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New Horizons – Heading East with Adam Tanner

Adam Tanner is a fellow in the Department of Government at Harvard, a former Bureau Chief for Reuters in the Balkans, and a firm favourite amongst Voyages to Antiquity’s guest speakers. As a journalist he first reported from India and Southeast Asia in the mid-1980s. In a recent interview, he shared with us why India still holds such an attraction for him, and what we might expect from his talks on board.

Adam Tanner

Adam Tanner

You’ve travelled extensively in India and Southeast Asia. Can you tell us why this part of the world holds such an attraction for you?

In an era of ever greater globalisation and homogenisation, India and Southeast Asia still present exotic worlds to discover for the traveller, with ancient sites and rich cultural traditions. Yesterday I finished five weeks of research in Japan and visited a skyscraper in Tokyo’s central Ginza area. As I looked across an especially impressive panorama, I was struck how I could spot only one building from before World War Two. In India, past glories are never far away for the traveller.

Which destination are you most looking forward to on your upcoming cruise Passage to Sri Lanka & India, and why?

‘The Golden Triangle” of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. Yet the south has a rich history and diverse feel from northern India, as well as pockets of impressive economic development.

As a journalist you’ve travelled to many fascinating destinations around the world. What differences can one expect on a cruise to India and Southeast Asia as opposed to a cruise in the Mediterranean?

A place like India can present more logistical travel challenges than the Mediterranean, so a cruise lessens the issues that you might face on your own. There is also a stretch of three days at sea to get from Southeast Asia to India, so that’s a chance to take in a series of lectures, read up and watch movies in preparation.

Amber Fort in Jaipur

Amber Fort in Jaipur

From your experiences, how has travelling on board Aegean Odyssey enhanced the destinations visited? And what have you most enjoyed about Aegean Odyssey?

The start of each Aegean Odyssey journey feels like the first day of school. There are a lot of new people you don’t know, anticipation and uncertainty about what is to come. Then by the end, you’ve made a new set of friends and acquaintances and learned a great deal.

Can you give us a preview of the topics you’ll be discussing when on board?

I plan two lectures on India’s history over the past 100 years, the first on Mohandas Gandhi. He was a saintly leader of the country’s independence yet had some particularly human foibles as well, and both characteristics make him ever fascinating. A second lecture will focus on India’s development since independence. I’ll also introduce Indian classical music in one lecture and the world of Bollywood, the biggest movie-making industry in the world, in another.

Your recent book ‘What Stays in Vegas’ looks into the often murky, modern world of personal data collection. Does immersing yourself in the ancient world with Voyages to Antiquity offer a breath of fresh air from such modern-day troubles, or do you find yourself discovering ancient parallels to these 21st-century issues?

In a few days I am joining a Venice to France cruise that stops in Sicily. There is a site there called the ear of Dionysius, a tall, narrow cave where a 4th century BC Greek tyrant jailed dissidents. From a hole atop the cave, he was said to listen to what his prisoners were saying. So the collection of data about others goes way back in history.

Ear of Dionysius

Ear of Dionysius

Are there any other works in the pipeline (if you can tell us!) and what new subjects would you like to explore in greater depth given the chance?

I’m now writing a book on the business of personal medical data. Few know it, but commercial companies buy and sell our prescriptions, insurance records, tests and other records and assemble anonymised medical profiles about us. Such big data gathering may help advance medical science, but could also pose privacy risks, especially since these practices are not explained to the public. There is a fascinating story in how all this came to be.

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Adam Tanner is a fellow in the Department of Government at Harvard, a former bureau chief for Reuters in the Balkans, and a firm favourite amongst Voyages to Antiquity’s guest speakers. As a journalist he has interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter. He has appeared on the BBC and has written for Forbes and Worth Magazines. As a journalist who has spent much of his career as a foreign correspondent, he first reported from India and Southeast Asia in the mid-1980s.

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Join Adam on Passage to Sri Lanka & India – 22 days from Singapore to Delhi – departing February 20, 2016