Talking Asia with the AP’s Ted Anthony
Ted Anthony ’95 grew up immersed in Thailand.
Before he was born, his parents—linguistics professors at the University of Pittsburgh—had lived and worked there. Their home was filled with Thai artifacts, so for Anthony, moving to Bangkok in 2014 as the Associated Press’s Asia-Pacific news director felt like “coming full circle”—all the more so because his parents had gone there with his recently widowed grandmother, and he with his wife and two children.
But Anthony—who was at University Park this week to receive an outstanding alumni award from the Department of History—landed in Bangkok at a tumultuous time. A mere three days after he took up his position, he told students in a history class on Tuesday, the Thai army staged a military coup against the government, suspending the constitution and imposing martial law. Naturally, the events left Anthony no time to indulge in the nostalgia of his family’s connection to Thailand.
Hitting the ground running, though, was a breeze for an award-winning journalist who has reported and written an array of stories from 20 different countries. And the Thai coup, he said, was a great entry point to covering Asia—a vibrant, diverse, and important part of the globe.
In the three years Anthony’s been in Thailand, he and his 150-member team have dug deep into Asia to produce many unique stories. They’ve covered the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370, the Rohingya insurgency in western Mynamar, the harsh crackdown on drug dealers in the Philippines by controversial president Rodrigo Duterte, and slave labor in the Southeast Asian fishing industry.
Anthony frequently meets diplomats, business heavyweights, and heads of state (including Thai general Prayut Chan-o-cha, head of the military junta) and has traveled all over Asia, including North Korea, which he’s visited six times. (The AP has a bureau in Pyongyang.) Despite being closely tailed, he got to meet regular North Koreans. “As an American, you do get looks of hatred, but there are also frequent looks of friendliness,” he said. “North Koreans want respect; they don’t want to be villainized; and it’s important to know that other than the stagnation that political isolation causes, it really isn’t a stagnant society. And North Koreans are like people anywhere else: At the end of the day, they’re just trying to live their lives.”
While his travels and his reporting have given him the kind of rare insight into the world that few have, Anthony also credits his parents for his multicultural upbringing and for taking him with them to live first in Singapore and then in Beijing.
“It was 1979, I was 11 years old and I wasn’t happy with the move,” he said.
Understandably so, since he’s a Pittsburgh boy and that year, the Pirates were in the World Series (they beat the Baltimore Orioles). China couldn’t possibly have been further removed from the United States, and young Anthony had to go to a Chinese school.
All the same, the experience proved invaluable, and within a year Anthony was speaking fluent Chinese. He kept it up after returning to the U.S., studying Chinese while in high school and during his time at Penn State, and knowing the language was a boon during his stints with the AP in Hong Kong in 1997 (Anthony covered its return to Chinese rule) and in Beijing between 2001 and 2004. Anthony is a frequent visitor to China (he was just there on vacation with his family) and he feels very comfortable there.
Anthony is happy that his children get to live in Bangkok and experience some of the multicultural upbringing he had. Bangkok is a fascinating city—and how amazing an opportunity is it to be able to travel across Asia frequently for work and pleasure?
Yes, it’s pretty cool, Anthony agreed.
But “the weather gets to me,” he told me of Thailand’s year-round tropical heat, as we walked across campus on a perfect spring afternoon. “I like seasons and I miss them.”
Savita Iyer, senior editor