Vietnamese youth quiz Obama on rap, weed and good looks

Ho Chi Minh City: Barack Obama fielded questions on Wednesday about 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.

Barack Obama smiles as he attends a town hall meeting with members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). Reuters

The US President, 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.

The president received a huge cheer as he took to the stage in a one-party authoritarian state where politics is
opaque and young people's voices are rarely heard. Suboi, one of the country's best known female rap artists,
serenaded Obama with Vietnamese lyrics about whether people are really happy if they have lots of money. Seemingly delighted with the exchange, Obama praised the journey of hip-hop "which started out as an expression of poor African Americans" and became a "global phenomenon".

Then he took appeared to be a thinly veiled swipe at Vietnam's authoritarian leaders, who regularly suppress critical artists. "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. "If you try to suppress the arts then you are suppressing the deepest dreams and aspirations of a people," he added.

A young man began his question with: "Mr President, you're so handsome." To which Obama quickly quipped "Oh. You can just stop there if you want." Another asked whether Internet posts about Obama's alleged
marijuana smoking as a youth were true. "I don't know if that's true," Obama quickly remarked, further dousing the issue with a warning: "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet."

However, it was this exchange also prompted some soul-searching from Obama about leadership and growing out of a rebellious teenage phase prompted by the absence of a father. 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. 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.

"The problem is, if a country like China or Vietnam or India took the same development path the West did, we're all
going to be under water."


Published Date: May 25, 2016 05:40 pm | Updated Date: May 25, 2016 07:13 pm


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