Tourist at home: Solving a murder mystery in Chinatown

Chinatown Murders, organised by Tribe, requires participants to solve puzzles while walking about Chinatown.
Chinatown Murders, organised by Tribe, requires participants to solve puzzles while walking about Chinatown.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Someone in Chinatown has been murdered and in one of the worst policing decisions ever made, the case has been entrusted to us, a group of five sexy detectives known more for their youth and smouldering good looks than smarts.

Solving the crime will require diligence and a sharp mind. At 10am in the morning, just outside the Chinatown MRT station and surrounded by cafes and hawker stalls from which delicious smells are wafting, both are in short supply.

The mystery-solving walkabout, called Chinatown Murders, is a new one organised by Tribe, a tour company.

Keeping us focused on the case - and stopping us from wandering off to eat - is Ms Elaine Low, our guide and storyteller. As our two groups of five detectives move along Sago Street, Pagoda Street, South Bridge Road and Temple Street, she tells us stories of her childhood here, when it was a busy centre of commerce and worship and bullock carts transported water along its streets.

I deduced that she was speaking in character, as she is only 42, not 110, proof that maybe we are not so dumb after all. From time to time, we stop to solve puzzles. These are based on our surroundings - the colours of shophouses, the designs of temples - and each successful solution prompts the gamemasters following us to hand us a new piece of information that eliminates a suspect from the provided list.

This walking form of Cluedo won't finger the killer as the butler who did it in the library. More in keeping with the district's history, it is more like the coolie who did it close by the temple.

There are two teams of five participants each. Do you know what happens when there are two teams comprised of mostly Singaporeans in a game of mental prowess?

That's right, you get a duel. A showdown. All is forgotten as we relive our school years.

We start by playing it cool, reading the questions and acting casual. We are told to keep it fun. But our Singaporean instincts kick in. We can't help it.

I begin eyeing the other team, seeing if they are getting ahead. When we are told to prowl an area for clues, steps grow quicker as we approach the close of the game. As our storyteller Ms Low says at one point: "I know you're not listening to me because you just want to get to the puzzle, right?"

What gave it away? The crazed look in our eyes? The way I stood in the rain, not noticing how wet I was getting, to look at a temple design instead of taking a photo of it to inspect under shelter? The way quicker folks snatch the question sheets from my hand to solve puzzles solo without saying a word to others on the team? (Oh yes, I am still sore about that one.)

 

Gamifying a tour makes it more engaging, but it can be a blow to the ego for those who are a tad slower in logic-spatial skills. I am not speaking of myself, of course. I could solve the puzzles easily if I wanted. It's just that as a man of culture, I distracted by the area's rich history and architecture.

BOOK IT/NIU CHE SHUI MURDERS (OR CHINATOWN MURDERS)

INFO: Chinatown Murders

COST: $50 per person