We didn’t go frequently, but we went far, and we went deep.
From China’s smoking habit to India’s ancient puppetry traditions, Global Atlanta in 2017 dove into offbeat topics that wouldn’t normally be on our radar. But with the connections that brought them into focus in Atlanta, they couldn’t be ignored.
Even as we embarked on a series of events highlighting Latin America here at home, we visited three countries — all in Asia, all requiring flights of more than 15 hours.
Publisher Phil Bolton changed planes in Doha, Qatar, en route to India, while retired CNN journalist Paul Varian made yet another jaunt on our behalf, this time to Taiwan. Editor Trevor Williams made his 10th trip to China.
In 2018, look for another trip to India as we continue to deepen our knowledge there, plus some likely returns to Europe and destinations throughout the Americas. Longtime sponsor Delta Air Lines, of course, will continue to lead us.
Why do we go, if we’re a local publication? We’ve discussed at length before, and here are reminders from previous recaps:
2014: Not only do we get to experience other cultures, but traveling abroad helps us appreciate outside perspectives on our city and state. It also brings us closer with the expat communities and diplomats in Atlanta, to whom we find ourselves turning often for advice on whom to interview, where to stay and what to do as we head to the ends of the earth for locally relevant stories.
2016: Thanks to our partners at Delta Air Lines Inc., we were able to once again marry the ear with the eyes, reconciling what we’ve heard locally to what we can see on the ground in key markets. As much as we try, some stories just couldn’t be done from our offices on Auburn Avenue.
Jump to countries using the links below:
Global Atlanta Publisher Phil Bolton has been to many places, but never to India until this year. In a three-part series of thoughtful articles, he describes a predictably colorful experience in line with the stereotypical Indian baptism-by-fire. It’s hard not to be struck by the juxtaposition of dire poverty and affluence that is so evident in India’s cities.
But Mr. Bolton, traveling with friends and connections he describes as pillars of the local Indian community, also got beneath the surface, exploring an artist community that has become a flashpoint for the issue of land titling and gentrification, while also accessing boardrooms and showrooms of major Indian IT companies and manufacturers, exploring issues like the industrial Internet of Things.
His impetus was the Center for Puppetry Arts’ Year of India, which happened to correspond with the Year of India at Kennesaw State University, brewing a perfect storm for India’s ties with Atlanta in 2017-18.
Read on as Mr. Bolton describes those ties as he recounts his trip across India, broken out by city:
Editor’s note: Trevor Williams traveled to China in November.
In past China travels, I’ve taken a shotgun approach: On one trip, I’d do many stories, moving seamlessly between government delegations, factory floors and countryside settings in my quest to stay (somewhat) current on Georgia’s ties there.
Four years ago, on my last trip, I wrote about Coke’s efforts to protect Chinese wetlands just after covering Home Depot’s Chinese demise, complete with a tour of what I called the home improvement retail giant’s urban “graveyard” — five shuttered stores in the city of Tianjin.
Never have I had the opportunity for a trip oriented around a single industry or issue. This time, for my 10th Chinese adventure since 2004, it seemed time to try something new.
If I had any doubts about heading back after four years away, the stars aligned to make this trip particularly timely. I’d been writing about China’s smoking habit for more than four years — or more precisely, how researchers at Georgia State University are on the front lines of helping the country kick it. When they invited me to see the fight first hand, I couldn’t resist.
The stakes are high: If one study has it right, and without a major shift in habits, one-third of Chinese men will eventually die from smoking over the next century. That’s enough to motivate public health officials to action against even what seems like an intractable problem.
And that’s what tobacco is in China: the world’s largest grower and consumer of the dangerously irresistible commodity that has vexed Chinese leaders for centuries, from Ming emperors to Communist Party officials. An estimated 350 million people smoke in China, and while the government is acting to curb the health effects, it’s also milking the cash cow that is its tobacco monopoly. By some estimates, 7 percent of Chinese government revenues come from the taxation or sale of cigarettes: That’s a big chunk, and this contradictory set of incentives is what makes studying tobacco in China so fascinating, as well as an interesting lens to see how China tackles other big societal problems.
So far, cities have done much of the heavy lifting. In the absence of a nationwide ban on smoking in public (which the U.S. also lacks) the central government has been piloting various smoke-free policies in municipalities, all the while aiming to educate the public on the harms of tobacco — both for their health and the environment. Beijing and Shanghai have city-wide policies against smoking in public. Anecdotally, they’ve had an effect, but there is a lot of work to be done.
I joined GSU researchers continuing the city-focused work enabled by a Pfizer grant, checking in on the teams carrying out the on-the-ground work. In Xi’an, the ancient Silk Road gateway, we learned about a cigarette-butt cleanup programs and cessation assistance, as well as how state-owned factories are stamping out smoking on their grounds and details about the process of drafting city-wide bans on public smoking.
In Chengdu, I talked with Michael Eriksen, dean of the GSU School of Public Health, about how that western city might use its nascent fight against cigarettes as a
In my own research, I interviewed a tofu restaurant owner, a hotel manager, people on the street, taxi drivers, rural residents, public-health officials, Stanford graduates and many others across five cities.
The takeaway (which I’ll explain more clearly in subsequent articles): China has made real progress. But the task ahead is enormous, and such outside pressure — more importantly, partnership — from groups like Georgia State is essential if the country hopes for a future that won’t go up in smoke.
Georgia Tech Basketball and China’s Urban Dance Scene
All that aside, I did find time to pursue a few other stories: At the same time the Georgia State crew was in China, Georgia Tech’s basketball team traveled to Hangzhou and then on to Shanghai for a match against UCLA.
Even before the battle on the court, sport was overshadowed by spectacle, as UCLA players faced the prospect of a different type of Chinese court after being arrested for allegedly shoplifting from a luxury boutique.
Georgia Tech players were briefly detained but quickly released. Three UCLA players had to sit out the game, though that didn’t stop the PAC-12 squad from topping Georgia Tech in a game that seemed largely one-sided until Tech, hanging around, rimmed out a potentially game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer.
I wasn’t embedded with the team, so I found out the details of the shoplifting scandal along with everyone else. My view was a more positive one, as I saw Georgia Tech leaders, including President Bud Peterson, joining with a Georgia delegation to try to make hay from the visit.
In Hangzhou, they gave a soft pitch for Atlanta to officials from e-commerce giant Alibaba, which sponsored the game and hosted both teams in the run-up to their face-off. Georgia economic development boosters, meanwhile made prospect visits. Later in Shanghai, I interviewed Dr. Peterson about why China is so important to the university.
After that, I managed to get in some reporting for one more quirky story (yet unwritten), during my Chengdu trip: Look out for a profile of an Atlanta-born expat making waves in the Chinese urban dance scene.
Editor’s note: Paul Varian, a former CNN journalist, visited Taiwan on Global Atlanta’s behalf on a trip hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Look for his stories in the coming weeks.
My trip to Taiwan came at a time of heightened regional concern over North Korea’s nuclear threat and coincided with President Trump’s first visit to mainland China.
Representing Global Atlanta, I spent a week with 20 other journalists from 16 countries on a visit sponsored by the foreign ministry.
We attended official briefings, toured the capital city, ascended its tallest skyscraper, ambled through alley-sized street markets, visited museums, a temple, a recycling center and a “green” library.
We left Taipei by bullet train to Taichung City on a day trip to visit a towering Buddhist temple, a windmill on the Taiwan Straits and a scenic lake resort some call “Honeymoon Island.”
We lunched and dined almost exclusively at hotels — huge buffets that alternated between Chinese and Japanese specialties, with ice cream galore and other tasty desserts.
The briefings focused largely on “cross-strait relations” with China — by far the government’s foremost foreign policy concern — and efforts to broaden Taiwan’s international recognition at a time that it enjoys formal diplomatic relations with just 20 nations.
“We are very afraid that there could be a military conflict in this area,” said Traci Tsui, who showed us around the Dalongdong Bao’an Temple, a folk religious shrine standing since 1831 that is one of Taipei’s most popular tourist attractions.
The tour guide boasted of Taiwan’s progress in its relatively short time as a full-fledged democracy. “We want to know how the rest of the world looks at us,” she said.
That might become evident in the reports filed by our group that included news people frrom Australia, Austria, Brunei, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United States.
There were two each from Australia and Germany and four from the United States — Atlanta, Boston, Denver and Youngstown, Ohio.
I enjoyed working with and getting to know my journalistic colleagues from four continents and the very professional press officers from the foreign ministry who were our constant companions — even joining in a karaoke song fest on a long bus jaunt.