Wanderlust #51: Non-Place
9 December 2019
2019, Stereo, 48/24, 20min.
Written, recorded, and produced by Peter Lenaerts/Surfacenoise
Australia, China, Hong Kong, 2018-2019
VO Artist: Teresa Tan
Mastered by Tim Bruniges/43’33” Mastering
Commissioned by Hong Kong Arts Festival
First presented at Taikwun Center for Heritage & Arts, Hong Kong, March 2, 2019
Please, make yourself comfortable, relax, close your eyes, and feel free to fall asleep.
Against a backdrop of empty field recordings, a voice lures you to a place that is fictional yet
hyper real, a place of transience, where time is suspended, ever so briefly.
Non-places, as coined by anthropologist Marc Augé, are places that are neither public nor
private, places where no one belongs, where identity is suspended and social contact is nonexistent.
Non-places are not usually destinations, they are places we pass through on our
way to someplace else.
Non-place is an invitation to listen differently, possibly even to not listen at all, to simply
close your eyes, not in concentration, but in preparation for a nap.
In this place of slumber and light sleep, a voice will talk to you about a coastal city where the
past has almost been completely erased, and the future is being constructed one stor(e)y at a
This is the sound of my voice. Can you hear me? Am I loud enough?
Hello, and welcome. Please, make yourself comfortable.
Sit down. Lie down. Close your eyes. Whatever you need to relax.
Feel free to fall asleep.
You’re most welcome.
This is the sound of my voice.
Imagine, if you will.
You travelled almost a whole day to get here. First, there was a 12 hour flight that took you to
a place where you could still make yourself understood, but only just. Then there was a
shared taxi across the border. The drive wasn’t that long, an hour or so but the line at the
border was slow, very slow. You had planned to look for another driver at the border, but no
one had heard of your destination. You were taken to the first big city instead, where no one
understands what you are saying.
Luckily, you have a translator travelling with you. After a lot of linguistic, semantic and
geographic confusion, your translator manages to explain where you are going to, and a
driver is found. When this driver tries to find your destination in his GPS, nothing comes up.
You see him try several times, but his GPS does not know the city you are going to. He
doesn’t seem too worried though and says he knows in which direction to start driving.
Two hours later, he tells your translator that you have arrived. A quick look outside the
window reveals mostly dark night and fields, and most definitely nothing indicating a city, let
alone a hotel.
Imagine, if you will, your first impression.
The air tastes like you’ve been going through old cardboard boxes and suitcases. Not in the
attic, but in the basement, because there’s a dankness and humidity to the dirt and dust that
you can taste on your tongue. It smells like dust as well, and you can almost feel the dirt
enter through your nose and creep down your throat. Blowing your nose brings no relief and
drinking makes it worse.
To your left, behind you, is the constant drone of traffic crossing the long bridge across the
bay. It’s relentless, a constant pulse. A second, slower beat rolls in from the sea, also to your
left. And even though you can’t hear the waves sizzle, you can hear the low power of the
Imagine, if you will.
You’re at the entrance of a high-rise hotel. Outside it’s night and dark and you can’t really get
a visual sense of your surroundings.
As the elevator climbs up to the 20th floor, you realise that in the 20 minutes or so you spent
checking in, you did not see or hear another guest.
It’s 9pm on a Friday night.
Your surprise at the size of your hotel room is quickly taken over by the view from your
window, your first visual impression of this strange new city you’ve arrived in. Twenty floors
down there’s a brightly lit boulevard. Every now and then a mute car or electric bike hurries
past. There’s not much traffic, just enough to not make the boulevard look empty.
Across the road from the hotel is a complex of lower buildings. Empty.
Also across from you on the other side is a high-rise office building. Empty.
A bit further in the distance, the 5 star Grand Hotel. The thick windows high above in your
20th floor room mute everything. No sound enters this quiet and empty space.
It’s well after midnight and you can count the cars that have passed you in the last half hour
on 1 finger. Traffic lights flash orange every 100 meters or so. The road is brightly lit. There’s
an evening chorus of insects and frogs screaming in the swamp to your right. Far off in the
distance to your left, the sea rumbles softly. On this stretch of road, there’s only one building,
The Grand Hotel. Only a few windows are lit, just enough to see the hotel’s outline against
the pitch black sky. As you get closer to the hotel, you become aware of a very low and deep
rumble. You look around listening for the source of this menacing drone, but can’t see
anything. The closer you get to the hotel, the louder the drone becomes.
It’s early morning. You’ve left your hotel and you’re walking along the boulevard. After 5
minutes you’re covered in a film of dirt. After half an hour the road comes to a sudden end.
You didn’t keep track but estimate that you could have counted the cars that passed you on
two hands. And yet, you’re never alone here. Children point you out to their parents and
laugh. You smile back but avoid too much eye contact.
Now that the road has ended, you find yourself at the entrance of a park. There’s 3 vendors
selling snacks and drinks from trolleys and carts.
You enter the park and walk in the direction of the Ferris wheel that you can see sticking out
above the trees. It’s a short and pleasant walk. The Ferris wheel turns out to be part of an
amusement park with several other attractions. There’s water rides, a rollercoaster, a
caterpillar, two or three carousels, a pendulum ride, and all of them have one thing in
common: they look like they haven’t been used in about a decade. The grass is covered in
weeds, there’s garbage everywhere, and the dominant color is rust. It’s like you’ve arrived in
one of those abandoned places that go viral on the internet.
Some time has passed and you’re now on the beach you’ve discovered behind the
amusement park. It’s warm enough to swim but the water looks like it could kill you by
simply getting your ankles wet. There’s a group of men sweeping the wooden boardwalk with
old brooms. One of them carries a portable radio in his shirt pocket.
The sea in front of you is calm. You can’t see very far, the sky is thick and grey, but not with
A rickety tin boat sits quietly on the water.