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 willynilly follow suit.

Libertarian 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)\x97and a number of small jerry-built clubs and bars which open around sundown (see Nightlife).

Beyond Godown St. lies 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; 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-Alchemy 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 concept 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 foliage.

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 Libertarian 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 prefabricated 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, O'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 sauvage 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.

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