2 Feb 2020

The innocent joy of trespassing

From Sunday Morning, 10:40 am on 2 February 2020

Nick Slater’s night in Ho Chi Minh City started out like they usually did – with a few beers at a little street restaurant with his friend Ed, an urban explorer.

Ed had been trying to get Slater into urban exploring for a while.

“I thought that it sounded both dangerous and not all that interesting.

“With the help of a little bit of liquid courage he managed to convince me to check out the best view in the city.”

Nick Slater is the newsletter editor at Current Affair and a big fan of trespassing.

Nick Slater is the newsletter editor at Current Affair and a big fan of trespassing. Photo: Supplied

Slater didn’t think it would be so easy. The pair walked into the lobby of a very fancy hotel in the city, walked straight into the elevator and rode it up.

“The whole time there was this sort of thrill of doing something that’s forbidden, something that’s completely outside my normal daily routine and that sense got more and more invigorating the higher the elevator went.”

Once they were at the top, looking out over the city, Slater says it was like a spiritual experience – it was freeing and liberating.

“I’d never seen the city through those eyes, and it really changed my life to be honest.”

Ever since, trespassing has become a pastime for Slater.

He believes people should be free to roam where they please.

One of the most “fertile territories”, as Slater describes it, is Eastern Europe.

“There’s a lot of really fantastic communist era architecture, the majority of it is largely unguarded, unprotected.”

In Western Europe, Spain in has a lot of old villages that are completely abandoned, he says. Often high in the mountains, the villages have plenty to explore.

 “One of the key values that I have when trespassing is to leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures because even though you’re going into a place that’s technically forbidden, I don’t think that gives you carte blanche to just wreck the place.”

When you’re in these places, a lot more things start to seem possible, he says.

If people are prevented from entering spaces that give them a unique perspective of a city, it shrinks the city.

“The city belongs to all of us, it’s not the property of Amazon or any given property management group.”

He doesn’t see any problem in people taking back what is rightfully theirs.

“…meaning, just the right to physically be in the city where they live.”

Much of the Earth’s surface is owned by massive corporations, he says.

The Catholic Church for example, owns an area of land bigger than France 276,500 sq miles, he says.

Trespassing is a skill that improves with practice, he says.

You need to dress the part, wearing the typical cat burglar get-up - black clothing and a ski mask – isn’t going to get you far, he says.

“I do have to say, one of the other big things in my … is that it helps to be white. As kind of an uncomfortable statement as that is, people tend to view you with less suspicion.”

Slater also carries a DSLR camera because when you masquerade as a photographer, he says people tend to cut you a lot of slack.

There’s no hard-and-fast rules as to where it’s appropriate to trespass, and where it’s not, he says.

“If you enter places with an attitude of respect and curiosity, and you do no harm, you break nothing, you hurt no-one, I don’t really see a problem with trespassing inhabited places.”

Trespassing is an act of resistance, he believes.