musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

I neglected to ask her for her name, but she’s my hero of the day. Her actions may seem relatively insignificant in the greater scheme of things, but to me she symbolizes the fight against injustice and idiotic government policies.  This young woman was in my bookshop this morning, browsing the shelves and starting to accumulate a rather sizeable stack of books. “I’m not finished yet,” she remarked at one point, adding another book to the stack. “In my country, some of these books are banned. But I don’t care. I really want to read them, so I’m going to take them back with me.”

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Good for you, I said. It was at that point when I asked her where she was from and she told me Brunei. I just hope some zealot of a customs inspector back in Brunei doesn’t decide to inspect the contents of her bags and then freak out over the sight of a Salman Rushdie novel. Oh, the horror!

But this woman wasn’t the first customer in my shop to lament the existence of government censorship in their native country, or just the fact that there aren’t any good bookshops where they live. And I’m not talking about some remote island kingdom, but major Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. These people appear to truly appreciate shopping in a well-stocked bookshop where they can buy whatever they desire, and that makes me feel like I’m making some sort of contribution to free choice and the passing on of knowledge, however small that role may be.

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On the subject of unjust labor practices, in the news this week I’ve been reading about the protests of Cambodian garment workers who want slightly higher salaries. That might not seem to be related to the denial of free speech or censorship, but it’s still a human rights issue and I applaud these workers for taking a stand and demanding that they be paid a living wage. Cambodia is still a horribly poor country and people like these garment workers continue to be taken advantage of. Another story in the news this week highlighted the concerns of Singapore citizens over proposed new government restrictions on Internet sites. And then there is the extremely disturbing revelation in the USA that government agencies there are tapping phones and eavesdropping on e-mail accounts of journalists and private citizens. How can they really call themselves “The Land of the Free” with a straight face at this point? Here in Thailand, despite our draconian lese majeste law, along with other legal fuzz balls, I still consider it to be a much freer, and much safer, place to live than the United States.

Seeing this woman from Brunei thumbing her nose at her country’s censorship practices was inspiring to see. I hope more people around the world take similar stances, refusing to buckle under whatever idiotic laws and restrictions that their governments try to impose on them. Demand government accountability, responsibility, and fairness. Demand the same of banks, police departments, and big businesses. Don’t let these fuckers continue to screw us over. Really, I get so fed up with the injustices and unfairness in the world nowadays that I just want to scream. Marvin Gaye was right when he said “It makes me wanna holler.” And Public Enemy was justified when they urged us to “Fight the power!” It hasn’t changed. We need to continue fighting the powers that be.

I think back to Tiananmen Square in Beijing 25 years ago and that lone man standing in front of the tank. That epitomized defiance in the face of hopelessness. Damn, that took some balls! We can’t all make such bold statements, but neither can we allow our governments to get away with the shit that they continue to do. Maybe it’s something as subtle as sticking a few banned books in your luggage, or bolder acts such as taking to the streets and verbally protesting. But we need to do it. If want true freedom, we have to do it.

 

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