Parenting, for the Hell of it

Parenting, for the Hell of it

Last Sunday, I took my younger son to the mouth of hell.

Okay, not really. I took him to Haw Par Villa, where we strolled blithely by the 10 Courts of Hell dioramas, the parenting tool du jour of many Chinese Singaporeans in the 1970s and 1980s (is it any wonder we, Generation X, turned out weird?).

I remember hours spent staring at the gut-pulling, tongue-severing, heart-cutting demons in the moralistic Hell displays, with their painted plaques cautioning that this is the fate that will befall you if you cheat at examinations, tell lies or disrespect your parents.

But, instead of having nightmares, my cousins and I giggled over the grotesque statuary.

The average Singaporean kid then, raised on a diet of gong tau (Asian black magic) movies and other PG-fare by our non-child-psychology-concerned mums and dads, understood that the Technicolor glory of the Haw Par Villa figures were kitsch to the point of comedy.

It was entering a haunted mansion at the carnival, where badly disguised actors tried to scare you: We took the opportunity to squeal and scream a lot, then emerged heart pumping, more alive and bigger rascals than ever, into the unrelenting sunshine of our childhood.

Now in 2014, I paid my $5 carpark entry fee to the attendant - the price was a bit steep, considering that admission to the park is free. But it became totally worth it when I realised one could drive up the statue-lined hill to the carpark, sending oblivious selfie-taking visitors scuttling left and right at one's noiseless approach.

We were there to meet a friend, artist-curator Chun Kai Qun, who had just opened a temporary art gallery within the villa grounds, housed in a fake chinoiserie- looking building (the former Jade House, admission: $1).

Latent Spaces, which is the name of both the space and the curatorial project by Chun and his twin brother (symmetry, between two brothers who owned the gardens - Tiger Balm tycoon Aw Boon Haw built the garden in 1937 for his brother Boon Par - and the two who set up the gallery) and art educator Elizabeth Gan, is open at no charge to the public until October.

As my son sat in a corner of the gallery with my iPad, and later ran around outside while chomping on a Potong brand red bean ice cream, Chun and I talked about the fascination that Haw Par Villa had always held for us.

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