What Asians think of Obama, or actually, our mate Barry
By Nury Vittachi
A journalist from an American magazine called me the other day with a question. “What do Asians think about the present leadership battle in Washington?”
“Hang on,” I replied. “I’ll ask them.”
I covered the phone, counted to ten, and then got back on the line. “The people of Asia want to know whether you mean Washington in the Philippines or Washington in South Africa?”
“Washington DC,” she said. “In the United States.”
“There’s a Washington in the US, too?” I asked, feigning surprise.
Now I know it’s mean to tease Americans, but it’s irresistible. (You can play this game too. There’s a New York in England, a Boston in the Philippines and a Baltimore in Ireland.)
What really amazes me is the assumption that the average commentator on this side of the planet can immediately speak on behalf of all Asians. Why I probably know less than 50 per cent of the four billion people in Asia (unless you count my Facebook friends).
But US journalists think Asia is a tiny town, next to the equally petite towns of Europe and Africa, both of which are on an unimportant island called Outside-the-States.
The first time I was called upon to speak on behalf of the population of Asia was in 1998, when I was invited to appear live on Fox TV News (Slogan: “All the news that’s fit to broadcast, providing it’s about US celebrities’ sexual misconduct”).
A panel of experts plus the people of Asia (that was me) had to discuss the Bill Clinton / Monica Lewinsky affair. The other panelists came out with predictable comments about how scandalous it was. The interviewer turned to me. “And what do people in Asia think about this?”
I put on my guru voice and said: “They approve, because in Asia we believe it is good and right that all powerful men with stressful jobs should have a young concubine to help them relax.”
“Wow,” said the Fox anchor . “Now that’s a point of view we haven’t heard before.”
Anyway, the journalistic caller mentioned at the start of this column wanted to know who Asians would vote for in the US election.
“Hey lady,” I said. “Most of us are not even allowed to vote for our own leaders.”
Yet it’s odd—most Asians to whom I’ve spoken DO have an opinion on that question. Asians, of course, support Barack Obama, who is widely believed to be part-Asian. In fact, despite spending some of his childhood in Indonesia, he is not Asian at all. But he does have black hair and his name does sound sort of Asianish. (Don’t tell anyone that his actual name, in the sense of “what his friends call him”, is, and this is not a joke, “Barry”.)
Anyway, I don’t think we should let Americans know that we in Asia are more interested in their politics than they are in ours. The journalist on the line clarified her question: “So what do Asians think of Obama?”
I covered the phone with my hand, counted to ten, and then got back on the line. “They want to know whether you mean Obama in Fukui or Obama in Nagasaki?”
“Barack Obama,” she said. “Who many people think will soon be occupying the White House in Washington.”
“I see. Remind me, are we talking about Washington in the Philippines?”