As the underdog of all entertainment mediums, podcasts have slowly been on the rise and are now firmly in the mainstream, despite wavering popularity. No longer simply dominated by techies and entrepreneur wannabes, the humble world of podcasts now offers an increasingly diverse range of high-quality audio shows. From a gripping audio-documentary to hilarious yet educational listens, here are eight of the finest audio offerings currently in the world of podcasts.
Category: Sci-fi, Anthropology
If you’re a fan of dystopian sci-fi or anthropology drama shows such as Black Mirror, then this one’s for you. Podcast studio Gimlet’s seven-episode audio drama, Sandra, gives shape and form to any anxiety you’ve ever had about artificial intelligence. The story centres around Helen, who leaves her small town and deadbeat husband behind, and lands a job at the company behind “the world’s most responsive and intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator” – Sandra. An undercurrent of anxiety slowly builds up as the story unravels, and the real and virtual worlds start to blur. Helen soon finds out Sandra isn’t really the artificial virtual intelligence everyone believes – instead, she becomes one of the many real humans behind Sandra, answering questions from people thinking they’re talking to an algorithm. You’ll never see Siri the same way after listening to this podcast.
2. Today, Explained
Category: News and Politics
If you ever feel like you’re being bombarded with information and can’t keep up with all the news, Today, Explained, hosted by Vox journalist Sean Rameswaram, will keep you informed and up-to-date in just twenty minutes per episode. In each episode, Rameswaram ruminates on news stories, interviews reporters or experts, then presents a brief news roundup that manages to feel funny, discerning, and personality-driven all at the same time — which isn’t easy in today’s global political climate. But episodes aren’t limited to just politics; the daily podcast delivers high-quality content about all the latest trending topics, covering things such as science, sports, religion, and more.
3. Hong Kong Heritage RTHK
No matter how long you’ve been in Hong Kong – one year, ten years, or your whole life, we could all stand to learn a few more things about our city. Every week, RTHK’s Annemarie Evans provides unique insights into Hong Kong’s social, cultural, architectural, and artistic heritage through interviews with fascinating guests. From former actor (now English banker), Martin Clarke’s reflections on Hong Kong during the handover, to a conversation about post-war public housing and water shortages with founding member and president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, Michael Wright, we learn something new about our city’s history each episode.
4. Terrible, Thanks For Asking
When someone asks us, “How are you?”, most of us have the same, standard answer – “Fine, thanks!”, even if we’re feeling absolutely crap that day. But not Nora McInerey. Her podcast begins with the death of her partner from brain cancer, then continues to have honest conversations about the beautiful and ugly brokenness of being human. She wants us to talk about our pain honestly and know that it’s okay to cry, or even laugh. In each of her episodes, McInerney sits with people in the midst of their suffering and offers empathy, compassion, and hope at the end of the tunnel. Blunt and heart-warming, her witty words are guaranteed to make you cry tears of joy and heartache on your commute. Maybe listen to this after work and have a pack of tissues ready in your bag.
Category: News and Politics
Have you ever seen that 17-season TV show MTV Cribs, where the MTV crew brings us on a tour of celebrity mansions? Well, Caliphate is like Cribs, but the ISIS edition. Caliphate, named after a word that loosely means a region over which a caliph (a successor to the Prophet Muhammad) holds spiritual and political power, follows New York Times journalist, Rukmini Callimachi, in her quest to understand ISIS. Instead of touring celebrity homes, Callimachi travels to the Iraqi capital and ISIS’s failed caliphate, Mosul, and interviews warlords and uncovers classified documents as she sheds light on the world’s most feared organisation and attempts to understand the motivation behind those who join it. In one of the more emotional episodes, a mother speaks to Callimachi in her family estate, and in between sobs, tells her that she didn’t raise her son to join a terrorist group like ISIS, but that’s what he did. Gripping, intricate, and unsettling, this New York Times audio documentary is a must-listen.
6. Expat Sandwich
Featuring a diverse selection of American expats sharing their best, craziest, and worst stories of living abroad, Expat Sandwich is targeted towards Americans interested in living abroad but offers something any expat or “Third Culture Kid” in Hong Kong can relate to. From stories about a jazz musician, turned software developer, turned potter spending time in jail while in Japan, to insights about Kyrgyzstan being the Switzerland of Asia, this podcast will make you laugh out loud, revealing insights about different cultures and the raw truth of what it’s like to be an expat – beyond the glitz and glamour. If you’re an American, you can even pitch your own story of living in Hong Kong, or elsewhere!
7. The Allusionist
Category: Self-Improvement, Language
English teachers know this better than anyone else – the English language is beautiful but messy, and often doesn’t make sense. In The Allusionist, Helen Zaltzman dives into why we use English the way we do and some of the oddities of the English language. While the subject matter may sound dry, Zaltzman channels her inner word nerd into a podcast that’s informative but filled with humour. From how post-WW1 Britain was soothed by Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, to getting therapy for your name, prepare to be enlightened and ready to impress at that party you’re going to tonight.
8. Keep It!
Category: Pop Culture, Politics
From Ye (the being formally known as Kanye West [sic]) being one of Trump’s biggest supporters, to the summer of white people losing their jobs in the #MeToo movement – this podcast has it all. Each week, culture critic and columnist, Ira Madison III, is joined by comedians, journalists, celebrities, activists, and politicians to dissect the latest happenings in pop culture and politics, and the way they intersect. While many podcasts offer their opinions on pop culture and politics, few manage to see how the two interact with each other, and remain both hilarious and politically scathing at the same time.
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