Obama's childhood memories flood back in Jakarta

Tue Nov 9, 2010 11:45am EST
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By Sunanda Creagh

JAKARTA (Reuters) - More than 40 years have passed since U.S. President Barack Obama came to Indonesia for the first time, but the memories of his former childhood home came flooding back during a state visit to Jakarta on Tuesday.

Obama received a warm welcome from many locals after spending four years in Jakarta as a child, when his mother married an Indonesian man, though when asked how it felt to be back he said things had changed a lot.

"When I first came here, it was 1967. People were on becaks, which -- for those of you who aren't familiar -- is a bicycle-rickshaw thing," he said, in a description of a vehicle now rarely seen on Jakarta streets packed with new sports utility vehicles and Toyota sedans.

"If they weren't in becaks, they were on bemos, which were sort of like little taxis where you stood at the back and it was very crowded," Obama said, gesturing animatedly and drawing a smile from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

"My understanding is that traffic (now) in Jakarta is pretty tough," he said, before admitting that he had not experienced it since now as a president the streets had been cleared for him.

Obama's motorcade, met by a tropical downpour, had sped quickly through eerily quiet streets in a city where normally heavy traffic and floods can lead to four-hour commutes.

The gridlock has led Yudhoyono to suggest moving the capital, and the country's inadequate infrastructure is seen as both a deterrent to U.S. direct investment and an opportunity for investors such as the Chinese and private equity firms.

Obama sprinkled a press conference with words of Indonesian and carried on the conversation with Yudhoyono, together with his wife Michelle on her first visit to the country, at a state dinner where he was served his favorite childhood dishes of nasi goreng, bakso and rambutan (fried rice, meatball soup and fruit).   Continued...