KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – President Obama marked the first visit by an American president here in nearly 50 years with a toast to Malaysia’s “vitality” and its cultural connection to his mother, Ann Dunham.
“It has been nearly 50 years since an American president visited Malaysia,” Obama said. “LBJ [President Johnson] wrote that he was incredibly impressed by the vitality of Malaysia. Mr. Prime Minister, I look forward to our work together and I pledge to infuse our efforts with that spirit.”
Offering a personal reflection, Obama recalled his mother’s love of the art of batik and a collection of her work that was showcased at the Islamic Arts Museum here two years ago.
“For my mother, batik wasn’t about fashion — it was a window into the lives of others, their cultures, traditions and hopes,” he said. “It meant so much to her and was part of her spirit, so I’m deeply grateful to the people of Malaysia for celebrating that part of my mother’s life.
“My mother believed and I believe that whether we come from a remote village or a big city, whether we live in the U.S. or Malaysia, we all share basic human aspirations: to live in dignity and in peace, to shape our own destiny, to be able to make a living and work hard and support a family,” he said.
“These are the aspirations I believe illuminate a new era of partnership between the United States and Malaysia.”
Malaysian King Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah offered a toast in English, thanking Obama for U.S. support in the aftermath of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. And he welcomed the U.S. working “hand in hand” with Malaysia to advance their common goals.
The leaders and guests enjoyed a menu of Soto Ayam Bergedil (shredded chicken, rice cake, fried glass noodle and roasted peanut), grilled wagyu beef with Sarawak pepper jus, and grilled cod fish with turmeric and kaffir lime leaf crust, according to a menu released by the White House. For dessert they had warm banana fritters with vanilla ice cream.