Obama hits it off with young Vietnamese

Vietnamese rapper Suboi shows her skills to US President Barack Obama during a town hall with youth in Ho Chi Minh City.
Mr Barack Obama (bottom left) greeting audience members after the Young South-east Asian Leaders Initiative town hall event in Ho Chi Minh City yesterday.
Mr Barack Obama (bottom left) greeting audience members after the Young South-east Asian Leaders Initiative town hall event in Ho Chi Minh City yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HO CHI MINH CITY • United States President Barack Obama fielded questions yesterday on everything from rap and weed-smoking to his good looks at a lively meeting with young Vietnamese, who see the US leader as a far cry from their staid Communist rulers.

Mr Obama, on the final leg of a three-day trip to Vietnam before flying to Japan, held one of his trademark town hall gatherings with hundreds of youngsters in the country's buzzing commercial and creative capital, Ho Chi Minh City.

He received a huge cheer as he took to the stage. Suboi, one of the country's best known female rap artists, serenaded Mr Obama with Vietnamese lyrics about whether people are really happy if they have lots of money.

Seemingly delighted with the exchange, he praised the journey of hip-hop, "which started out as an expression of poor African Americans" and became a "global phenomenon".

"Imagine if at the time when rap was starting off, our government had said 'no' because some of the things you say are offensive, or some of the lyrics are rude, or you're cursing too much?" he said.


I like his behaviour, being the most powerful man in the world, but very close to people, not like leaders here. They only wear suits and talk cliches... (they) cannot inspire young people. 

MR TRAN HUU DUY, a 22-year-old fan of Mr Obama.

"If you try to suppress the arts, then you are suppressing the deepest dreams and aspirations of a people," he added.

Earlier another young man began his question with: "Mr President, you're so handsome." To which Mr Obama quickly quipped: "Oh. You can just stop there if you want."

Another asked whether Internet posts about Mr Obama's alleged marijuana smoking in his youth were true.

"I don't know if that's true," Mr Obama quickly remarked, further dousing the issue with a warning: "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet."

The environment was a subject that repeatedly came up. Vietnam is acutely vulnerable to climate change, and environmental causes have been the focus of numerous protests against the authorities, especially among young people.

Mr Obama said he recognised the freedom Western industrialised countries have had to pollute the earth for far longer than developing ones, but urged all countries to work together to prevent disaster.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has lodged a protest with Mr Obama following the arrest last week of a US base worker in connection with the death of a woman in Okinawa.

"As Japanese Prime Minister, I protested sternly to President Obama over the recent incident in Okinawa," Mr Abe told a news conference in Ise-Shima, flanked by the President, ahead of a Group of Seven summit starting today.

"I feel strong indignation about the selfish and extremely mean crime," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2016, with the headline 'Obama hits it off with young Vietnamese'. Print Edition | Subscribe