He had us at hello…

 

The Rockstar

 

Obama’s popularity may be struggling at home, but here in Indonesia he had us at “hello.” A crowd of over 6,500 fans went wild with cheering and applause as the President opened his landmark speech with this simple statement in fluent Bahasa Indonesia:

Indonesia adalah bagian dari saya. (Indonesia is a part of me).

This article states that the atmosphere during Obama’s speech was reminiscent of a rock concert, with the excited crowd buzzing and music pulsing before the president’s address. The full speech is posted below.

He came, he spoke, he’s gone…

Obama’s recent mid-term election defeat and declining popularity polls indicate that the President has fallen a few pegs from his once lauded celebrity status back home. Media pundits paint a sombre picture of the man behind almost 2 hard years of presidency: Obama weary of holding the weight of America’s problems; Obama’s shiny “Yes We Can!”exterior showing signs of cracking under rising discontent and unrelenting political opponents; Obama with gray hairs streaking his once sleek dark hair and worry lines framing that signature smile.

But Barack’s short visit to Indonesia this week cast him in an entirely different light, giving him a particular glow that’s not been seen since perhaps the inspiring beacon of change and hope that beckoned to us during the elections of 2008: Barack Obama the rock star.

Confident, charismatic and smooth, Obama towered over Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s small stature, breaking easily into smile and peppering his statements with fluent Indonesian expressions that were hits with his audience and instant media soundbites: “Sate… bakso enak ya!” (Satay and meat balls are delicious!)

With the conclusion of his trip today, Barack delivered his much-hyped speech at the University of Indonesia, where the audience of 6,500 people continuously shouted out: “We love you Barry!”and broke into raucous applause every time the former Jakarta resident made a cultural reference, such as the “bemos” (three-wheeled cars) that once traversed the roads and the “high-rise” building of Sarinah shopping center (now considered a low-rise building by modern standards).

But beyond the sprinkling of cultural references, the President focused his speech on the subject of strengthening the ties between U.S.-Muslim relations. The President praised Indonesia for its diversity, multiculturalism and tolerant stance towards religion—all factors that have been a part of the country’s democratic reforms and are the ties that can bond the two democratic states together.

As Barack is often negatively (and wrongly) portrayed as a Muslim by some political opponents in the U.S., it was refreshing to see the President speaking so forcefully about cementing ties with the largest Muslim country in the world, and being applauded for it. The President stated:

America is not and never will be at war with Islam.

As the speech was broadcast across the country, spectators everywhere took to their Twitter feeds to express their pride and approval of the one they call Indonesia’s adoptive son. One deeply impressed woman tweeted:

desianwar:I hope our leaders could learn how to deliver a speech like @BarackObama – connected, inspiring, riveting

An hour later, the President was photographed running nimbly up the steps of Air Force One to catch his next flight to Seoul, looking cooler than ever and with some definite new pep in his step. As the President will face the plethora of issues plaguing his current leadership upon his return, let’s hope he remembers Indonesia’s warm welcome that catapulted him back to rock star status, if only for one day.

Everyone wants a piece of the “little Barry” story

 

Paintings of Obama as a child hang at the President's former elementary school

 

Obama arrives in Jakarta today and the excitement around the city is palpable. As local media reports have been on the “Obama beat” since last week, a deluge of sensationalized stories have popped up in which local residents lay claim to Jakarta’s one-time resident.  Here’s one of my favourite stories in which two of Obama’s “old friends” wax nostalgic about the U.S. President and his boyhood virtues. “Old friend” number one is a street parking attendant who used to work outside Obama’s elementary school and (may or may not have ever) spoke to the future president. Nonetheless, the parking attendant feels the two formed a special relationship. He says:

“I really want to see him once more. Of course I’m proud of him.”

“Old friend” number two is a local pedicab driver who claims to have given Barack and his nanny a ride home on two different occasions. Although these meetings were short and superficial, the driver could sense the six-year old’s sprightly qualities that would one day lead him to the Executive Office of the most powerful country in the world.

“Obama was just like other children, but he was agile.”

Such vivid memories these old friends have of mundane events that happened over 40 years ago!

But amongst the blitz of recent of media hype, two substantial pieces have emerged that provide a clearer picture of what life was like for little Barry; a child and new-comer living amongst impoverished Jakarta as the country stood on the brink of its New Order era. This New York Time’s article provides a snapshot of what life was like, providing insight into Barack’s Jakarta neighborhood, his family life while in Indonesia (a gay nanny? who knew!), and contextual background on the political and social environment of late 1960’s Jakarta.

Equally interesting, is the below video by Associated Press’s Charlie Dharapak. The short clip was made in 2008 and provides an interesting (and less hyped) picture of Barack’s elementary school experience.

But no matter the media story, the people interviewed as the elite “knowers-of-Obama-back-then” all seem to have shared the same inclination to ask the young boy if he’d ever like to be U.S. president one day. A question to which little Barry confidently answered to all his “friends,” yes.

Welcome Barry!

Barack and his Indonesian impersonator, Ilham Anas.

As an American citizen, I’ve heard Barack Obama called many nicknames: GoBama; Obiden; Bammy; Obama Osama; ObaMao—but I’ve never heard him referred to as “Barry.” Here in Indonesia, it’s “Barry Soetoro” to be exact.

This name connects America’s 44th President to the four years he spent in Indonesia as a child, attending elementary school in Menteng, South Jakarta under the nickname of “Barry” and surname of his Indonesian step-father, Lolo Soetoro. Consequently, Barack’s fan-base here is large, with many local residents feeling a particular kinship with the U.S. President who still speaks conversational Bahasa Indonesia and looks pretty dashing in a Batik.

This week “Barry” is on the lips of Jakarta residents everywhere as the city prepares for Obama’s first presidential visit to the country he once called home.  The President’s trip to Indonesia is of particular relevance as his last two promised visits were later cancelled, leaving the excited city greatly disappointed and the ties between Washington and Jakarta yet-to-be cemented.

But it looks like nothing can keep Barack from cancelling his commitment this time, as not even the most recent eruptions of the deadly volcano Mount Merapi have deterred the President’s plans to touch-down in Jakarta tomorrow.

The trip is part of Barack’s four-country tour of Asia focusing on boosting U.S. exports. Other stops include India, South Korea and Japan. Watch this space for updates.

More Bad News for China’s Big Cats

Some more tragic news about tigers in China this month…(and somehow this blog is regularly churning out posts about tigers and I’m not sure how this happened since I’m not particularly an avid animal rights activist, and yes…I do wear fur). But anyway, since my last post on the dwindling tiger population on account of the Chinese taste for a little something called “tiger tonics,” there have been 2 very disturbing events in the news involving these big cats.

Emaciated Tiger at the Xiongshen Tiger Zoo

Last week Shanghai Daily reported that a tiger-keeper at the Shanghai zoo was attacked and killed by a male Bengal tiger while the keeper was cleaning the tiger’s cage. Was the tiger deranged? A natural-born killer? A beast? The answer is no. It was simply starving.

The staff at Shanghai zoo admitted that the animal had not been fed the previous day or the morning of the killing because, according to staff, they don’t feed the tigers every day in order to “help with their digestive systems.” So basically this zoo denies food to a full-grown male tiger (who in the wild will consume about 20 pounds of meat or more per day) for a few days to help with a little heartburn? Rrright. And I bet that zoo keeper hadn’t had anything to eat in the past two days either. Wait, he had? GASP!…but what about his digestive system!

Unfortunately, this story was just the harbinger of a far more devastating tiger tale to come. Today it was reported that at least 11 Siberian tigers were found dead in a zoo in Shenyang, Northeastern China. The cause of their demise? Starvation. The Times reports that two years ago the zoo ran out of money to support the tigers and so the animals were only fed a meager meal of one or two chicken carcasses over the past few weeks. Come on! These are tigers here, not a bunch of heroin chic models. Chicken bones every few weeks will cause death by starvation even for the Nicole Richie’s of the world, let alone 200 pound beasts.

This story just pains me because it was so easily preventable. With only 20 wild Siberian tigers left in China, surely animal protection groups would have paid top dollar to have these animals fed and transported to more humane conditions.

Oh, but wait…under China’s “Property Law” zoo owners have the right to keep their animals under the conditions that they deem fit and animal protection authorities have no right to interfere. Moreover, the “Wild Animal Protection Law” does not stipulate any punishment for irresponsible private zoo owners who abuse their animals. (Seems like China might want to amend their “Animal Protection” law to…you know, something that might actually protect animals).

So why is this “Year of the Tiger” in China just so downright horrible for real tigers? I think this comment on the The Times online post sums it up nicely:

Very tragic and preventable. I’m sure there are a plethora of zoos elsewhere that would have been happy to take care of the tigers and pay for their transport. But the demand for rare animal parts [in China]…trumps all other concerns, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, I think he’s right. The great demand for tiger tonics and tiger trinkets within China simply outweighs the demand to save these lovely animals. Hopefully, with all the recent coverage that this issue has been receiving by the foreign press (New York Times, The Daily Mail, The Times), China’s authorities will be pressured to step in and make sure that these cats are around for the next Year of the Tiger in 2022.

Tigers Worth Talking About

(*Photo by Tamboko)

As the American media continues its big fuss over the overblown Tiger Wood’s apology interview, I thought I’d share a friendly PSA on a tiger story worth talking about: namely the extinction of the gorgeous and powerful species, Panthera tigris.

Here in China the “Year of the Tiger” celebrations have really put these big cats in the spotlight, as tiger paraphernalia such as tee-shirts, mugs and hats are sold as gifts to ring in the New Year and bestow luck upon receivers. But amongst all of the tiger-hype, a dirty little fact still stands: these felines are quickly going extinct and Chinese consumers play a major role.

The New York Times reports that the biggest threat for tigers in China is the robust market for its parts. Bones, furs, skins and “tiger-tonics” are among the items that make a dead tiger, a good tiger. Despite bans imposed by the Chinese government in 1993, the poaching and selling of tigers and their parts still remain a lucrative trade via the many  “tiger-farms” scattered across the Mainland.  And in case you’re wondering, a “tiger-farm” isn’t a cutesy petting zoo for these endangered species. Posing as tiger conservation camps, these farms actually raise tigers to be killed and consumed on a mass scale. So the next time you visit the tiger “zoo” in China, think twice about that gorgeous cat behind bars…because he may just be the next merchandise sold in the gift store.

So tigers in cages remain ultimately doomed in China. But what about the lucky ones roaming in the wild? Well, for starters, there’s only about twenty of them left.  And since “wild” tiger parts are twice more profitable than “mass produced” parts, this small group seems destined for the same fate.

I conclude Foreign Exposure’s first-ever PSA with some numbers… because in the end, the top “Tiger” stories have always been about the numbers:

  • Of the 9 subspecies of modern tigers, 3 are extinct and the remaining 6 are classified as endangered.
  • 3,200 wild tigers remain in the world.
  • 1,400 wild tigers live in India – the world’s largest tiger population.
  • 20 wild tigers roam China.
  • 1,500 tigers live in the largest “tiger-farm” in China—many in small cages without trees.
  • $1,000 USD is the price of a single tiger paw sold in “tiger-farm” gift stores.
  • “Save the Last 5,000 Tigers” was a slogan used during the last “Year of the Tiger” in 1998.  (See bullet point 2).
  • 624,000 is the number of times that Tiger Woods slept with a woman other than his wife.

CNY UPDATE: Going Big for Gold

Photo from fotolia.com

Just when we thought the noise was over, Shanghai delivered another spectacular fireworks show yesterday that was an even louder and longer version of the aforementioned pyro-display on Chinese New Year.

As the clock struck midnight, Shanghai rolled out the welcome mat for the “God of Wealth”  and you’d have to be deaf, blind and living in an underwater cave not to have noticed.

We happened to be sitting in our living room when the commotion started and caught a quick video from our balcony. Again, the sound was deafening and it took some personal nerves of steel not to automatically go cower under the bed (also it was completely freezing out, so I actually wanted to cower IN the bed).

I guess when dealing with a God that determines the entire city’s personal wealth, the locals go big for the gold.  Our sources tell us that Shanghai launched 1,000 tons of fireworks into the air, even though Beijing (only?) launched 800 tons (click here for Beijing coverage).

Although the city might stand  a bit shell-shocked today (and perhaps missing a finger or two), it certainly threw one helluva welcome party for the Wealth & Fortune God. Now let me just go check my bank account…