6. Sightseeing in Port Watson
Port Watson has sprung up rapidly and has the taste of a goldrush
town despite its tropical languor. Its architecture appears eccentric,
and "city planning" is considered a dirty word. Everyone builds where
and what they like, from thatch-hut to junkyard to geodesic dome or
quonset, pre-fab or traditional, aesthetic-personal or functional-ugly.
Most streets are unpaved, and automobiles are rarely seen - although
several hundred "free bikes" (painted white) lie about for anyone
who needs them.
The population of the enclave is said to be about 2000, although
no census has ever been taken. Perhaps half are native Sonsorolans;
the other half consists of many nationalities, the largest percentage
probably North Americans - then Chinese, Australians and New Zealanders,
Europeans (British, French, German, etc.), Scandinavians, South Americans,
a scattering of Filipinos, Javanese and other Southeast Asians; and
individuals from such unlikely places as Iran, Egypt, South Africa.
Most of the "settlers" came to work for the Bank or one of the other
Port Watson concerns, although a significant number "just happened
by, and decided to stay." Living styles range from Gauginesque beachcombing
to the international jet-set (the Bank's roving front-people), but
the majority fall somewhere between such extremes.
Important: the traveler should constantly bear in mind that
Port Watson differs from the rest of the world in one major respect:
the absence of all law. Some Watsonians like to depict their town
as a cross between The Heart of Darkness and Tombstone City there's
gossip about duels and feuds, stories about "little wars" between
communes, etc. - but in truth these incidents are quite rare, possibly
even apocryphal. Nevertheless, the newcomer should be aware that no
authority exists to pluck anyone from danger or difficulty; every
Watsonian takes full responsibility for personal actions; the visitor
must willingly follow suit.
Llbertarian theory predicts that such a system or non-system! will
lead to greater peace and harmony than violence and disorder, provided
every individual owns wealth, and agrees not to force or oppress another
human being. In practice the theory seems to work after all, Port
Watson is really a small town on a small island, a "social ecology"
that reinforces cooperation and even conformity. For all their anarchist
bluster,most Watsonians are too blissed out to cause trouble - but
a visitor who fails to grasp the "unwritten code" or display the correct
laid-back good manners may well suffer unpleasant consequences.
The jetty bustles with activity: lighters unloading cargo from some
tramp steamer anchored out in the lagoon; fishing boats coming and
going, the crews haggling with Co-op reps over their rainbow-gleaming
catch; children playing and swimming; loungers drinking coffee at
the popular Cannibal Cafe. Behind the jetty runs Godown Sfreet, named
after its row of ugly warehouses or "godowns"; here also are found
various maritime offices, chandlers and boat-builders (proas, junks
and out-rigger canoes and a number of small jerry-built clubs and
bars which open around sundown (see Nightlife).
Beyond Godown St. Iies China Street, home of Port Watson's Chinese
community. Shabby one-storey shops with corrugated iron fronts and
brilliant calligraphed signs; the island's only hostelry, the White
Flower Motel, and several excellent Chinese restaurants (see Where
to Stay & Eat); and a small Chinese temple of the sort
seen everywhere in Southeast Asia, concrete baroque pillars, pre-fab
dragons and phoenixes painted garishly, writhing over an uptilted
tiled roof, incense billowing from a gold and crimson altar...: The
South Pole Star Taoist Temple. Most Watsonian Chinese are Taoists
or Ch'an Buddhists, and tai chi has become a fad throughout the island.
Along the beach west of China St. an area called "The Slums" sprawls
out on the sunny sand - a twin to the post-hippy "budget traveler"
ghettos of Goa and Bali; thatched huts and little make-shift bungalows,
a few craft shops, coffee-houses and restaurants, a population of
beachcombers and lotus-eaters: the voluntary poor of Port Watson.
Here also is found the City's famous "Drug Store"; a detailed description
would be impolitic, but you get the idea.
East of the Jetty, about half a kilometer along the road to Sonsorol
City, lies the fabulous Energy Center, without doubt the ugliest complex
structure on the island. Its work may be environmentally benign, but
it looks like a stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike transported piecemeal
to the tropics and re-assembled by a madman. Banks of gawky towers
and experimental windmills (like something from War of the Worlds!),
sinister black solar collector-banks, huge ungainly generators making
electricity from tide, wave and wind power; rows of jerry-rigged plastic
hydroponic greenhouses; ateliers and workshops, blacksmith's shop,
Bricolage Center & Garage all designed like an Erector Set put together
on Acid. The genial Whole-Earth-New-AI- chemy techies of the Energy
Collective adore all this machinery, dirt, noise and inventiveness.
The Bank may pay the bills, they say but maybe not forever. And meanwhile
the Energy Center is the living heart of Port Watson.
But the Bank must take the prize for the island's most Absurdist
architecture. Built by some Neo-Futurist Italian design team, already
it's falling apart; but everyone enjoys its extravagance and chutzpah,
so the Bankers grumble but spend to keep it up and functional. Shaped
like a cross between an Egyptian and a Mayan pyramid, sort of squashed
out, seven stories high, all of the black reflecting glass and stainless
steel (now looking rather rusty after four typhoon seasons the whole
con-cept so ultra-post-modern it approaches Comic Opera (or Space
Opera!)... and yet, its shapes reflect the dead volcano which makes
up the island's mass, and its color reflects the black sand, and its
rust harmonizes with the tropical heat... and after the first shock
and giggle, one falls a bit under its spell! a BANK! plopped down
on this equatorial isle, shaped like the Illuminatus symbol on a dollar
bill (only no eye) heavy, dense and yet shimmering like obsidian.
Inside, the Bank is bisected right down the middle. One half remains
open, a "cathedral space" without partitions, a huge glasshouse or
botanical crystal-palace or arboretum, raucous with tropical flowers
and uncaged birds & staircases and ramps lead to balconies and hanging
gardens & glass tubes with escalators inside them (like De Gaulle
Airport in Paris) crisscross the vast space, giving the "lobby" a
Pirenesi/ Buck Rogers atmosphere. Fountains splash on the ground level
or fall in cascades and Watsonians come here to picnic or fuck in
The other half of the Bank is the Sultan Ilanun Moro Bank itself,
a maze of offices, computer rooms, vaults (said to contain almost
nothing of value), living quarters for the Bankers (who tend to be
Llbertarian computer hacks and anarcho capitalist visionaries), all
ultra-modern and air-conditioned, futurologistic and severe.
The Bank maintains a satellite dish near the peak of Mount Sonsorol,
and computers are manned 24 hours a day for financial and political
news. Some islanders who are not members of the Bank Collective have
nevertheless taken to punting in international finance games; speculation
and gambling are popular sports.
The Bank also serves as a community center a printing press, a medical
clinic (called "Immortality Inc.", for some reason), a popular cafeteria,
a tape and record library and other facilities are open to the public.
Between China St. and the Bank lies the Bazaar, a large open (hot
and dusty) plaza surrounded by more corrugated-iron shops and palm-
thatched shanty-stores, plus a large building not unlike a supermarket
or mall. All this together constitutes the great Port Watson Peoples'
Cooperative Center, the exchange mart, import-export boutique, grocery
bin and bourse of the Enclave. Tuesdays and Thursdays are "Market
Days," although parts of the Co-op are always open. Amazing luxuries
from all over the world (tax-free, of course) make the bazaar an unknown
Shopper's Paradise; electronic goods for example are cheaper here
than in Hong Kong or Singapore. The architecture of the bazaar is
scarcely noteworthy, but in the middle of the plaza sits a small ornate
pre-fabricated mosque imported in pieces from Pakistan via Brunei
and assembled here as The Sultan Pak Harjanto I Center for Esoteric
Studies (named after the Martyr of 1907 who brought Javanese sorcery
to Sonsorol). All pink minarets and green scallops and white and gold
like a child's birthday cake, with liquorish icing of Arabic calligraphy,
the "Mosque" is used as a performance space and public meditation
hall. Surrounded by a small flower garden and shade trees, it makes
a pleasant retreat from the heat and dust of the Bazaar.
Another amusing feature of the Bazaar is The Big Character Wall
(or "Great Wall"), where notices, flyers, poems, curses, grafitti
and "big character slogans" are posted or painted - a sort of giant
unmovable newspaper. A book fair (trade, exchange, purchase) is held
here on Tuesdays.
A kilometer along the beach west of the Slums lies The Academies,
a cluster of communities and collectives devoted to education and
knowledge, occupying an area of deserted copra plantations. Some of
the architecture is restored colonial (not very interesting); the
rest of it represents an attempt to create a new Sonsorolan "vernacular"
making use of traditional materials (palm, thatch, coral) and the
"alternative tech" comforts provided by the Energy Center. Buildings
here are named after Ferrer, Goodman, Fiere, Neill, Illich, Reich...
and the educational theories practiced derive from their teachings.
Higher scientific research is limited, of course, but computer access
and more-than-adequate funding for certain projects have resulted
in a spirit of breakthrough in for example; ESP studies, theoretical
physics and math, genetics and biology (especially morphogenetic field
research) and even a modest observatory (named after Prince Kropotkin).
Children occupy a unique position in Port Watson. As Shareholders
from birth they are financially independent, and no legal or moral
force binds them to their "families" if they want to live on their
own. Both at the Academies and elsewhere in the Enclave, Polynesian-style
childrens' communes thrive without "adult supervision". They choose
their own educational curricula and pay for the specialized knowledge
they desire or else they apprentice themselves to some trade or else
do nothing at all but play and enjoy themselves. Sexual freedom between
or among any consenting partners is taken for granted in Port Watson.
Childlife has mutated into a cross between Coming of Age in Samoa
and a computerized play-utopia; happy, healthy and uninhibited, both
more serious and more savage than their American or European counterparts,
they sometimes seem to have arrived from another planet... yet at
the same time they are obviously the real Watsonians.