KUALA LUMPUR: While happy that I could be in the same room as the most powerful man in the world, President Barack Obama, never in my wildest imagination did I think that the first thing he would do when he walked in was to smile and wave at me!
I was seated in the front row of Universiti Malaya’s Dewan Tunku Canselor for the Young South-East Asian Leaders Initiative workshop with another 102 participants when Obama strode into the hall from the left entrance, walking past me just a few feet away.
He was no different from any other man, just that the stringent security made all of us feel more anxious.
He looked more refreshed and laid back compared to my first encounter with him during his arrival at Subang’s RMAF base.
And he brought energy into the hall – the moment he was sighted, everyone stood and cheered like they had seen their favourite football team score a goal.
In a grey suit with his signature blue tie, he spoke like a father giving advice to his children.
Obama’s speech was peppered with some Malay words. When he used kampung to describe what former President Lyndon Johnson saw on his visit to Malaysia in 1966, some Malaysian participants whispered words of appreciation at his acknowledgement of the national language.
But what really made us connect to him was that we could feel him talking to us from his heart.
After six and a half years in office, speaking engagements should be child’s play for him, but his eye contact, firm handshake and attentive listening made all the difference for us.
If he answers your question, he will look at you in the eyes while replying.
At the end of the session, hundreds of hands were thrust in front of his face during the “meet and greet” time, with dozens of people screaming out questions to him.
When it was my turn, and I asked for a hug, and actually got it, with Obama repyling: “Why not?” before he embraced me.
In that split second, it finally hit me that I had listened to the US President speak for an hour, and received a firm hug from him at the end.
All this made my 30-minute wait under the scorching afternoon sun for security clearance well worth it.
> Christine Cheah is a reporter with The Star.