On rojak and 'uncles and aunties': What US President Obama said about Singapore at PM Lee's White House ceremony

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The Obamas and Prime Minister and Mrs Lee of Singapore toast 'onward Singapore' to strong relations at one of the last state dinners for US President Barack Obama.
PM Lee Hsien Loong and US President Barack Obama sharing a light moment on the stage at the welcome ceremony, at the White House, on Aug 2, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama made several nods to Singapore and its culture in his speech at the White House arrival ceremony for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Aug 2, US time).

Here are some of the mentions.

1. On the weather

A hot summer day in Washington, DC, led Mr Obama to make a quip about Singapore's weather.

"Today, we welcome our friends from Singapore. We have some Singapore weather. So you can appreciate that."

2. On Singapore's four languages

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Mr Obama greeted the crowd in all four of Singapore's official languages.

"Singapore is one nation, with four official languages. So let me just say good morning. Selamat datang. Vanakkam. And ni hao."

3. On the Apec Summit

Mr Obama was in Singapore in 2009 for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit.

"It's an opportunity for me to repay the hospitality that the Prime Minister and the people of Singapore showed me when I visited Singapore during my first year in office. We were there for the Apec Summit - with its tradition of dressing in shirts that are somewhat colourful - a tradition that we will reserve only for those summits and we are not duplicating today."

4. On the little red dot

Mr Obama shared Singapore's story with the United States.

"A half a century ago, when Singapore was an island of rural villages and crowded tenements, few would have imagined a day like today. But Singaporeans pride themselves on being the 'Little Red Dot' - the little red dot on many maps, but with a very big impact on the world.

"In less than a generation - under the vision and stewardship of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew - Singaporeans transformed their nation from Third World to First. They did this with almost no natural resources - except one: the people of Singapore and their commitment to education and to progress and to innovation."

5. On aunties and uncles

Mr Obama did his research on how Singaporeans refer to people older than they are.

"Our Singaporean friends say that, 'A long road reveals the strength of your horse; a long time reveals the heart of your friends.'

"I first saw the heart of the people of Singapore as a young boy, during my years living in South-east Asia. We see it now in the proud Singaporean-Americans who enrich our nation and who join us today - including a lot of 'uncles' and 'aunties'."

6. On solving Sudoku

Mr Obama referred to code that Mr Lee wrote and shared on Facebook last year.

"In fact, I understand that the Prime Minister himself recently wrote a program to solve Sudoku puzzles - which Michelle will want.

"Then the Foreign Minister stepped in and translated that program into JavaScript. So I've got to start asking John Kerry to do that."

7. On rojak

One wonders if Mr Obama tried the famous Singapore dish when he was last here.

"In the United States, we call ourselves a 'melting pot' of different races, religions and creeds.

"In Singapore, it is rojak - different parts united in a harmonious whole. We're bound by the belief that no matter who you are, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can make it."

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