Obama’s Doppelganger In Jakarta

Everybody Loves a Bule
Josh in front of Jakarta's statue honoring Barack Obama

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Everybody loves a bule.

A curious thing happened upon visiting the statue of U.S. President Barack Obama in Mentang Park.

Though I hadn’t yet mentioned to Josh that I wanted to see the likeness of my 44th president as a 10-year-old boy, we ended up there near the start of our bike excursion — after a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for cheese doughnuts for the kids and iced tea for us.

I instantly recognized the statue as we approached it, when all of a sudden a group of Indonesian women taking snapshots spotted the 6-foot-tall Josh and motioned for him to come over and pose with them beside Obama. They took turns and one even asked me to take their group portrait, which I obliged.

“They love bules,” Josh said afterward, using the Indonesian term for “foreigners,” or “white people.” (Apparently, it literally means “albino.”)

A good sport, Josh has a great deal of respect for other perspectives when they diverge from a more Western point of view. While it’s a term that seems to rely on context, akin to Latin Americans’ use of the term “gringo,” I imagine.

The sociological tangents from this brief moment in the park could go on forever. (A recent book titled, “How to Catch Mr. Bule,” is just one.) Thus, I’m inclined to shift tack here.

Anyway, days before leaving for Indonesia by way of Hong Kong, I had read about some Jakarta residents wanting to remove that stood near the elementary school he once attended with his mother, Ann Dunham, and his Indonesian stepfather, Lolo Soetoro.

Unveiled on the eve of Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, the statue was intended to inspire generations of local schoolchildren. “The statue represents childhood spirit,” Central Jakarta Mayor Sylviana Murni said at the time. “Obama embodies the ideal of a successful child.”

The fate of Obama’s bronze doppelganger now lays in the hands of the courts.

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