The Closest Thing to a Vacation (2005-08-29 to 2005-09-04)
The FOSSAP II meeting in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was organized by APDIP, a part of UNDP that covers the Asia/Pacific region. Many free software activists were invited, as well as representatives of various Asian governments.
One of the nice aspects of meeting in Siem Reap was that we could visit the Angkor temples and see Cambodian court dancing. However, I couldn't join the meeting's arranged tour because that was the day after the event, the day when I was leaving for Hong Kong. So I arranged to go to Siem Reap two days early. This gave me a chance to see more, including the temple of Banteay Srei, a ways to the north of Angkor, which has the most beautiful carvings of all.
Cambodian court dancing was revived largely by Cambodian exiles abroad, after most of the dancers were killed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. I had seen this dancing just twice before, in Boston, back when First Night was aimed at adults as much as children. (It no longer has performances like this, so I no longer bother with it.) I was amazed by the beauty of the performance by the Angkor Dancers, and when it was done, I wanted to shout "Angkor, Angkor". Ever since then I have wished for a chance to see Cambodian dance again; I even tried to find the group so I could ask when and where they would perform again, but I never succeed. For FOSSAP II, the Cambodian government sponsors arranged performances for the meeting.
We also took a boat out onto the large lake, Tonle Sap, which is a short way south of Siem Reap. The edge of the lake slopes very gradually, so there is a large coastal area where the water advances and retreats seasonally. The people in that area live in boats. Our tourist boat went out to the lake alongside a path that kept getting narrower and lower until it was underwater--but people stood and walked on it nonetheless. It looked as if they were walking on water. When we got to the lake, it was somewhat of an anticlimax--except for the thunder in the distance from an approaching storm. Fortunately the storm did not reach us until we had arrived back in port.
Several people from Nepal were at the meeting. When I met them, I mentioned what I had heard about the arrests and censorship there. They told me that these reports were exaggerated, and minimized everything. The reports come on good authority--newspapers such as the Guardian, and direct from refugees. These people, who must have traveled with the king's permission, were telling me the story that the king wants the world to believe.
Also at the meeting was the second Chinese free software activist I've encountered, Min Gong from the Co-Create Software League. I arranged to meet him in Beijing later on.
One of the presentations I saw was about the Sahana project, which used and developed free software to organize aid to tsunami victims in Sri Lanka. They hope to adapt it to aid for other disasters in the future. Seeing this project inspired the new FSF award for using free software to serve other social purposes.
The climax of the event, for me, occurred when the representative of the government of a rather undemocratic Asian country defended the WTO. (The WTO requires copyright rules that forbid people from sharing.) He explained, condescendingly and at excessive length, that people who decide to play soccer must abide by its rules, arbitrary though they may be; then he compared the WTO's rules to the rules of soccer. He said, "These are the rules that the wealthy countries have set for access to their markets. We have to accept them."
I responded, "The WTO's rules were designed to be unjust. In every country, they benefit the wealthy and hurt everyone else. They give us a world of sweatshops. No country should accept these rules." Half the people in the room then applauded. The other half probably support trickle-down economics.