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This Year in Asia: from Huawei to the Hong Kong protests, here are 2019's best stories as picked by our journalists

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 25/12/2019 Compiled by SCMP's Asia desk
  • Over the course of 2019, we have run a smorgasbord of stories from across the continent. Here are some of our favourites from the year – we hope you enjoy them as much as we have

Over the course of 2019, we have run a smorgasbord of stories from across the continent. Some are intimate looks at culture and society, and people who have made lives for themselves in places that on first glance might seem unusual. Others are broad in scope, taking in the way nations circle each other in the dance of geopolitical influence. Here are some of our favourites from the year, picked by our own journalists. We hope you enjoy them as much as we have.

a person that is standing in the snow: Jessie Gacal-Nelson has fallen in love with Alaska after moving there. Photo: Handout © Handout Jessie Gacal-Nelson has fallen in love with Alaska after moving there. Photo: Handout

There are a few reasons I nominated this one. Perhaps more than any story this year, it reveals something I had literally no idea about. There are a bunch of Filipinos in Alaska and they’re called Alaskeros!? Who knew? I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me.

It’s also an excellent feature opening. Those first lines of a piece often overload the reader with information as we try to lay the table as efficiently and informatively as possible. Crystal’s opening, though, is simple, intriguing and evocative all at once, like the final line of a haiku. It made me happy upon reading it.

I also like the fact this story is so people-focused, which is something journalists sometimes lose sight of amid the politics. These are engaging human stories that shed light on something genuinely surprising while telling the parallel tales of the early Alaskeros and how they made their way. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve brought up this story as a talking point in a bar/restaurant and pretended it’s something I alone know about. And that, of course, is the mark of a good story: you want to pass it off as your own.

a man and a woman taking a selfie in a cage: Photo: AFP © AFP Photo: AFP

This is an in-depth examination of a messy, painful situation by way of a story that widens its aperture to include a look at the cultural and political reasons behind it, while narrowing it to focus on the people whose lives and entire ways of living are at risk of vanishing. The National Register of Citizens isn’t a disease, it is the symptom of the politicised intolerance that has infected Assam, just as it has too many parts of the world. It’s worth your attention, culminating as it does in a coda consisting of equal parts heartbreak and hope.

Identification tags left by US marines who have gone to Mount Suribachi to remember lost soldiers. Photo: Julian Ryall © Julian Ryall Identification tags left by US marines who have gone to Mount Suribachi to remember lost soldiers. Photo: Julian Ryall

I really enjoyed Julian’s package in June on Iwo Jima – especially this piece exploring the reminders strewn around the island today of the World War II battles. It has some really nice colour on what the men must have gone through and how remnants left on the battlefields tell the story of the bloodshed. It combines this nicely with an interesting historical narrative of the war and the strategic planning by the generals. Julian’s pictures also help bring his descriptions to life. Always sobering to read another reminder of the horrors of war.

a black and white photo of a person: Experts cite extreme pressures to succeed as one of the reasons for a high prevalence of suicide among Korean-Americans. Photo illustration: Huy Truong © Provided by South China Morning Post Experts cite extreme pressures to succeed as one of the reasons for a high prevalence of suicide among Korean-Americans. Photo illustration: Huy Truong

This story about Korean suicides in the US is a remarkable piece of work, told with much compassion and sensitivity.

a man wearing a uniform and holding a gun: Taliban fighters pictured after a ceasefire on June 16 in Nangarhar province’s Ghanikhel district, Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters © Reuters Taliban fighters pictured after a ceasefire on June 16 in Nangarhar province’s Ghanikhel district, Afghanistan. Photo: Reuters

My pick of the year is Ezzatullah Mehrdad’s piece on Afghanistan’s “internet generation”. Though the story was not among our most read pieces when it was first published, I felt it offered a fascinating window on the lives and thoughts of young people in a country which is all too often reported on only in terms of the latest military strike or terrorist attack. To have such a report come from a writer who actually lives within the country made it all the more noteworthy, I thought.

a person riding on the back of a truck: An elderly woman drags a trolley load of cardboard for recycling in front of a police water cannon vehicle in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP © AFP An elderly woman drags a trolley load of cardboard for recycling in front of a police water cannon vehicle in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP

Crystal Tai’s piece on the forgotten voices of the Hong Kong protests touches on an acutely under-reported story since the demonstrations began in June.

The story approaches the issue with an even hand, and the comprehensive reporting does justice to the central thesis – and a few of the South China Morning Post’s long-time online critics posted very nice things about the story, too.

a person standing in front of a sign: As 5G technology comes to Southeast Asia, the odds are that Huawei’s technology will be driving it. Photo: AP © AP As 5G technology comes to Southeast Asia, the odds are that Huawei’s technology will be driving it. Photo: AP

This story was one of the first – if not the first – to illuminate Huawei’s expansion into Southeast Asia, even as it faced growing opposition in the West. In doing so, the piece also shone a light on a region that is walking a delicate line between Washington and Beijing.

a person holding a piece of food: Myrna Salazar collects pagpag at Joe's Junk Shop in Payatas. Photo: SCMP Pictures © SCMP Pictures Myrna Salazar collects pagpag at Joe's Junk Shop in Payatas. Photo: SCMP Pictures

“In Payatas, life may be cheap but nothing is free.”

At the time of writing, I admired the reporter’s strong resolve to avoid creating a piece of “poverty porn”. The resulting story depicts Myrna Salazar and her four grandchildren as fellow humans in all their own hopes and aspirations for a brighter future.

Rodrigo Duterte wearing a costume: Duterte. What's in a name, anyway? © Provided by South China Morning Post Duterte. What's in a name, anyway?

Any story with “large male organ” in the headline is a winner. Simples.

a person standing in front of a door: Manisha Uke’s daughter, Janhavi, playing in her home. Photo: Kunal Purohit © Kunal Purohit Manisha Uke’s daughter, Janhavi, playing in her home. Photo: Kunal Purohit

This story touches on the despair of Indian farmers who have taken their own lives as well as on the struggle of the thousands of women who are left behind – and given a voice in this piece. Many of these women are sexually assaulted and struggle to inherit their husband’s land due to patriarchal rules, even while they are saddled with their partners’ debts.

a plate of food on a table: Stir-fried assam laksa. Photo: Handout © Handout Stir-fried assam laksa. Photo: Handout

Who doesn’t like a tasty story? And especially an empowering one, about Asian immigrants embracing San Francisco’s booming restaurant scene and spreading the word about laksa and onigiri and miso.

What started as a yearning for familiar food in an unfamiliar country became an opportunity to meet new people and start a business.

These entrepreneurs also tapped into Silicon Valley’s tech offerings by using crowdfunding and a special incubator to assist start-ups such as theirs. The interviews were interspersed with interesting facts and context, and of course appetising pictures of the food, leaving the reader hungry for more.

Ibrahim Ali et al. posing for the camera: Four of the best-known clerics behind the hijrah movement gripping Indonesian millennials: Oemar Mita, Abdul Somad, Hanan Attaki, and Felix Siauw. Photo: YouTube © YouTube Four of the best-known clerics behind the hijrah movement gripping Indonesian millennials: Oemar Mita, Abdul Somad, Hanan Attaki, and Felix Siauw. Photo: YouTube

How social media inspired Indonesia’s born-again ‘hijrah’ Muslim millennials

Million Views Preacher to Islamic Carpool Karaoke: the clerics behind Indonesia’s born-again hijrah movement

In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, the trend of millennials abandoning Starbucks and sin for spiritual rebirth has been fuelled by social media influencers using Instagram and “Carpool Karaoke”-style videos.

This story and its sidebar offer deep insight into how global trends converged in Southeast Asia’s largest economy, only to be fed by the growth of internet-savvy urbanites, and ultimately produced a movement with uniquely local characteristics.

Illustration: Dennis Yip © Provided by South China Morning Post Illustration: Dennis Yip

This article about Malaysia’s bid to capture Asia’s start-up crown moves the conversation forward from the usual start-up stories we hear about Singaporean and Vietnamese businesses. Also well sourced.

a view of a city with tall buildings in the background: Residential buildings and the Orchard district in Singapore. Photo: Roy Issa © Roy Issa Residential buildings and the Orchard district in Singapore. Photo: Roy Issa

This is a well-written piece that looks like it involved a lot of legwork. Not only does it include voices from various sectors, it is a nice new angle on the protests in Hong Kong.

a group of people sitting at a table: South Korean Cho Hye-do (left), 86, meets her North Korean older sister Cho Sun-do, 89, at an inter-Korean family reunion in 2018. Photo: EPA © EPA South Korean Cho Hye-do (left), 86, meets her North Korean older sister Cho Sun-do, 89, at an inter-Korean family reunion in 2018. Photo: EPA

This story painfully highlights the plight of seniors leading lonely lives in South Korea and shows how Asia’s close-knit family system is rapidly falling apart. It made an emotional impact on me as I brace for a similar situation.

a circuit board: The June 30 cover for This Week in Asia. Design: Huy Truong © Provided by South China Morning Post The June 30 cover for This Week in Asia. Design: Huy Truong

We had an abundance of good stories in 2019, but if I had to pick only one, it would have to be the piece by Jeffie Lam and Gary Cheung on the undoing of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, whose ill-conceived extradition bill pushed the city headlong into a devastating crisis it has yet to extricate itself from.

The team did painstaking work to reveal the thinking behind the legislation and why Lam, a former mandarin so used to having her way, insisted on pressing on despite the forceful opposition. What made it extra special was how our designer Huy Truong told the story with just one image: a picture of Lam against a backdrop of the city’s horizon flipped upside down.

Three months later, Lam summed up the city’s status just the way Huy depicted it when she said: “Hong Kong has been turned upside down, and my life has been turned upside down.”

a group of people sitting on a boat: Protesters block the road to the Las Bambas copper mine during a protest against Chinese mine operator MMG Ltd in Fuerabamba, Peru, in March 2019. Photo: Reuters © Reuters Protesters block the road to the Las Bambas copper mine during a protest against Chinese mine operator MMG Ltd in Fuerabamba, Peru, in March 2019. Photo: Reuters

Raquel’s immersive deep dive into Chinese investment in Latin America sets the standard for investigative multimedia reporting. From the gorgeous maps – shout out to the magic from Adolfo on the graphics team – to the videos shot by Raquel on the road while she was reporting the piece, this story brings a geopolitical narrative to life by introducing us to the real people who are living through its impacts.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. For more SCMP stories, please download our mobile app, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

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