Fascinating tales about Obama uncovered by Singapore New Paper reporters...
HIS SCHOOL [LINK]
Our team visits the Indonesian suburb where US President Barack Obama spent part of his childhood
January 28, 2009
GENDUT loved his keropok. He even won a keropok eating contest.
Gendut or 'chubby' is now known all over the world as US president Barack Obama.
His former teacher, Mr Effendi S P D, 64, told The New Paper at his house in Jakarta that Mr Obama was the biggest boy in his class. Mr Obama lived in Indonesia with his mother Ann Dunham and step-father Lolo Soetoro from 1967 to 1971.
Mr Effendi said: 'Barry stood out of course. He was the only African student at the time, had curly hair and he had a ready smile for anyone.'
Mr Obama was 6 when he moved to Jakarta and he joined international school Besuki SDN Menteng, where Mr Effendi taught, in 1970.
The teacher said Mr Obama, who is now famously trim, had a good sense of humour and took the teasing about his weight in a good way. 'Yes, the students teased him and called him 'gendut' but he wasn't upset or anything like that,' said Mr Effendi.
He showed us a photograph of a group of students, including Mr Obama, taken in the garden of classmate Hedi Surya's house.
'I was told they played several games at this classmate's house,' Mr Effendi said.
'They played marbles and caught fish in the pond.
'And Barry took part in a keropok eating contest. The keropok was hanging from a string and they had to eat as many as they could, and he won.'
Mr Effendi said Barry also used to buy keropok from the school canteen.
The retired teacher chortled with laughter as he recalled Barry's pranks. Said the grandfather of three in Bahasa Indonesia: 'Barry would sit at the back. He had two classmates, girls, who sat in the front.
'He was always teasing people. I remember, once, he used his pencil and poked them jokingly.'
Barry came in to his class a month late, in February 1970 because he had transferred from the Catholic elementary school St Francis Assisi. By then, he spoke fluent Bahasa Indonesia, said Mr Effendi.
The teacher, whom he called 'Pak Guru', said he was a sociable student who would always be the first to say hi to anyone.
He remembered one incident during a Scouts camp. Mr Obama, who had joined the Scouts, was camping in school with many other children.
He was given the task of cooking fried rice one day, but left the pan on the stove for a short time while he played. When they next checked the pan, the fried rice had already been burnt.
Laughing at this, Mr Effendi said: 'The poor boys had to eat the burnt rice. We were trying to teach them to be independent, but they were good boys and learnt from the incident and were more careful the next time.'
At the Besuki school, Mr Obama's former classmate Sonni Gondokusomo, 47, showed us where Barry used to sit. Mr Sonni, a lawyer, said Mr Obama was good at playing football and marbles, and loved rounders too.
Said Mr Sonni: 'We were playful and we'd throw the balls at him and he would be able to take it.
'He was a cool friend.'
Mr Effendi, was quick to add that Barry was a 'well-behaved' student who was seldom punished .
He said: 'He was one of those students who liked to ask a lot of questions. Anything he didn't understand, he would make sure he asked till he did.'
'Once I remembered in geography class, Barry asked 'Does Jakarta have a palace and why does a president live in a place like a palace?'
'So I quickly answered that the president, as our head of state, is treated like a king, and so that's why the president lives in a palace.
'And you know, he seemed in awe. Of course, he had many other questions and I tried answering as many of them as I could.'
Barry was the top student in geography, his favourite subject. Overall, he was among the top five in class.
Said Mr Effendi: 'He also took drawing lessons and I noticed that he loved drawing super-heroes like Batman and Robin. He especially loved Superman.'
Mr Sonni recalled Mr Obama's keen interest in poor people. He said: 'He always asked 'Sonni, how come there's so many poor people? Who's helping them? How do they live?'
'That was one reason why he joined the scouts. He was very interested in doing social work.'
He said Mr Obama ate like them. 'He did not seem to be bothered about Indonesian food and he ate using his hands, like us, when we were in the canteen. He loved his nasi uduk too.'
Mr Effendi, had not seen Mr Obama for decades but recognised him instantly when he saw him on television during the election campaign.
He said: 'The moment he smiled and laughed, I knew it was Barry. I'd recognise that laughter anywhere. It has not changed.'
These Indonesians who knew him are convinced he can be a president who is well-informed about world affairs because he lived among them and learnt about other religions.
Said Mr Effendi: 'I was among the many praying for his win. I think he makes a good leader as he was exposed to many cultures and many types of people.
'My wish is for him to try to get people to understand each other and create more peace in the world.
'I have faith Barry can do it.'