Chapter 16: Tiger Balm Gardens - Meeting some old friends


Guide: “Now off to Tiger Balm Gardens.”

Me: “Tiger Balm?”

Guide: “The family got rich selling Tiger Balm. In 1937 they created these gardens for the city. They haven’t been doing too well financially. Our travel agency bought it. We hope to upgrade it to promote it locally and to the tourists.”

Laurie: “Oh boy. Gardens. We’ll probably see a lot of native plants.”

Upon arrival we are greeted with a cracked cement foundation, which has been painted and sculpted to look like the roots of a tree. We follow the cement path up the hill. On the right we see a colorful painted plaster and cement sculpture which resembles Porky Pig.

Laurie: “Are the gardens up ahead?”

Guide: “This is a sculpture garden. It is collection of statuary depicting Chinese mythology - including the 10 courts of Hell. It was probably the first theme park in the world.”

Disappointed with the overall lack of vegetation Laurie wilted. Always the optimist, she thought to herself: “Oh well. Sentosa Island is next. I’m sure we’ll see lots of plants there.”

Miranda to herself: “I’m not impressed. A bunch of cement with some tacky sculptures with gaudy colors.”

I suddenly notice that it’s not Porky Pig at all but my old friend Chu Pa-chieh, otherwise known as Piggy, from the famous Chinese novel, Journey to the West. Tingles up my back - a sparkle in my eye - suddenly a bounce in my step. I rush up to greet him.

Me stuttering: “Is that you Piggy?”

Piggy: “What other pig dresses like a man, with his belly hanging out over his belt? Of course it’s me.”

Me: “I’m delighted to see you here in this strange place. I feel so much more comfortable now. Where are the rest? Tripitaka, Monkey, the Sand Monk and the Horse.

Piggy: “They’re all up ahead.”

Me: “Really! I can’t wait to see them. How are all of you?”

Piggy: “Actually not that well. This is a money town. The next generation is more interested in computers and pop culture. The old generation is dying and the present generation doesn’t understand. They’ve all heard of us but think that we are just funny cartoon characters.”

Me: “They don’t understand that your journey is a metaphor for the quest for enlightenment, with Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian overtones?”

Piggy: “No way. If anything they view us as a bunch of amusing characters involved in some kind of a comedy.”

Me: “They don’t realize that each of you represents an aspect of Taoist alchemy?”

Piggy: “We are just traditional Chinese characters who are fading into the past.”

Me: “They don’t know that you represent desires that need to be tamed and channeled? They don’t know you are a crucial ally who must to be cultivated for us to reach our goal?”

Piggy: “Not really. Although they don’t know me that well they actually worship me unconsciously. They spend their lives pursuing the fulfillment of trivial pleasures.”

Me: “But what about Monkey? Isn’t he there to keep you on track?”

Piggy: “Monkey serves me now. His brilliance and strength is used to figure out how to fulfill my slightest wish. He is a great servant.”

Me: “That’s disgusting. By yourselves you guys are a terrible pair. What about the Buddhist monk, Tripitaka? Isn’t he here to tame Monkey and focus your desires on the fulfillment of the mystic quest.”

Piggy: “He’s in hiding.”

Me: “In hiding?”

Piggy: “Sorry about that. Tripitaka might be in Malaysia or Thailand, but not here. When was the last time you saw a Buddhist monk with his ochre robe in Singapore?”

Me: “This is terrible. Everything is mixed up.”

Piggy: “It sure is. We’re lost in the emptiness of materialism. Help us find our way back.”

Me: “What happened?”

Piggy: “Beats me. Go on ahead and ask the others.”

I walk further up the cement path. I follow the path that splits to the right. On the hill side to the left I see many life-size scenes from Journey to the West. All my friends are included. The most grandiose looks like a Chinese scroll. The Monkey is shown in many of his famous scenes, including stealing the Peaches of Immortality - getting demoted to the stables - and then as the Monkey king.”

Me: “Hey Monkey. It’s me, your friend.”

Monkey: “Greetings fellow traveler.”

Me: “Piggy tells me that you’re using your fabulous powers to fulfill his desires.”

Monkey: “That’s right.”

Me: “But that’s a corruption.”

Monkey: “Perhaps. If so, then together we’ve corrupted entire nations to go to war pursuing their desires for power and wealth.”


Then further on ahead I see the Dragon Horse, representing Will.

Me: “Dragon. What’s happened? Where’s your master Tripitaka?”

Dragon Horse: “I certainly don’t know. Piggy and Monkey are my masters now. I dissipate my mighty powers on guiding them unswervingly to pursue anything that catches their fancy - which is just about everything. To be honest its very exhausting. I never know which way they are going to turn. Piggy just wants everything. And that Monkey is so clever that he can figure out anything. Unfortunately he has no scruples whatsoever. With Piggy as his boss he will steal from anyone now that Tripitaka is out of the picture.”

Then came a sculpture of Tripitaka the Buddhist monk being seduced by the Spider women. They heard that anyone who sucks his pure blood is guaranteed of immortality.

Me: “Tripitaka, dear friend. What has happened that you are no longer in control of the Journey?”

Tripitaka: “Nobody is quiet enough anymore to hear my message of compassion and selflessness. Everyone is so busy making money to satisfy Piggy that they have no time to even think about the spiritual quest, much less pursue it. Pop culture reigns supreme.”

Continuing my stroll I then came upon Kuan Yin, the Chinese Buddhist Bodhisattva - sometimes called the Goddess of Compassion. She is taming the Sand Monk to get him to come on the Journey.

Me: “Kuan Yin and Sandy. Delighted to see you. What happened to the Journey that you were assisting and protecting? Sounds like it has dissolved.”

Kuan Yin: “Although it seems that the Journey has been disbanded there are always and only a few who continue on the Path.”

Me: “But who can resist the lures of materialism.”

Sand Monk: “I had all the materialism I wanted but it was so empty that I began drinking. This didn’t help much, but at least I could forget. Then Heaven kicked me out. I was in so much pain that I finally accepted Kuan Yin as my Master.”

Kuan Yin: “The joys of materialism are so ephemeral that they need to be constantly renewed. It’s like eating junk food or drinking soda pop. They never satisfy thirst or hunger. People crave more and more. They are never satisfied. Eventually they come to me, if they know I exist.”

Me: “But how do they find out about you.”

Kuan Yin: “Every generation has someone who spreads the word for those who are looking.”

Me: “But who’s around now who knows your message?”

Kuan Yin: “You do. It is your duty to introduce us to the West - where we can gain new life. By the way how is your book about us going.”

Me: “It’s stalled right now. I’m finishing my restaurant novel right now.”

Kuan Yin: “Just don’t forget us.”


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