Dear Mr Joe Biden,
Sup from Singapore! Big fan.
Loved your walk-on on Parks And Rec. Totes hilar.
You’re just killing this Vice-President of the United States thing. Air five!
So here’s the deal.
About a week and a half ago, you got into a little controversy for saying something about our former prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
You were making a speech in Iowa (great state, by the way, someone there created a Wikipedia page about me) to kick off the Nuns On A Bus tour, which sounds like the title of a Monty Python movie from the 90s.
I didn’t see the whole speech.
Just the part on YouTube where you said:
“You know, on the way back from Mumbai to go meet with president Xi in China, I stopped in Singapore to meet with a guy named Lee Kuan Yew, who most foreign policy experts around the world say is the wisest man in the Orient.”Wait, who, what?
You met “a guy named Lee Kuan Yew” who is said to be wisest man in “the Orient”?
Did the fumes from the nuns’ bus get to you?
Who uses the term “the Orient” any more besides the Pirates Of The Caribbean?
Even Johnny Depp must be shaking his movie star head.
Critics quickly jumped on your remark, calling it a gaffe since the term is considered offensive to Asians.
You know, just like how the name of your local sports team, the Washington Redskins, is offensive to Native Americans, who used to be called “Indians”, which, if not offensive, is at least confusing to actual Indians from India.
It didn’t help that you had just earlier apologise for using another politically incorrect term, “shylocks”, in another speech.
The anti-anti-Semitism group, Anti-Defamation League, complained:
“Shylock represents the medieval stereotype about Jews and remains an offensive characterization to this day. The vice-president should have been more careful.”I know what you’re thinking: “But Shakespeare used it! In The Merchant Of Venice!”
Yeah, but The Bard lived 500 years ago. So he might not be so up-to-date in the latest linguistic mores.
Willy even used “the Orient” in one of his sonnets.
The horror, the horror. (No, wait. That’s Joseph Conrad.)
But unlike you, William Gaffespeare didn’t have the Republican Party to contend with.
An Asian-American spokesman from the GOP tried to score political points by picking on your textual Orient-ation:
“Vice-President Joe Biden’s insensitive remarks are offensive to both Asian-Americans and our Asian allies abroad.Really? I think this is the last thing you should worry about embarrassing your country.
“His comment is not only disrespectful but also uses unacceptable imperialist undertones. It’s time for the vice-president to apologise and to understand that his comments embarrass our country.”
(Cough, iPhone 6, cough, iOS 8, cough.)
The Republicans speaking up for a minority group? That’s a first. That would be like you defending gun rights. Am I right? Or am I right? Air 10!
I can’t speak for Asian-Americans, but as your Asian ally abroad, I don’t think Singaporeans are all that offended by your remarks.
So far, no press release from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemning your choice of words.
As someone in a local online forum commented: “I didn’t know the word ‘Orient’ is offensive to Asians.”
Should we also be offended that we have a hotel named Mandarin Oriental?
Actually, many Singaporeans aren’t even aware that you name-dropped Mr Lee in your speech.
I couldn’t find any mention of it in our local newspapers. The paper I work for, The New Paper, ran the story only on its website.
No offence, but if president Barack Obama had said it, then it would probably be a bigger deal.
Although comedian Jon Stewart made fun of your gaffes on The Daily Show, my sister said the Lee Kuan Yew bit was cut out of the Comedy Central Asia broadcast of the show here.
To be fair, it wasn’t you who called Mr Lee “the wisest man in the Orient”. It was those insensitive “foreign policy experts around the world”.
However, I am a little disturbed by one thing you did say.
You referred to our 91-year-old former PM as “a guy named Lee Kuan Yew”.
Mr Lee is not “a guy”.
He is Limpeh!
You have to admit you’re not the wisest man in the Occident for saying that.
What next? Are you going to refer to our current PM as “a dude named Lee Hsien Loong”?
But don’t get me wrong. I still love America. My favourite insurance company is the American Insurance Association, better known as AIA.
So what was it like working with Amy Poehler?
Good luck in 2016!
From Singapore with love,
- Published in The New Paper, 28 September 2014
EARLIER: Brash man Orient-tation: Lee Kuan Yew's just this guy, y'know