SCMP Saturday, November 18, 2000

Hero in a crowd's embrace


Young and old swamped Hanoi's streets in their thousands as Mr Clinton went sightseeing, belying the tight political control imposed by the Vietnamese authorities.
US secret service agents struggled to keep hold of their charge as clasping hands thrust forward from the cheering and clapping throng, and a beaming Mr Clinton found himself pulled towards the crowd.
Around him, people climbed walls, lampposts and trees and crammed on to balconies and out of windows as every vantage point was taken. "President, president, Clinton, Clinton," teenagers chanted, imploring the US leader to approach as he toured the Temple of Literature, a 930-year-old monument to Confucian scholarship which survived the American bombing of Hanoi unscathed.
At one stage, as he visited a nearby first-floor craft shop, Mr Clinton received a huge cheer as he stepped on to a balcony and waved to the swelling mass below. Seizing their chance, a family on the same floor in a neighbouring building leaned out over the street from their living room window, arms extended, to grasp the President's hand.
More and more people arrived as Mr Clinton stopped for a banana milkshake and Vietnamese beef noodle soup in a restaurant called "KOTO" - Know One, Teach One - set up to train Hanoi's street children in catering.
When the President emerged, he was given another round of applause and paused once more to shake hands. "He was very nice, he talked to everyone. He said 'Nice to meet you'," said cashier Mei Thanh, 25. "But he didn't pay me."
Tran Hoai Dung, 17, who works at a chemist's said: "He was very smiley, kind and friendly to us. He had a real . . . gallantry about him," she sighed. "It was the first time I saw for myself his bodyguards and the security that follows the American President. He is truly a king."
Twenty-three-year-old Hoang Thi Cam Tu said: "He is so handsome and I can't believe he is so down to earth. I thought he would be arrogant and look down on us, but he was so friendly."
Mr Clinton said: "I have been very moved by the friendliness of the people on the streets."