The Nang Room: the modern island of lotus eaters

Enter the nang room

three pink lotuses with nangs nestled inside them Artwork by Annie Zhang

It’s the middle of the night. You’re at a half-decent party in the Inner West. You’ve had a couple drinks, are wearing a costume that you threw together at the last minute, and you’ve just realised that a number of your friends are missing. They’re not out in the garden smoking a dart, not having a dance in the lounge: they have vanished and cannot be reached, no matter how many times you Facebook-call them.

You venture through the sharehouse, past rooms lit with fairy lights, past the line for the bathroom, until you pass a closed door. No light comes through the bottom of the door, and when you turn the handle, it isn’t locked. From behind the door a crashing hiss echoes every thirty seconds or so.

This is the nang room. Your friends are here. They have been here for years. They have forgotten who they are, how they came to be here, what life was like outside of the nang room. All they want is to chase the next nang, and so you plant yourself beside them, accept a balloon handed to you from frozen fingers, and follow them into the ether.

After ten days of rough seas Odysseus and his crew land on the isle of the Lotus Eaters. They take shelter, eat and drink, and Odysseus sends some of his men further inland to see what the island’s inhabitants are like. He doesn’t hear from his men: having eaten the lotus flower they have forgotten about home, forgotten their quest, and desire nothing more than to remain there, eating lotus flowers.

The nang room is our modern day island, nangs our lotus.

Nangs are the sober man’s drug. A nang has an intense high of about 15 seconds, followed by a few minutes of lasting reverberation, before it’s all over and you’re returned to mostly lucid brain function. In that 15-second intense high, you see god. Your mind resounds like a brass bell struck by Quasimodo in the tower of Notre Dame. Any sound or stimulus bounces around back and forth, shaking you from a cosmic plane far away back down to your tiny human existence. If you’re happy to breathe in something that isn’t oxygen for a minute, you’re rewarded with the most transcendental high you can get without ingesting or injecting anything into your body.

The nang room is a notorious party location. At some point during the night someone will start it up, picking a select few people to join them. Generally speaking the people who kick off the nang room are those who have come prepared, who have bought their nangs in bulk and are ready to settle in. Once drawn in, it’s near impossible to leave. Nangs are just so easy to keep doing. As long as someone there is happy to keep inflating balloons and passing them around, you can spend hours there.

There is something truly intoxicating about the nang room, much like the intoxication of the lotus flowers. It’s hard to describe the experience to someone who has never done a nang, and it’s harder still to justify the hours spent downing nang after nang, laying inert on the ground, listening to Tame Impala or Gang of Youths. The experience comes hauntingly close to capturing the mystique of the strange, mythological island of Lotus Eaters.

There is a sense of community in the nang room: it’s much more fun to do a nang as a group than on your own, and so the group waits patiently as balloons are inflated for everyone present. One person will be handling the ‘nanginator’ or cracker, braving frozen fingers as they push out nang after nang over the course of the night. Their reward is the final balloon to be inflated, those balloons inflated first in the round having slowly deflated as they wait.

For this reason there’s a subtle politics surrounding the capacity of the nang room, too few and the room takes on a sad, almost desperate feeling, too many and physics is working against you. You can, of course, go in rounds: get half the room set up and going as you prepare for the other half, but the timing doesn’t quite work out. The thing is, when you’re doing a nang, time feels infinite. 30 seconds of a song feels like a symphony, and so it’s only when you’re watching, not doing a nang yourself, that you realise how fleeting the experience truly is. So sure, you can give half the group nangs and set them loose, but they will be done and ready for the next round before you’ve had a chance to crack even a single other nang.

The nang beast is especially single-minded in its pursuit of nangs: one nang is never enough, because as soon as you’re done, you want another. And another. And another. It’s not just the nangs: in this environment balloons become a priceless commodity. If there aren’t enough balloons for everyone then the choice is made for you: there can only ever be as many nangs as balloons, rounds become mandatory.

It isn’t uncommon to see gentle, blissful nang beasts, turned paranoid and selfish: there is no nobility here. If someone’s balloon pops that sometimes seals their fate; no one waits, no one stops, no one sacrifices their balloon or nang for them. Moments after finishing a nang, still descending from the astral plane, a friend could ask if you have a balloon to spare. They may know you have a balloon, having just finished a nang, but you will not want to relinquish your balloon for fear you will never see it again and oh god without a balloon you may never nang again. And so, still disoriented, still dumb and happy and floating down to earth, you will mime having lost your balloon, holding it securely in the palm of your hand. You will think you are a master of deception, but you are not. You may consider yourself to be a good person, but on the isle of nangs all morals are discarded in favour of sheer selfish hedonism: all in pursuit of the next nang.

Odysseus drags his men from the island. Weeping bitterly, they board the ship to continue their quest. But in the nang room, there is no quest outside the door. No family or friends awaiting your return, no gods to appease or kingdoms to save. Your quest is self-contained in the nang room, your family and friends are the people around you holding up their balloons before inhaling in unison to climb the wave of euphoria together.

Other boats may sail past, parties will come and go, but the nang room will always be there, waiting for you to taste that first nang, and be enticed to linger there forever.