I went on a walking tour about Taoist underworld deities & it's not as scary as I thought

Twilight hour.

Mandy How | August 16, 2021, 03:28 PM

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Some might hesitate to dally with the paranormal, especially during the seventh lunar month.

But "Between Two Worlds" — a walking tour centred around the stories of Taoist deities Tua Di Ya Peh (translation: first and second granduncles) — sounded innocuous enough in its media invite.

Yes, despite its description of the "terrifying" gods of hell with a long tongue, tall hats, and torture instruments.

Photo by Suzuki1314 via Wikipedia

Photo via Wikipedia

If you've not heard of them, Tua Di Ya Peh are the subordinates of Yanluo Wang, ruler of the underworld in Chinese mythology.

The two deities are in charge of escorting souls of the dead to their realm, among other things.

Walk the talk

The programme is a collaboration between Say Tian Hng, a Taoist effigy-making shop and local tour operator Offbeat Tours.

For S$45 per pax, one can expect to hear more about the following as they meander around the Singapore River in the one and a half hour session:

  • Why the deities, also known as Hei Bai Wu Chang (translation: black white impermanence/ghost of impermanence), are feared yet misunderstood
  • The tragedy behind their origin story
  • Why devotees choose to worship them instead of the more mainstream deities in the Taoist pantheon
  • The unusual objects and rituals used in their worship

And so on.

The stories are tied to icons and landmarks along the 1.6km walk, so you'll get to learn some aspects of Singapore's history too.

No proselytising is involved, if that's what you're worried about. No prior knowledge of Taoism is required, either.

The experience

Without giving too much away, the tour, even for someone susceptible to Asian horror, was more educational than scary (if at all).

Our tour guide Jan, and the props he brought along. Photo by Mandy How.

Said props. Photo by Mandy How.

For one, it started early enough at 6pm, the daylight a good antidote to any terrors you might perceive.

Photo by Mandy How

Photo by Mandy How

Even when twilight hits, the downtown crowd is boisterous enough to allay your fears.

The scenic nature of the walk also enables you to take in the sights and sounds of the cityscape, an effective juxtaposition of the underworld with bustling modernity.

However, due to the largely passive nature of the programme (imbibing stories from the tour guide), we'd say bring a healthy appetite for learning about the culture and its practices.

Otherwise, the tour could benefit from a bit more interaction, as well as a more varied structure.

For optimum fun, go in a group (of up to five, with a minimum of three to proceed).

You can book the tour here, or check out more programmes from Say Tian Hng and Offbeat Tours.

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Top image by Mandy How