Sunday, August 15, 2010

so be good for goodness sake

Following my shocking revelations about permanent mental scarring and occasional explosive bed-wetting following a chance childhood viewing of the public information film The Finishing Line, I took another trip into Things Best Left Un-Remembered the other day after a bit of random link-following brought me to this page describing the world's most hilariously rubbish tourist attractions. As far as I know I've only been to one of them (the Sex Museum in Amsterdam) - although we did live in South Korea for a while (July 1975 to December 1976 in fact) our parents evidently felt we were a bit young to be exposed to the giant stone genitalia and other sex-based delights at Love Land. Probably just as well; six-foot-high concrete labia might have freaked me out a bit at the tender age of five.

Just as an aside, based on my own travels I would suggest the addition of the Cumberland Pencil Museum in Keswick and the Lamp Museum in Bruges (which "shows the captivating history of interior lighting"; fantastic) to this list. But the first thing that sprung to mind (possibly prompted by the amateurish concrete sculptures in Love Land) was a visit to the Tiger Balm Gardens in Singapore on our way to Indonesia in late 1978.

There are three Tiger Balm Gardens in the world: one in Singapore, one in Hong Kong and one in China, all conceived and funded by the Chinese family who owned the company responsible for making Tiger Balm, a sort of Oriental Deep Heat, originally containing actual extract of tiger (but not any more - it's political correctness gone mad). Anyway, each park seems to be a similarly garish kitscharama of brightly coloured concrete figures meant to illustrate some aspect of Chinese folklore, the USP of the Singapore establishment (which is now called Haw Par Villa) being the inclusion of a section called (echoey rumbling film voice-over guy voice) The Ten Courts Of Hell! This is a fantastically gruesome series of tableaux depicting the punishments meted out for various sins (a sort of Seven Deadly Sins/Dante's Inferno combo, only Chinese); these include the usual disembowelings and dismemberment as well as some more imaginative stuff - being ground into mince by being crushed between two grindstones is the one that sticks in the mind. It's all decorated with lavish red paint spattering and much evil grinning and Fu Manchu moustache-wearing from those administering the punishments. Quite an eye-opener for an eight-and-a-half-year-old I can tell you; to be fair I think our parents wandered in there with us without really realising what we were about to experience. Like The Finishing Line it was the incongruity and abruptness of the transition from something seemingly cuddly and harmless and predictable into some sort of shrieking acid nightmare that made the whole thing so memorably weird. Check out this photo gallery.

It all makes the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud's (which now seems to have been rebranded as Scream!, just in case "Chamber of Horrors" was a bit ambiguous for you) look pretty tame in comparison. When I went there a few years after the Tiger Balm Gardens experience (I would have been early- to mid-teens I suppose) I remember being a bit disappointed not to find any actual gouging and flaying action being depicted, and certainly a much more restrained usage of the red paint. On the positive side, since for the most part the exhibits aren't meant to depict anyone in particular (or at least no-one I'd recognise to look at) they're less prone to the hang-on-this-is-a-rubbish-likeness thing that pretty much all the actual Tussaud's celebrity exhibits suffer from.


Emma said...

The Tiger Balm Gardens is permanently etched on my brain. Love Land sounds a deal more fun.

electrichalibut said...

You'll probably be wanting to skip the photo gallery then.