Scene from a holiday

Winnipeg in winter, under a blanket of snowArriving in Australia to discover four weeks annual leave was standard – plus you might get some extra leave at Christmas, just because – was like getting a hug from a rainbow unicorn. It was not quite Western Europe’s six-week leave extravaganzas, but I wasn’t going to complain.

Except that four weeks of leave in Australia is nowhere near enough. At least not if your family lives in the middle of the Canadian prairies, because you are morally obligated to use at least three of those weeks to visit said family. And getting yourself there involves the modern travel equivalent of paying thousands of dollars to churn your own arm through a meat grinder.

First you must twitch and writhe all the way across the world’s largest ocean and, for the first time in your life, use one of those airsickness bags for its intended purpose (sneakily, so the stranger beside you doesn’t notice). This brings you to LAX, also known as Satan’s Playpen, where, guess what? You’ve missed your connection and your luggage is on its way to Houston. Goodbye, luggage! Enjoy your new life!

You spend six hours facedown on the carpet at Gate 91 until you fly to Minneapolis, where the airport is a mall (excuse me, ‘shopping centre’) next to an even larger mall (excuse me, ‘corporate hate crime’).

It is -27 degrees Celsius in Minneapolis, and you are finally on another plane. But then it stops abruptly just seconds after reversing out of the gate. The plane sits on the tarmac for 20 minutes, and you wonder if they are de-icing the wings with that blue chemical spray that has the same hue as toilet bowl cleaner, because that is an extra thing fun that has to happen in winter climates otherwise you might die.

But no, there is another problem.

‘It seems one of the straps used around the plane’s front tire has gotten stuck because of the cold weather, and wouldn’t you know the ground crew just can’t get it unstuck there, folks,’ the pilot says. ‘They think that if everybody in the first, well, let’s say six rows or so, if everybody could just head to the back of the plane, that might shift the weight and take some of the pressure off that tire.’

It is this sort of technical solution that gives you so much confidence in the aviation industry. Several rows of disgruntled passengers trudge past. The entire plane seems to hold its breath.

‘Well, the ground crew says that worked, so you can return to your seat, folks, and after we get the wings de-iced, we can be on our way.’

You’re so glad you’ve used a year’s worth of leave for this.

 

5017

Picture this: It’s the year 5017. Your coffin is dug up from the mausoleum you built specifically for the purpose of sheltering your earthly remains.
Museum of Old and New Art, HobartIt’s carted to another planet and put on display in a post-modern museum/aquarium where octopus perform tricks with hula hoops, not because they’re forced to, but because they’re really into it – by that time I imagine whatever the dominant species is, they’ve figured out how to communicate with octopi – the point is, how would you feel about your coffin with your remains being on display?

I think it’d be pretty awesome as long as the octopus tricks were tasteful and not, you know, lewd.

 

What I learned in Singapore part 2: how to avoid being sawn in two

In Chinese folklore, there are Ten Courts of Hell that sinners pass through after death. This is according to rather graphic dioramas at Haw Par Villa in Singapore, and not any rigorous research on my behalf.

In part 1, we visited courts one through five. Each court specialises in certain crimes and corresponding punishments. As courts six through ten reinforce, the crimes and punishments can get quite specific.

Sixth Court of Hell  
Crime Punishment
Cheating, cursing, abducting others Thrown onto a tree of knives
   
Misuse of books Body sawn in two
Possession of pornographic material  
Breaking written rules and regulations  
Wasting food  

Sixth court of hell from Ashley Kalagian Blunt's comedy websiteWhether this guy was using his books as doorstops or letting his bananas go spotty was left unstated.

More importantly, check out that torturer’s red patterned tights and jaunty hat. If you’re going to spend your day sawing people in half, do it in style, that’s his motto.

Seventh Court of Hell  
Crime Punishment
Rumour-mongers Tongue pulled out
Sowing discord among family members  
   
Rapists Thrown into wok of boiling oil
Driving someone to their death  
Eighth Court of Hell  
Crime Punishment
Lack of filial obedience Intestines and organs pulled out
Causing trouble for parents or family  
Cheating during examinations  
   
Harming others to benefit oneself Body dismembered

Eighth Court of Hell from Chinese folklore - hilarious

Ninth Court of Hell  
Crime Punishment
Robbery, murder, rape Head and arms chopped off
Any other unlawful conduct  
   
Neglect of the old and young Crushed under boulders

Note that there seems to have been some disagreement when divvying up the crimes among the ten courts. The Seventh Court really wanted to throw rapists into a wok of burning oil (not a bathtub or a whirlpool; a human-sized wok), but the Ninth Court felt it more appropriate to chop their heads and arms off. Is this after they’ve been deep-fried? The Ten Courts of Hell diorama left many questions unanswered.

At the Tenth Court of Hell, sinners receive final judgment. They drink a magical tea to forget their past lives, and then are reincarnated as either nobility, common man, quadruped, fowl, fish or insect.

If I had children, I’d definitely tour them through the Ten Courts of Hell. That way, when they gave me some sass, I could remind them that there’s a demon waiting in the Eighth Court of Hell to pull their intestines and organs out, after which they’ll be reincarnated as a bug. I’d make a great parent.

What I learned in Singapore part 1: How to avoid being grilled on a red hot pillar

The best part of travelling is learning about the values and traditions of other cultures. Like the Ten Courts of Hell, a vision of the afterlife recreated in dioramas at Haw Par Villa in Singapore.

Built in 1937, Haw Par still attracts local school groups and confused tourists. The Ten Courts is its most baffling exhibition. A sign out front reads: The “Ten Courts of Hell” is dedicated to the teachings of traditional Chinese folklore. Due to the graphics nature of the exhibits, viewers’ discretion and parental guidance are advised.

Despite this warning, the cavern containing the Ten Courts of Hell was full of children learning every gruesome details of the very bureaucratic division of committed crimes and corresponding punishments among the ten courts.

When you die, you either go straight to Heaven or end up at the First Court of Hell, which is guarded by ‘Horse-Face’ and ‘Ox-Head.’ 1st-horse-faceYou pass through each court and are judged based on your particular crimes. As you can see, the punishments are specific and inventive:

Second Court of Hell
Crime Punishment
Inflicting physical injury Thrown into volcanic pit
Conmen and robbers
Corruption Frozen into blocks of ice
Stealing and gambling
Prostitutes Thrown into a pool of blood and drowned
Third Court of Hell
Crime Punishment
Ungratefulness Heart cut-out
Disrespect to elders
Escape from prison
Drug addits & traffickers Tied to red hot copper pillar and grilled
Tomb robbers
Urging people into crime and social unrest

Each court has its own diorama, positioned at the eye-level of a typical primary-school student. Here you can see a prison escapee having his heart cut out, and what might be a tomb robber being grilled on a pole. 3rd-heart-cut-out-grilled

The crimes become very specific, such as in the ‘forth’ court:

Forth Court of Hell  
Crime Punishment
Tax dodger, business fraud Pounded by stone mallet
Refusal to pay rent  
   
Disobedience to one’s siblings Grounded by a large stone
Lack of filial piety  

Here are either some tax dodgers being pounded, or some disobedient family members being grounded, I’m not sure:
4th-pounded-by-stone-mallet

Fifth Court of Hell
Crime Punishment
Plotted another’s death for his property or money Thrown onto a hill of knives
Money lenders with exorbitant interest rates
The Viewing Home Tower is for the evildoers to see how their relatives and family are suffering as a result of their wrong-doings.

I’m not sure about that last bit of info on the Viewing Home Tower – does it mean you can just stop by and see how your ancestors are being tortured? This would be an effective deterrent to plotting another’s death.

Courts six through eight offer more examples of creative punishment – and fashion sense!