Time for me to wrap, folks. I'm immensely grateful for your time, your interest and your support to NPR. I don't tweet intensely, but I throw up the occasional fun sound clip. If you're not a spambot or spook, request to follow @afkuhn, and I'll approve. Thanks to all!

About me: I’ve been spread thin across East Asia, reporting on it and living in it for NPR and others for the past two decades. Most of that has been in China, but the past three years I've been in Southeast Asia, based in Jakarta, with lots of trips to Myanmar. I'm just now recovering from an intense assignment covering Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Heres some of my recent reporting:




Proof: https://twitter.com/nprnews/status/411535850506579968

Comments: 149 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

SongOfUpAndDownVotes27 karma

Do you think there is any hope for fixing the air pollution problems in chinese cities?

afkuhn28 karma

In the long term, yes, they can clean up, just as US cities have done. The threats to China's public health and social stability are so huge. The hardest part will be to change "develop first, clean up later" mindset, especially for those who have yet to share the fruits of development.

wolfkin21 karma

What do you think the ramifications will be inside the country of north Korea's execution of their leader's uncle

afkuhn21 karma

I guess the key question is how much it strengthens leader Kim Jong-un's position, whether it means an ideological shift away from market reforms, and whether the purge will bleed into foreign policy, for example tenser relations with Seoul, Washington and Beijing...or even more nuke or missile tests.

icameforthecookies13 karma

Do you see the news media in the United States getting any better? How much news do we truly miss because MSM, (not NPR) reports about the Kardashians instead of Korea?

And on a personal note, Happy Holidays and thanks for not only doing this AMA, but more importantly for what you and the rest of NPR does to deliver real news to us. It is greatly appreciated!

afkuhn22 karma

I am not encouraged about the direction of international coverage by US media. My colleagues at big 3 US networks have great difficulty getting stories on air. Foreign press corps appears to be contracting in many countries. Sometimes I feel like we foreign correspondents are an endangered species, to be replaced by kids with laptops and backpacks, locals who know nothing about their target audiences, and cubicle dwellers many time zones away from what they are reporting.

morningbell1712 karma

Thank you for your great reports! I am curious, what languages do you speak?

afkuhn21 karma

Not many, just French and Chinese (Mandarin). Long list of linguistic ambitions, including Thai, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, etc.

md40729 karma

What are you personal thoughts about what is happening in North Korea right now?

afkuhn28 karma

First thought: frustrating to have to report on what's happening there without being able to get in. Take-no-prisoners style of politics pretty shocking. All this from a leader who loves basketball, Dennis Rodman, etc.

politics_is_sexy9 karma

The US citizenry has a strong and clear vision of the Unites States' place in the global community (despite the ongoing arguments from libertarian isolationists). What do the Chinese people see their place in the global community as? What direction do they want China to go in?

afkuhn9 karma

What does the name "Zhongguo" or "Central Kingdom" (Middle Kingdom is a mistranslation) tell you? They were the world's biggest economy and leading sci/tech power for centuries. Many of them see the past 150 years of backwardness and humiliation as an anomaly that is nearly over, and that they will resume their rightful place at the center of Asia and the world. Then again, their conceptions of nation state and race are evolving.

GazzaGary8 karma

What's the most fun you've had whilst reporting?

afkuhn15 karma

So many I can't remember. Trekking in the footsteps of naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in N. Sulawesi, Indonesia this spring, looking for endangered species. Floating around the planet in general, living off the kindness of strangers and friends who share their thoughts with me.


Hey there Mr. Kuhn! Huge fan of you and NPR news.

Over the past couple days Nate Thayer has been making a lot of angry blog posts about about ABC and Ted Koppel. For those that don't know, Thayer broke a big story on Pol Pot back in 97' and got some of the first pictures of him in years. Thayer says that ABC and Koppel lied and distributed his work unfairly. ABC says they paid him fairly (350k) in 1997 and didn't break any contracts. Recently, Thayer settled his lawsuit with them, and his blog posts are discussing thought.

As a professional journalist who specializes on South East Asia I was wonder if you had any opinions about this controversy.

afkuhn10 karma

Nate is my former colleague at the Far Eastern Economic Review. I did Read his posts on this subject, and sympathize with the travails of all freelancers, although I'm not privy to the details of this particular episode. But you can be sure that as US media coverage of intl. news contracts, freelancers will assume a bigger role, especially in far-flung countries.

afkuhn0 karma

Nate is my former colleague at the Far Eastern Economic Review. I did Read his posts on this subject, and sympathize with the travails of all freelancers, although I'm not privy to the details of this particular episode. But you can be sure that as US media coverage of intl. news contracts, freelancers will assume a bigger role, especially in far-flung countries.

Podaroo7 karma

What's going on in Myanmar? How ingrained are the ethnic conflicts there? Do you feel optimistic about the continued release of political prisoners?

afkuhn7 karma

Myanmar has a long history of racial conflicts. Check out fallout from Myanmar during recession of 1930s. Indians and Chinese were scapegoated and persecuted for that. Narrative that Burmese=Buddhist remains deeply ingrained, similar to situation in Thailand. Prisoners will continue to be released...while new ones may continue to go to Insein.

The_Ewe_Pilgrim6 karma

As someone currently studying East Asian Studies, and who would adore working in your field, what tips or pointers would you have for someone who would like to someday report as a correspondent based in Asia? What were some of the most difficult obstacles you've had to overcome in your journey thus far? Thank you so much for this AMA!

afkuhn10 karma

Get out there and start traveling and writing. Go to a country that is under-reported, especially SE Asia. Overcoming apathy and pre-conceived notions about Asia and its place in the news are an ongoing challenge. Many in the news biz just see it as too remote and challenging.

politics_is_sexy6 karma

What do you believe is the most likely outcome in the conflict over territorial/international waters occurring between Japan and China (and therefor the US)?

afkuhn12 karma

I worry that these countries see it all as a zero-sum game, and that they should tolerate no peer competitors. Check out the work of Australian National U. professor Hugh White, who argues that eventually, the US and China will have to reach some sort of accommodation and share power in Asia. Good idea, but tall order.

passionlessDrone4 karma

What is my best strategy for ingratiating myself to my soon to be Chinese overlords?

afkuhn6 karma

Marry a local lady and learn the language, i.e., become a son-in-law. Then disabuse yourself of the notion that they will be your overlords. They have plenty of problems to keep them occupied.

KoolGMatt3 karma

What's your favorite meal that you didn't know about before you got to Asia?

afkuhn7 karma

Gotta be Indonesian tempeh - the nutty, smoky flavor, best with nasi kuning. The food of the Indonesian archipelago is so varied, looking forward to discovering more of it.

BaDumPshhh3 karma

What, if any, views of China do the Chinese people have that they feel outsiders are unaware of that they wish more people outside of their country/culture knew about them, but for whatever reason, don't?

It's hard to gauge cultural differences sometimes when there are certain things we regard as common knowledge but apparently aren't. (i.e. recent Reddit post stating that 70% of Chinese people don't know that ivory comes from dead elephants)

afkuhn8 karma

There is a very widespread feeling that China does not get fair treatment from the international media. Some feel that foreign media are there to dig dirt on China, with hostile intent. They would like to see less coverage of their past glories and more on their recent successes. Understandable, but there are definitely cultural differences at work.

art1ficial3 karma

Selamat Pagi from MI.

do you enjoy commuting in Jakarta?

afkuhn8 karma

Pagi from DC. To keep me from having to commute too much, I lived in Menteng. Walked a lot. Hope they get that urban mass transit system built.

Wiredawn3 karma


First, thank you so much for your great reporting. I love listening to your stories on NPR.

What are some of your observations regarding the differences in how the news media is treated in different Asian countries?

afkuhn4 karma

Thank YOU! I've worked in China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos, where controls on media can be very strict. I've been in others, mostly in SE Asia, where reporting is super easy and people love to talk to us. I don't blame anyone who asks "what's in it for me, talking to a journalist?"

WhatsIAName3 karma

How is the overall situation in Asia concerning political stability? We see many kinds of unrest there. And what would you think is the main reason for the situation and a possible solution?

afkuhn5 karma

I feel political stability is very fragile in many places. What are the implications of a country - China, e.g. - spending more on internal security than on national defense? I wonder whether that is sustainable. The region lacks political architecture to address such issues - look at how effective ASEAN has been in addressing conflicts in western Myanmar, Thai-Cambodian border, etc.

InfernalWedgie3 karma

What are your thoughts on the ongoing political kerfuffle in Thailand? Images of the police force laying down their arms and sitting with protestors have gone viral, but a lot of people here in the West don't know the background of the battle between Red versus Yellow.

afkuhn6 karma

The cold war-era leadership is on its way out across SE Asia, and this transition promises to be tough in Thailand. Demands for political participation will only increase. I am concerned what will happen when there is a transition to a new Thai monarch.

TheBeardedGM3 karma

Is the political situation in Myanmar improving still? Is there a thriving multi-party system for instance?

afkuhn6 karma

One major issue is that the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy is making a difficult transition from movement to party. They have a long way to go. Mark my words, I've got to be in Myanmar for the 2015 general elections. Aung San Suu Kyi could very well become president, and perhaps Asia's most famous politician.

matticusrex3 karma

When you visit Burma, do you spend time in Rangoon? What do you think of that city? What other areas in Burma do you visit, any hidden gems?

I sure hope things get straightened out there so I can visit some day.

afkuhn4 karma

I have been in Rangoon/Yangon about six times in the past year. It is an overwhelmingly vibrant and visually rich city. Trying very hard to get NPR photographer David Gilkey to join me out there for a good shoot.

BaDumPshhh3 karma

In a previous Q&A you mentioned that you would like to report on Vanuatu cult groups. Richard Dawkins uses the John Frum cult as an example to discredit religion. Has witnessing this firsthand influenced your personal thoughts on religion?

afkuhn5 karma

Great question. Actually, I haven't witnessed anything as I haven't had a chance to do the story. But I imagine it is one I will have to handle with extreme sensitivity to indigenous people and different faiths.

npilevsky3 karma

Couldn't resist the chance to say hi in real time.

afkuhn3 karma

Hi in real time back. I'm in DC. Let's talk.

window52 karma

Is China aware that the US will not go to war over the South China Sea? Is Obama aware of that?

afkuhn6 karma

I think China is aware that the US would not like to be dragged into a conflict over a bunch of uninhabited rocks in the E. China Sea (Diaoyu/Senkakus). But many Chinese are convinced that the US will do what it has to to encircle and contain China, including by backing Japan, Philippines, etc. in their disputes with China.

SamBausBout2 karma

How do you work within an NPR bureau and your beat to discover and develop stories?

I'm currently living in Hanoi, Vietnam, and I'd like to learn more about radio journalism as an aspiring amateur. Are there any resources or pieces of advice that you can recommend?

afkuhn6 karma

I would call it "fast and light." One correspondent and one local assistant per bureau. Sometimes I dig stories out through research, other times they walk in and introduce themselves to me. Vietnam is extremely rich in stories about culture, economy, environment, etc. Freelancers need to be careful with political stories, I think. I had difficulty getting journalist visas to that country.

ThePrateTrain2 karma

Has there been a scariest moment for you when reporting? Some places might not take too kindly to reporters...

afkuhn7 karma

I have not been in any terribly life-threatening situations. I have been in some angry crowds, including in Beijing after the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 99, and in Urumqi, Xinjiang after rioting in 2009. And I was pretty close to Mt. Merapi when it blew up in 2010. Ground was so hot, boots were melting! All good, though.

M_EdMiller2 karma

How often do you pitch stories from your own original ideas, vs being given assignments by NPR editors?

afkuhn7 karma

One of the great things about working at NPR is that I generate most of my own story ideas and editors rarely shoot them down. I would say I generate 80% of the story ideas I pursue. But editorial demand for China stories is huge, ravenous!

leontes2 karma

I’m curious regarding cultural differences in mental health concerns and treatment during your work in East Asia. How culturally specific do approaches to challenges regarding symptoms of depression and anxiety differ in the regions you’ve been living in? How do the people get support in the aftermath of things like the typhoon? Do you find treatment and conceptualization of mental health concerns different than western norms?

afkuhn6 karma

Mental health definitely needs more attention in East Asia. There are still many misconceptions and stigma that need to be cleared up. While I was in the Philippines, I did not see this problem being addressed a lot, and I am concerned about how people are coping with the trauma of this incident.

aethericwave2 karma

Hi Anthony, thanks for donig this!

Regarding China, what are you thoughts on initiatives taken by the PRC to (supposedly) increase their "soft power" in the world? I'm thinking specifically about investments in infratstructure/education/cultural exchange in Africa, development projects in Burma and special attention which is paid to Central Asian nations that border places like SAR Xinjiang.


afkuhn6 karma

China has gobs of soft power in its traditional culture, from food to kung fu to Confucian humanism. In many cases, China has to exhume the cultural traditions it has pilloried over a century of revolution. I think China's government is realizing that, especially in the case of Burma, not all investments are perceived as helpful, and more attention must be paid to social and environmental impacts.

journokid2 karma

How do stay informed about current affairs and SE Asia? Is it hard to fit in background research alongside your assignments?

afkuhn3 karma

I have so many countries' news to keep up with, it's a truly daunting task. I have twitter lists for many Asian countries, and divide up RSS feeds similarly.

Stopthegarbagemasher2 karma

Do all the NPR correspondents ever get together for say, a company outing? Who is the most interesting? Next to yourself, of course.

afkuhn4 karma

There have been occasional fly-ins for correspondents covering certain regions. Extremely important stuff is discussed there!

gailosaurus2 karma

I've often thought that China could accomplish a lot through its centralized political system, but will never become a truly "developed" nation without democracy of some form - because there comes a point where the decisions that benefit the many will harm the elite politicians, and the only way to get them to act is to overrule them with popular vote.

Would you agree, disagree? Why?

afkuhn3 karma

They already HAVE achieved a lot. But in a way, the low-hanging fruit has been picked. Chinese know that this is the tough part of the reforms, when they bump up against vested interests. Into the deep water, as the Chinese media say.

politics_is_sexy2 karma

Do you think the Gay Sex Ban in India will be overturned in the near future? And do you think there is any cultural correlations between that court ruling and the ongoing discussions around rape occurring in that nation?

afkuhn7 karma

This you'll have to ask our India correspondent Julie McCarthy. I do East Asia, she and Phil Reeves in Islamabad to S. Asia. Good question though.

Juice9992 karma

I've followed your posts as long as you've been on NPR, and often commented on them for your insight and understanding of the culutral differences in these varied countries. My parents are from Indonesia, and I've been back and forth for over 20 years and lived full-time in Yogyakarta for 6 years working with artisans and teaching English at a university. I speak Indonesian and Dutch (and studied French, Spanish, Navajo, Swahili, Javanese, Thai and Lao). I've done a lot of travel writing to promote my traditional arts business, and have 30 years experience in art and travel photography that I've shown in galleries, but my dream is to be a reporter and news photographer in Southeast Asia. Does it seem a bit outdated not be in video and radio reporting? I've been told I have a great "teaching" voice and plan to volunteer at our local independent radio station in Santa Fe this winter to improve my live reporting abilities. I'm applying to graduate programs in journalism, Asian studies and political science this year (I have a masters in arts management). What do you recommend if I want to write or report for agencies based in Indonesia?

afkuhn5 karma

Yogya rocks. Got to go back to write about fixie culture there. Indonesia is still so underreported. Get in touch with the Foreign Correspondents Club in Jakarta. They may be able to hook you up with interested media.

njg51 karma

In your experience, working for multiple news organizations, have you seen any significant bias in the way Asian news events are portrayed in the West? Or do you think we mostly get a balanced picture of what's occurring?

Thanks for the AMA!

afkuhn5 karma

My pleasure. I think there is still a lot of Western-centric bias in the media. I see a fair amount of political stories that media do on the Middle East that we might not take from Asia, for fear that they would be to unfamiliar to readers/listeners. Like the "pivot to Asia," there is a lag between rhetoric and reality.

window51 karma

Are there going to be more executions in North Korea soon? They have to kill all the people who were associated with Jang Song-thaek, no? And shouldn't China be held accountable for the madness that is North Korea?

afkuhn7 karma

Jang reportedly build a formidable faction in the security and trade apparatuses. Getting rid of them could take time. Beijing's attitude towards Pyongyang has evolved a lot. They took Kim Jong-il on numerous tours of special economic zones to try to sell him on economic reforms but, Jang's execution does not bode well for taking that road.

CrackItJack1 karma

Thoughts on current geopolitical situation of the china sea ?

afkuhn5 karma

Well, Air Defense Identification Zones or not, US, Chinese and Japanese warships and warplanes are going to continue to come into contact in the E. and S. China Seas, with very few rules of the road. Plenty of room for repeats of 2001 EP3 incident, it seems.

ceeohdeewhyfarts0 karma

I just want you to spell out my name so I can show my mom who is a NPR fanatic.

afkuhn3 karma

Huh? Cody farts? Just a guess.