MARK NDESANDJO, Barack Obama’s half brother and a six-year volunteer in Shenzhen, made his first public appearance since the November election at a charity party in Shenzhen on Friday evening. But he soon left for Obama’s presidential inauguration taking place tomorrow.
The party, during which Ndesandjo played the piano, was held to raise money for orphans in Guangdong and Sichuan provinces by the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) in South China. More than 200 Amcham members and Chinese government officials attended the party at the OCT East in Yantian District.
Ndesandjo played three songs, including an arrangement of a Chinese song named “Liuyang River,” a classical song and a jazz tune, which earned him enthusiastic applause. Surrounded by many guests, he also spent a half hour sitting for a Chinese-American sculptor named Kwan Wu who fashioned a clay bust of him.
Ndesandjo has declined to give interviews to the media since the November election, but his Chinese friend, Sui Zhengjun, provided information about the “First Half Brother.”
“The Shenzhen Daily was the first medium in the world to report Ndesandjo’s work and life in Shenzhen,” Sui said.
Ndesandjo’s arrival Friday drew a flurry of attention and flashing cameras by media from the United States, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Ndesandjo had been trying to set up a concert to benefit orphans since 2001, but the plans never took off.
Speaking to an audience of about 250 in both English and Chinese, Ndesandjo, dressed in a traditional Chinese-style brown top, took time to thank those who’d helped make it happen. “Thanks to all of you for your assistance in making this long-held dream a reality: Harley Seyedin (Amcham in South China president) … the Shenzhen Orphanage … and of course my loving wife and our families.
“I asked Harley for his help one month ago. When he said that we could do it, I was overjoyed.
“We are all blessed to be in this wonderful hotel, amid friends and family, with good food and stimulating conversation. However, there are many in Shenzhen, China and the world who are not as fortunate as we are.”
He recalled his first visit to the Shenzhen Orphanage. “One child, its big black eyes glowing, seized my little finger and would not let go. I’ll always remember that moment. How can we, each of us, replace that neon light with a warm hand or a spark of humanity?
“For me, it was through music. I have taught children to play piano because I believe that music opens up long-closed doors and windows within each of us. It lets us be free to be ourselves. In China there is a saying: ‘Spring wind nurturing rain.’”
Ndesandjo said the concert was part of a dream he had since before he came to China, and he hopes to produce more events to raise awareness about the plight of orphans to China.
He has also spent four years completing a novel titled “Nairobi to Shenzhen,” which reflects not only on the experience of foreigners in China, but also working with orphans. “Once I find a good publisher I plan to dedicate some of the proceeds to charity. I hope all of you will get a chance to read it one day,” he said.
A six-year resident of Shenzhen, Ndesandjo regularly goes to the Shenzhen Orphanage to teach piano and released a few piano recordings in the United States before he came here.
Soon after Obama won the U.S. election, Ndesandjo sent Sui a mobile phone message saying “A new America has come,” Sui said, adding that Ndesandjo was very pleased with his brother’s success and sent Obama a gift, a calligraphic work. Its content remains a secret.
“Mark likes Chinese calligraphy, and he has a calligraphy teacher,” Sui said. “Recently, a friend bought one of Mark’s calligraphic pieces that reads ‘Spring wind nurturing rain,’ and Mark donated the money to the Shenzhen Orphanage.”
Half-Chinese now, Ndesandjo, a Christian, married a woman from Henan Province in early 2008, and he likes the Chinese vegetarian dishes she cooks, Sui said.
Ndesandjo likes Shenzhen, and he is crazy about Chinese culture, Sui said. Among his favorites are Chinese classics written by Taoist Zhuangzi and Chinese idioms. Ndesandjo also enjoys working out at the gym.
The Shenzhen Daily was the first to report on Ndesandjo’s life in Shenzhen, publishing three stories, including “More than just donating” March 11, 2004, which has been widely quoted by international media. Later stories were “Spotlight on Obama’s half brother in SZ” on July 29, 2008, and “Half brother congratulates Obama” on Nov. 6, 2008.