JAKARTA – Walking into a dining hall at the state palace in Jakarta to meet journalists from The Straits Times on Wednesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo looked fresh and relaxed despite days of back-to-back work trips across the country.
Nothing that jogging and cycling twice a week and a daily dose of jamu cannot fix, he said, adding that he has been drinking a concoction of ginger and temulawak, a type of Javanese turmeric, for more than two decades.
To relax, he loves listening to his pet frogs. “Their croaking at night is soothing. The frogs themselves aren’t,” he deadpanned, before inviting ST to his state palace in Bogor, West Java, to see them, along with his pet goats, cats and chicken.
After nearly a decade as president of South-east Asia’s largest country and economy, Mr Widodo has no airs about him. But there is the slightest tinge of pride as he states matter-of-factly: “Saya orang kampung,” meaning “I am a villager”.
The former furniture businessman was elected mayor of Solo in 2005, and then governor of Jakarta in 2012. When he was elected president in July 2014, he broke from the mould of past leaders who hailed from the political elite or the military.
Dressed in his trademark white shirt with rolled-up sleeves and a pair of sneakers, he appealed directly to the middle and working classes with his down-to-earth, yet no-nonsense approach to work.
Even now, the 62-year-old has continued to carry out his famous blusukan, or unannounced visits, to personally check on places, be they government offices, traditional markets or even forest fire hot spots.