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Obama election was bittersweet for his Malaysian kin


Kuala Lumpur : For Barack Obama’s sister Maya Soetoro and her Malaysian origin husband Konrad Ng, who watched the US president elect’s stirring victory speech from an apartment in Honolulu, election day was “filled with joy and sadness”.

The apartment belonged to Madelyn Payne Dunham, Maya and Barack’s maternal grandmother, who died Monday of cancer at the age of 84, just two days before the US went to the polls.

“To honour her spirit, we watched the election as she would have watched it: quietly in her Honolulu apartment. It was a moment filled with joy and sadness,” Konrad, who is originally from Sabah in Malaysia and teaches at the University of Hawaii’s Academy for Creative Media, said in an email to The Star newspaper.

His wife Maya was born to Ann Dunham, Obama’s mother, and Indonesian businessman Lolo Soetoro.

“Grandma Dunham was a tremendous figure in our lives,” Konrad added after watching the defining moment in history – as Obama was elected the first African American president of the United States – on TV like millions all over the world.

People are still visiting the makeshift memorial for Dunham, who missed Obama’s ascension to the highest office in the country by just a day.

Throughout the campaign period, the world witnessed how Dunham proved to be such a central character in Obama’s life. Pictures of how deeply affected the president-elect was when his beloved “Toot” (a shortened version of Tutu, a Hawaiian word for grandmother or older female relative) died were splashed across newspapers all over the world.

Obama lived in her two-bedroom Honolulu apartment from 1971 to 1979 and visited her in hospital in the final days of his campaign. In his memoir “Dreams From My Father”, Obama described his grandmother as “suspicious of overwrought sentiments or overblown claims, content with common sense”.

A makeshift memorial has been set up below the apartment and neighbours have been placing flowers and notes of encouragement.

Malaysian student Siaw Mei Li and her friend were among those who came by with flowers. Said Siaw: “What I really wish we could’ve said to her is, ‘We’re so grateful for what you’ve done!'”