Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's Inauguration

January 21st was Seon's 24th birthday, and two of his friends from Korea who stayed with us the past few days bought him a birthday cake. We celebrated at midnight with candles and the birthday song and by smearing frosting on Seon's face.

Then at 1AM the inauguration was live on TV. I had been asking around all Tuesday about where I could find a TV with CNN or some channel that would be likely to carry the event, but no one had any good suggestions. So I was lucky that one of our TV's four channels showed it. All the commentary was in Malay, but that wasn't what I was tuning in for anyway.

(Most TV shows on our four channels are in Malay or Mandarin, plus the occasional Spanish soap opera. One of the stations sometimes carries English programs, although they're not ones I particularly enjoy: American Gladiator, America's Got Talent, Ultimate Fighting Championship - which my Iraqi friend next door never misses. There's an English-speaking news program from 8-8:30.)

The live coverage showed the swearing-in but cut away momentarily when Pastor Rick Warren came up to give the invocation. Christian prayers aren't acceptable on Malaysian TV. (Sidenote: Equally predictable, Chinese TV cut away when Obama's speech criticized governments who censor and don't uphold human rights.)

I didn't vote for Obama, but I recognize that he sure has some things going for him. For example, my Iraqi friend next door can't understand President Bush when he speaks, but with Obama it's no problem. It's probably to Americans' advantage that we picked the guy who's so popular with the rest of the world. A New Zealander I met today also stayed up late to watch the inauguration and she was really inspired by it.

On Wednesday's news was a thirty-second explanation of what a President Obama is likely to mean for U.S.-Malaysia relations. One the positive side, Obama spent a few of his childhood years in Indonesia so he might have a soft spot for Southeast Asia. Also, his statement "To the Muslim world" about seeking mutual interest and respect was, I think, appreciated in this country whose government, at least, considers Malaysia part of the Muslim world. On the negative side, Malaysia's leaders are eager to make a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., and a Democratic president and congress are more likely to get in the way of that. Also, I think it's safe to say that most Malaysians, not only the Muslims here, aren't happy about America's consistent support for Israel, and Obama is not likely to change that part of our foreign policy.