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You are here: Home Blogs RMS Australia, Malaysia, Jakarta (2004-10-03 to 2004-10-22)

Australia, Malaysia, Jakarta (2004-10-03 to 2004-10-22)

by Richard Stallman Contributions Published on Jul 12, 2010 03:10 PM
I was invited to Australia so as to speak at the Builder conference, which was canceled shortly before I got there (but they had already bought my tickets). This did not mean the visit was wasted, since I had arranged 9 other speeches. The Australian Senate had attached some conditions to the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and it looked like the US might reject the treaty as a result, which would give Australia a second chance to escape. I arranged to give several speeches about the danger of software patents.

During the first week there I was contacted by someone who knows the parents of Hans Bakker, who died in the accident returning from Paris. I got their address and sent them a message of condolence, which was not easy to write. Although the minister said he would meet with me, it seems this won't happen--there is only one occasion I could arrange to be in Paris between now and the vote scheduled for a month from now, and he can't make it then.

Half-way through my visit, Australia held a general election. The conservative "Liberal" party, which supports Bush and the treaty, gained support after a campaign based on lies. Howard lied to them about the war in Iraq, too.

Their previous electoral campaign, three years ago, was based on lies that boat people were throwing their own children into the water to force a rescue. After the election, navy personnel testified this was because their boat was in the process of sinking. So I was not really surprised when, a few days after the election, I heard on the radio that their optimistic economic projections were exaggerated and would not come to pass. Just goes to show, if you tolerate a government that lies about minor things like human rights and refugees and war, soon they will start lying about your money too.

The election outcome could give them control of the Senate, which could mean that Australia wastes its second chance and approves the treaty.

I spent much of election day going to visit a lorikeet named Scratchy, who I had had a wonderful time with on my previous visit several years ago. However, Scratchy was not in a friendly mood this time--he was in love with his bell, and didn't really want to play with anyone, and tended to nip at people.

Just before leaving Australia, I visited a couple of cockatiels that sat on my hand and shoulder and chattered. I tried to teach them to say "Are you a bird?", but it must take more time than that.

I spent two days in Malaysia, where I had my first chance to try conversing in Malay (it is pretty similar to Indonesian, which I have been studying), and a chance to try the particular food tradition of people of mixed Malay and Chinese descent. My host said it was the only one likely not to be too spicy for me. However, one of the dishes that the waiter said was "not spicy at all" turned out to be too spicy for me to eat.

The next day was my speech, which went well. In the evening I visited the twin towers of Kuala Lumpur, which were beautiful. In the photos I took, they appear to curve towards each other--I think that is due to distortion in the wide-angle lense that I needed in order to get the whole of them into one photo.

The following day I managed to converse a little with the taxi driver on the way to the train to the airport. When I arrived in Jakarta, I was surprised to see a man with a sign with my name on it waiting at the exit from the jetway. It turned out he had been sent there to help me get through immigration and customs easily. Everything went completely smoothly with his help, and I was able to converse with him too. Also with my hosts that were with me in the car coming back, and at lunch. Most of them didn't eat, they just watched, as it is Ramadan. I took the opportunity to explain to them in Indonesian that MacDonalds' "fast food" is meant for helping people fast--not for eating.

It was quite a pleasure to feel that I can now speak a fourth language. However, it is a constant effort and I can only do it when I am feeling very awake. This morning I am finding it hard to handle sentences that yesterday I could handle easily.

We went to an outdoor dinner at the university where I am speaking, with many of the students involved in free software there. Bats were flying around just above our heads, as we had an appetizer which I first thought was made of broad and thick mushrooms soaking in coconut sauce. But they were not mushrooms, they were a sort of pancake that only looks like a mushroom to me. I sang the free software song.

Then a musical group began playing and singing in a style called campur sari, which is a fusion of western and Javanese music that I gather is rather popular; but it is too much western pop for my tastes. For a while they stopped and some girls performed a dance in a style from Aceh, mostly sitting down either each separately or in a line, involving a lot of clapping and moving in different synchronized groups that move through each other. That was interesting.

Then a singer came out and began singing "You're just too good to be true". I don't like American popular music terribly much, so I decided to flirt/tease by catching her eye and pretending I thought she was talking about me.

I was surprised by the response: she motioned for me to come and sing with her. (I should not have been surprised, because I've read about that custom.) Partly I tried to sing along with her, to the extent I remember that song (I'd never wanted to sing it), and partly in humoristic response, saying "You'll learn more about me soon".

Then she asked me to dance along with her, so I improvised a dance, combining my Balkan folk dance experience and what I've seen of Indonesian dancing. It was a big hit. But after about three minutes I was worn out and had to sit down. At that point I was a bit too tired to figure out how to explain this to her in Indonesian (she wanted me to continue). I had to say it in English, and then I felt disappointed with myself. She invited a few others to dance. Later several of us danced together. It was a lot of fun. I chatted with her (in English) for a while after her performance was done, as I waited for people to try to solve a network problem that prevented me from doing ssh to the GNU servers. The problem was impossible to solve, so I had to go to another building to do that mail transfer.

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