FOSSAP II (2005-08-29 to 2005-09-04)
I went to Asia in August/September for the FOSSAP II meeting in Cambodia. This was organized by APDIP, a part of UNDP that covers the Asia/Pacific region. The other similar regional UNDP organizations for other parts of the world fallen under the dominion of Microsoft, but APDIP continues supporting free software despite constant threats and bullying which Microsoft applies at higher levels in UNDP.
Since I was going to Asia, I decided to visit other countries while I was there. I hoped to visit Indonesia, but nobody invited me there this time. I arranged a visit to Malaysia before FOSSAP, and to Hong Kong and China after.
I gave two speeches in Malaysia, one in Penang and one in Kuala Lumpur. The schedule was only fixed at the last minute; some others wanted speeches in Kuala Lumpur, including MAMPU which is a government agency that promotes "open source". By the time we knew what times were available for other speeches, it was too late to arrange them.
Malaysia has a reputation for repression and a lack of freedom, and on this visit I learned some of the reasons. People of Malay descent are required by law to be Muslims, and Muslims are forbidden by law to stop being Muslims. (I wonder whether Malaysia has signed any treaties that call for religious freedom.) I posed to some friends the idea that an atheist of Malay descent might ask for political asylum in another country, so as to be permitted not to be a Muslim. They were somewhat shocked by the idea of talking about such a question, but did not seem to be truly frightened. They told me that the government had allowed freedom to discuss political views on the internet--but that such freedom would not necessarily apply to actual speech.
On my last full day in Kuala Lumpur I had lunch in a food court in a big shopping mall on the side of the Petronas twin towers, which were for a while the world's tallest buildings. As a sign of globalization, nearly all the stores have names that are familiar from the US and Europe. However, the food court is full of kinds of food one would probably never find in the US or Europe. I had some Malayanised Indian food--the food of people of Indian descent in Malaysia.
We went to the mall because I was looking for books by Indonesian writers. Since Indonesian is almost the same as Malay, it was plausible I would find them there. I was looking for books by a famous Indonesian writer, Mochtar Lubis, because of a recommendation that they were good for people studying Indonesian to read. We went to the largest bookstore in the country, and it was almost completely full of books in English, plus a large Chinese section, but only a small section of books in Malay/Indonesian. It seems that most of the books published in Malay are either religious, or romances for teen-agers. They did not have any Mochtar Lubis, but they did have a couple of books by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a stalwart defender of freedom whose books were banned in Indonesia for a long time. I bought the last book of the Buru Island quartet--named for the prison island where Suharto sent him.
My host turned out to be interested in science fiction, so I offered to go with him to that section and suggest books for him to buy. He got around 12 books in English. Meanwhile, I found a few that I had been seeking for some time, and brought them home.
Afterwards I had tea with Tan King Ing, who works in MAMPU. MAMPU officially promotes "open source", but she is starting to see the virtue of the free software ideals. She and her friend Nor (whose name caused me much amusement) suggested we visit a couple of small bookstores that specialize more in Malay books--perhaps they would have Mochtar Lubis. They didn't, but I did get another book they said I might enjoy. So then they suggested visiting another large bookstore. In this store we finally found a Mochtar Lubis book. It was an English translation, which would not be useful for learning Indonesian. It seems that people in Malaysia who read a lot usually read English.
Then they suggested that I should try to make contact with anyone from Indonesia who was going to the FOSSAP meeting in Cambodia in a few days. Chances are at least one of them would be able to pick up some of these books and bring them to the meeting. This plan did work. However, by that time I had started reading one of the books that I had got in Kuala Lumpur, so I haven't started them yet.
I noticed that antisemitic literature, such as the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and a book by Henry Ford, were prominently displayed in every book store.