figures had censor bars over the female “breasts” and the point of sexual contact (genitalia on genitalia)–not holding onto that issue is a deep regret of mine.  I share this for context…

Given that, I was thrown when I visited a local site called Haw Par Villa (formerly Tiger Balm Gardens) that was built in the 1930’s as an “amusement park” with over 1,000 statues depicting legends from Chinese Mythology, and saw (among other things) the following…

IMG_7863These are apparently spider women trying to seduce a Buddhist Monk in the story “Journey to the West“.

IMG_7885These are bare breasted mermaids.

According to what I could find online, the Chinese legends about mermaids are


A 15th-century compilation of quotations from Chinese literature tells of a mermaid who “wept tears which became pearls”.[32] An early 19th-century book entitled Jottings on the South of China contains two stories about mermaids. In the first, a man captures a mermaid on the shore of Namtao island. She looks human in every respect, except that her body is covered with fine hair of many colours. She is unable to speak, but the man takes her home and marries her. Upon his death, the mermaid returns to the sea where she had been found. In the second story, a man sees a woman lying on the beach while his ship was anchored offshore. Upon closer inspection, the woman appears to have webbed feet and hands. She is carried to the water and expresses her gratitude toward the sailors before swimming away.[33]

I’m guessing the artist just liked the sexy Western mermaid archetype?

Sexual imagery rarely surprises me, but I *did* find these shocking…because they’re fairly jarring within the context of the Singapore I know.

I highly recommend googling for images and blog posts about Haw Par Villa (I keep wanting to use the acronym HPV, but no) as it’s quite the kitschy delight.


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