Palin was paid a reported $300,000 – I assume that’s American dollars, not Hong Kong – to speak for 90 minutes to a meeting of investors convened by a local brokerage firm. Although closed to the press, today’s New York Times carries a fairly flattering report based on its reporter speaking with a Canadian who listened to her speech.
Not nearly as flattering is the account of her talk that I found in an e-mail this morning from an old friend who I met in the 1990s when I was travelling to Hong Kong three or four times a year.
According to JoAnne, large numbers of Americans walked out during her speech, Europeans were whispering and laughing amongst themselves, and Chinese investors – who, culturally, are too polite to walk out on anyone giving a talk no matter how boring, frivolous or yammering the speaker might be – turned their attention to BlackBerry’s or one of the many other electro-gizmo’s that Hong Kong business people are so fond of that most restaurants require cell phones to be checked before seating a patron.
The Times account overlooked some of these details that put Palin’s reception in perspective.
Here is the e-mail, with irrelevant matters like stuff about her job and family edited out, and a few typos corrected.
To: Charley James
From: JoAnne X. XXXXXXXXX
Date: 24 Sept 2009
Subj: Sarah’s A Yawn in Hong Kong
Hey CJ from a different day in HK
There she was at last, a life size replica of Tina Fey up on stage wearing something almost tasteful but definitely small townish bought from what must have been the softer side of Sears. (Thanks for the line – I’ve been using it for years!) No one in the room who wasn’t from North America knew quite what to expect; a few Yanks apparently did because a trickle of them got up and left as she was being introduced.
Suspecting what would be coming, I was tempted to join them but decided to hear what Her Craziness had to say.
I’d give you some specifics but there weren’t many. Basically, she gave a stump speech that might have worked at a Chamber of Commerce lunch in Juneau but left a room full of highly educated, very sophisticated and worldly business people scratching their heads. If she intended to use the speech as a way to build credentials as a foreign policy expert, Sarah could have stayed home and avoided the jetlag. The South China Morning Post called her speech “a triumph of low expectations.”
She talked about health care reform and actually brought up death panels, much to the deep befuddlement of Asians in the audience. And the anger of Americans, another dozen of whom got up and stalked out. After the speech, several local execs asked me if the US actually has death panels for the sick and elderly, an abhorrent idea to people who revere not just the aged but their ancestors. It took me several minutes
A lot of her colloquial references were lost on the crowd. She kept talking about “Main St.” which means nothing in Asia or even Europe, for that matter. Somebody should have told her to change the reference to something local, like “Aberdeen” or “Kowloon side” because people kept looking at each other wondering what the fuck she meant about Main St.
As for foreign policy, she pretty much kept that under wraps. At least she didn’t tell the crowd she can see Russia from her porch in case Putin rears his head in American air space. She touched on the virtues of war in Iraq and Afghanistan just long enough to get glowers from an unsympathic audience, mumbled something about North Korea and China that was a total non-compute … that’s when I looked around on purpose and, sure enough, spotted two or three people from China’s State Security Bureau in the audience taking furious notes – they’re always at speeches and always easy to spot in their ill-fitting, poorly made suits sporting bad haircuts …
Anyhooo … after she finished she took some pre-arranged questions giving pap answers to pap questions, signed a few autographs and posed for photos – well, this is Asia after all, everybody takes photos of everything – and then was out the door.
Not sure what anyone was expecting other than seeing an American celebrity famous for gaffes, white trash relatives and shooting Bullwinkle from helicopters. If you didn’t expect much, you got what you came for.
That’s the news that’s fit to print. I have no idea why she flew over here for the speech except for the money. If I were a sponsor, I’d have asked for a partial refund. Well, at least she finished her speech and didn’t quit half-way through because she wanted to do something else.
So there it is: Sarah Does Hong Kong. Sounds as if she was her usual informed, thoughtful self, spending as much time discussing serious issues overseas as she did when she was campaigning.