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.

Fish & Chips the Aussie Way

 

Fish & Chips on the pier. Fremantle, Australia

 

We recently ventured down unda’ for the first time, travelling to the city of Perth on Australia’s sprawling west coast. The flight was a short 4-hour commute from Jakarta, but the difference in worlds here felt as if we were light years away.

Hello infrastructure! Is that you blue sky? Look, sidewalks! You mean we can communicate with each other using one common language? (no pointing…no signals…no drawing pictures?)

Sarcasm aside, it was great to experience 4 days basking in the glow of the developed world and the brilliant skies of Australia’s sunniest capital city.*

We took the sparkly clean and wonderfully efficient metro rail (oh, public transportation, how I’ve missed you!) over to the sea port town of Fremantle and enjoyed the day on the beach, the pier and strolling along the tiny town’s myriad of artist shops and local coffee houses. To my foreign eyes, the city oozed an eccentric mixture of New England vibes, a smaller San Francisco topography, distinctly British undertones and the general mystery of being in the land  down under (♫ where women glow and men plunder! ♫)

So when we ran into a popular eatery that touted fish & chips and local Aussie beer to be enjoyed while sitting at the New England style restaurant on the San Fran-esque looking pier by the Indian Ocean, I wasn’t in the least phased at this cultural hybrid of a situation.

But I was surprised to find that the fish & chips meal was the best I’ve ever eaten. Being once a resident of London, I can honestly say that I’ve had more than my fill of fish & chips from various pubs around the city in various life situations. When I was feeling poor (which was always) I ate fish & chips. When visitors came to town (which was frequent) we ate fish & chips. When I was drinking pints (which was also frequent) I ate fish & chips. When I was studying (which was daily) I ate fish and chips.

And honestly. This one beats them all. The fried breading was light and fluffy and falling off a juicy, fresh white snapper that had been grilled in lemon and lime. The vinegar was tangy, the chips were salty and there were no “mushy peas” to be seen. Washing it down with our Victoria Bitters made us feel truly connected to an amalgam of worlds–delightfully those of the developed variety.

* Perth enjoys 3,000 hours of sunshine a year and was voted one of the world’s most livable cities.

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.

Look who’s 1 year old today…

Happy Birthday Foreign Exposures!

For no particular reason, I decided that today was the day to buy Foreign Exposures* its very own domain name. Upon doing so, I discovered that on this very same day last year, Foreign Exposures was first born into the blog world, as I arrived in China with laptop in tow and took my first crack at blogging. And then I realized I was having a serendipitous moment and that my blog needed a makeover and a birthday cupcake with a candle, immediately.

So, Happy Birthday FE! Here is to another year of travel, adventure and exploration. 🙂

* The observant reader will notice that with the brand spankin’ new domain name, “Foreign Exposure” has become “Foreign Exposures” (with an “s”).  Sure, maybe this is because the Foreign Exposure.com domain name was already taken…but I think “Exposures” is more apt anyhow, as FE closes the chapter on China and plunges head first into yet another country. So stay tuned via our shiny, new (and easy to remember) web address: http://www.foreignexposures.com.

Time Flies…

It’s hard to believe that time passes by so quickly and yet so many significant events occur during these fleeting moments. I’ve been off the blogging scene for over a month now as I’ve juggled visitors, jobs, travel and the end of my two-year academic career all in the tiny span of just over one month. As the full breadth of what has transpired over these 30+ days is perhaps too much (and too boring?) for an actual post, I’ve decided to sum it up in the following photo montage.

After my parent’s visit in mid-April, I worked fast and furiously to start and finish my 15,000 word final dissertation.

dissertating...

With 14 days of almost non-stop writing, I completed the 97-page beast one day before deadline and then promptly “recovered”…

recovery

But there wasn’t too much time for sleeping, as within 24 hours of my thesis completion one of my oldest friends arrived in Shanghai for a 10-day visit and it was time to celebrate (and travel and eat)!!!!!

Linds and me in Hangzhou

brunching in China

out on the town

After a fabulous visit with Linds, it was again time for academic overload as the final weeks of my semester brought final exams, more long-winded papers, detailed presentations and the dreaded thesis defence…

Dr. Chen Na...breaking it down

After “hell” week of non-stop work and a 5 hour thesis defence in front of a panel of surly professors….I can finally say I am FINISHED with my masters program at Fudan University. And of course, celebrations ensued at various hot spots around the city…

Constellations

Citizens bar

finito

And this brings me to today, June 2nd, in which I can finally say that after two countries, two cities and two master degrees…I am officially DONE with my Masters education. And what a ride it has been. Now…onto the “next step,” which is the US of A for the summer 🙂

tasty all American treat

and then it’s off to…Indonesia??? …………Details soon!

Indonesian beach

April Showers

 

 

tea house

 

I have been refraining from blogging recently, as doing so only cements the hard cold fact that…yes, my parents have left China. Yes, their much anticipated visit is finito. And yes, I’m left in a desolate apartment (the boyfriend’s on another business trip in Jakarta) with only the empty shells of eaten pistachios to remind me of a more festive time.

Sad.

Well, at least I have a 15,000 word dissertation to keep my mind off things! With only 14 days to start and finish this year’s final thesis, who has time to wax nostalgic over parental visits and entertain feelings of homesickness?

Okay, perhaps this is even more sad.

Well one positive thing to be happy about is that my mom brought me 2 dozen of those sinfully sweet Cadbury Eggs over to China. Being my favorite (but seasonal) treat as a kid, I got hooked on these little delights when I lived in London last year and discovered that Cadbury Eggs are offered all year round (and, consequently, for my weekly consumption).  They aren’t sold here in China at all, so having 24 of them all to myself is…

Okay, perhaps the fact that the Cadbury Egg constitutes a “positive highlight” in my life right now is the saddest thing of all. 🙂 But it’s always the little things, isn’t  it?

Now excuse me as I get back to my thesis writing, with egg in hand.

Photos of my parents’ amazing visit coming soon to Facebook and Picasa…just right after I write a few 15,000 words.