I got up to watch the live stream on the White House site, out of nostalgia for my Shanghai days.
No very shocking questions from the students, though some had swathed edges to them: What about harmonious relations and arms sales with Taiwan? Obama doesn't answer about arms sales but does, carefully, about the harmonious relations. What about the Great Firewall and free access to info? Obama explains why free exchange of info makes leaders do a better job, even if he doesn't like the criticism some times. What about the risk that an intentionally- and historically-diverse nation like the US will misunderstand the situation of countries with different histories and makeups? Obama gives a defense and celebration of diversity, in his country and in his family. And says that he doesn't use Twitter.
Tomorrow's chore is a omnibus wrap-up on several recent Obama pronouncements, from the Ft. Hood eulogy to the Japan and China speeches. Main impression here is that he did well -- charming the students in the room itself, though almost any president can do that through the sheer magnetism of the office, but also talking in ways that will play well to Chinese sensibilities without saying a word that would go over wrong back home. Listening to him, I am not 100% sure that Obama has spent a lot of time conversing with non-native speakers of English. There is a different way you learn to talk: not condescending or stripped down, but more direct and less allusive. (For example, you wouldn't say "allusive." And I wouldn't say "swathed" in the paragraph above, to indicate questions that had a kind of protective wrapping to blunt their edge. I'd say something like, "The questions from the students were polite, but some had a slight edge.") People without experience doing this either talk in needlessly complex ways or talk in an insultingly clumsy oogah-boogah style. Sometimes Obama sounded as if he knew this approach; sometimes, as if he thought he was talking to a domestic audience.
It was also heartening for me to see these students, who resembled those I'd dealt with over the years -- and the truest moment of all came with the final question, where a student asked him frankly what was the right educational background that could lead to a Nobel prize. Now back to bed and more tomorrow.
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