In the National Geographic documentary series, I Wouldn't Go In There, host Robert Joe adopts a solidly scientific approach to uncover the historical facts behind some of Asia's most haunted locations.
Still, there are times that he gets spooked.
In a telephone interview with Life!, the 35-year-old blogger and urban explorer recalls one such occasion in Taiwan: "We were entering this place called Green Island and the boat ride there was a very choppy one. It just felt so unreal, both the weather and the people, kind of like a journey to the underworld."
The small volcanic island off the eastern coast of Taiwan is known as a place of past and present prisons. It is one of the places he explores in the 10-episode series, which starts airing on National Geographic Channel tomorrow.
The Korean-American also heads to former military air bases and abandoned schools in Hong Kong, Indonesia and the Philippines, destinations with eerie vibes and reputation.
Do not think he is a ghostbuster, though. His role in the show is not to debunk the ghost stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Instead, he fleshes out the reasons they have arisen in the first place.
"What we're trying to do is to address the social, cultural or historical aspects of stories about haunting that are really prevalent in a country's culture, adding elements that are based on historical fact to the stories," says Joe, who is single and holds a degree in communications from the University of Texas.
"That's what makes it so exciting, the fact that it's about things that the people who tell the stories may be unaware of."
This is not the first time that National Geographic Channel has produced a show revolving around the supernatural.
A programme Hungry Ghosts Of The Chinese World in 2000 explored the beliefs surrounding the festival during the seventh lunar month among Chinese Singaporeans, while the American series Is It Real? (2005-2007) dealt with phenomena such as crop circles and exorcism.
For I Wouldn't Go In There, Joe started conducting research and filming in November last year.
"We look for clues at the sites for where the stories might have come from and then we talk to people like historians or older folk who have witnessed events of the past.
"People are our most important resource and the most difficult part is getting hold of them when you get there because the people might have passed on or moved away by then."
For the record, he did not have any supernatural encounters in the line of duty. At most, he says he experienced physical reactions such as feeling stiflingly claustrophobic in "dark, cramped places".
He says: "I don't purport to know anything about the spiritual world and I only know what my personal experience is."
He adds that it is a "delicate balancing act" and the producers are wary of sensationalising the supernatural aspects of the show.
"What we try to do is have fun with the ghost stories while being accurate and honest at the same time. We still want to respect the locations that we are filming in and the histories that we are uncovering."
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 22, 2013
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