Santa Claus could fly into Oahu this Christmas and no one would notice because President-elect Barack Obama is home for the holidays. Since Saturday, Obama has been lying low in a way only a man born and raised on Oahu could, working out, lounging on the beach and eating spam musubi on the golf course where he learned the game as a teenager. Hawaiians were ecstatic with more than just local pride. The local economy, like everywhere else in the world, has suffered with the global financial crisis. Local enterprises were eager to latch on to the state's most famous son in hopes of reviving business. Indeed, as early as November, the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau unveiled a micro site at www.gohawaii.com/Obama, that tracks the President-elect's Hawaii, including everything from his Honolulu birthplace to the exclusive Punahou School where he studied to the place where he ate shave ice, a local palate pleaser, during his previous vacation in August.
"The fact that this is the place he chooses to come to spend the holidays is a nice touch," says David Uchiyama, vice president of marketing for the state Tourism Authority. "Having him here and him keeping his ties to Hawaii certainly helps us. Hawaii gets the spotlight for a period here where a lot of the country is blanketed in snow."
But it was not all fun in the sun for Obama. Tuesday was solemn. Obama took time to honor his late grandmother Madelyn Dunham, his mother's mother, whom he called "toot," his version of the traditional Hawaiian word for grandma, "tutu." He and his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, a history teacher at local La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls, scattered Dunham's ashes at Lanai Lookout in the afternoon after a private service at a church in the Honolulu neighborhood of Nuuanu. Dunham died Nov. 2 at the age of 86, two days before her grandson's victory in the general election. (Obama visited her the week before she passed away. See pictures of Obama's family tree.)
At 3:27 p.m., Obama's motorcade arrived at the highway pull-off overlooking the ocean at the same spot where Obama tossed a lei into the ocean in August in memory of his mother, who died in 1995. Obama, his wife Michelle and their daughters climbed over a stone wall to get closer to the water. The sun was out and the wind was blowing strongly. More than a dozen people headed over the wall and down the rocky shoreline with them. The ceremony appeared to further cement Obama's emotional ties to Hawaii. "In his heart and in his soul he is a child of Hawaii," says Andy Winer, the state Director for the Obama campaign. "This is where his roots are and where his values come from."
The previous days had the President-elect reliving the pastimes of his youth. On Sunday he joined three friends at 12:30 p.m. for a round of golf at the Olomana Golf Links, a public course near the beachfront vacation home where he is staying. Peter K. Yamashita, general manager of the golf course, said Obama's childhood friend Bobby Titcomb called and told him the President-elect wanted to play a round. Yamashita was worried that the recent wet weather that brought 14 inches of rain to Oahu in one 12-hour period would make it an unattractive place to play. But Obama wanted to play the course where he learned to golf growing up on Oahu.
"In his high school days, he came out here to play," says Yamashita. "It's tremendous. He still wants to come play where all the local people play, not at the private country clubs or anyplace like that."
At the ninth hole, Obama spent about $18 on two hot dogs, two sodas, and two spam Musubis. Many outside of Hawaii do not particularly like Spam musubi, a local delicacy made up of the infamous luncheon meat, dried seaweed, and rice. "You know he's a local boy if he's eating Spam Musubi," says Yamashita.
Obama, his wife and daughters Sasha and Malia are staying at Paradise Point Estates, an enclave of homes at the end of a private road in the exclusive beachside community of Kailua, located on Oahu's Windward side. Titcomb, Obama's childhood friend, arranged the rental properties for Obama's family and staff. There are three homes in the compound where Obama is staying; the future first family is occupying an $11 million property featuring 5,000 square feet of interior living space and a 1,900 square foot lanai.
A lush garden and lagoon-like pool with a waterfall and hot tub highlight the home, which is called Plantation. African mahogany sliding glass doors separate the ocean view from an expansive interior featuring Peruvian stone structures and Italian marble floors, according to David Zimel, owner of Paradise Point Estates. The property next door, a Balinese-style dwelling featuring 4,500 square feet of interior living space and a 1,750 square foot lanai is on the market for $8 million, according to Paradise Point Estates.
Zimel was at the house on Saturday to greet Obama and his family as they arrived. "He's very pleasant and very gracious," says Zimel. "I started to call her Mrs. Obama, and she said 'call me Michelle.' A very warm family."
Since Saturday, residents of Kailuana Place have been dealing with the daily motorcade that leaves sometime after 7 a.m. when Obama heads to the Semper Fit Ultimate Health and Fitness Club located at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, in nearby Kaneohe. Alan Shinn, who lives a block away from the security checkpoint leading to the Obama compound on Kailuana Place, says all day long cars drive down to the checkpoint and are turned away, usually with a passenger holding a camera inside. "Everybody is excited about him being that close," says Shinn, "There are a lot of people walking by, people we've never seen in the neighborhood before. My wife called to say he came back from a workout and 'he waved at me.' A hand wave from the President to be. It was exciting."
With no scheduled public appearances Obama has done his best to avoid the traveling press corps and the dozens of local media members, paparazzi and others trying to snap a photo or shake the hand of the man who will be President. On Tuesday, 37 photos taken Sunday of a shirtless and buff Obama lounging with his family outside of estate where they are staying were sent by Bauer Griffin, a Los Angeles photo agency, to the Huffington Post, TMZ.com and Celebuzz.com, according to the Associated Press. The pictures show Barack and Michelle Obama and their daughters in bathing suits playing with friends.
Despite the star crazed atmosphere created by Obama coming home, many in Honolulu are urging the public to let Obama and his family enjoy their time in peace. "I just want him to have a good time," said Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. "I want the people of Honolulu and the visitors to be respectful. He's been at it for a long time and he needs a vacation."