By Nury Vittachi
A Western journalist called me the other day to ask what Asians thought of Sarah Palin.
“Just a minute,” I said. “I’ll ask them.”
I held my hand over phone, counted to 20 and then got back on the line. “They like him,” I said. “But they think he should make more episodes of Monty Python.”
There was a long pause. I heard the journalist’s brain cell click into place. “That’s not Sarah Palin,” she eventually said. “That’s Michael Palin.”
“Well, Asians would like her to tell her husband to make more episodes of Monty Python.”
“Actually, I don’t think Michael Palin is her husband.”
I took a sharp intake of breath. “They are not legally married? That’s something that Asians definitely do not approve of.”
“No, no, no, she’s married to someone else, not Michael Palin.”
“That makes it worse,” I said.
There are few things in life more pleasurable than tormenting American journalists. The only downside is that it is so easy. They are absolutely convinced that the rest of the world watches every detail of what happens in the United States as if it was some sort of wacky global sitcom designed to entertain the rest of the planet. Actually, that IS more or less the case. But I still like teasing them.
Anyway, the caller explained in words of one syllable that Sarah Palin could possibly be “the second most powerful person in the world” in a month and she needed a comment from Asia for a feature she was writing.
“I understand,” I said. “Well, the first thing that Asians would want to know is does this Palin come from Palin?”
“What do you mean?” she said.
“You do know there’s a place called Palin in Asia?”
“It’s 400 kilometres north of Yangon. You do know where Yangon is, don’t you?” I asked.
She changed the subject. “Sure, but are Asians concerned that someone with no practical understanding of Asia could soon be in a position of global leadership?”
It was my turn to sound baffled. “George W Bush has been leader of America for eight years already. There’s a difference?”
“Ms Palin’s level of familiarity with Asia makes George W Bush look like an old China hand,” she replied.
“Now you’re scaring me,” I complained.
“So Asians wouldn’t vote for her?”
“Most of us are not even allowed to vote for our own leaders. What’s the point of asking us whether we’d vote for yours?”
Her tone was becoming icy, so I decided to strike a more conciliatory note. “What’s Ms Palin’s position on Jammu and Kashmir? How does she see Taiwan? For late-night takeaways, does she prefer Indian or Chinese?”
The journalist told me that Ms Palin had expressed no opinions on those subjects. But she claimed to have foreign experience, since she lived in Alaska, which was near Russia.
I nodded into the phone. “Alaska is near Russia, and Russia is near Asia, so that make her an Asia expert.”
“She might think so,” the journalist said.
Reluctantly, I decided I had to give a straight answer. “I think most Asians would rather that Obama’s team won.”
“Because he has lived in Asia?”
“Because his favourite food is chilli. He says his heart is all-American, but his bowels are definitely Asian.”