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About

 
 
I like to follow Jan Morris’s line and think of myself not as a ‘travel writer,’ but rather a writer who travels. It’s a compulsion, like a tic, like a bad habit. Stories of human nature are linked with pathologies of places.
— Suzanne Joinson
 
 

 
 

Writer
Journalist
Photographer

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I write because it gets me out of the house and into the world. (Well, besides the actually writing part.) I like nothing better than to roam outside my own experience, talk to strangers, learn something interesting, and write about it. I see every story I write as something of a travel story, even when I don’t “travel” for it.

Broadly, I’m curious about how people live differently in different places, and the connections between where we are and who we are. I’ve told stories about migration, cities, subcultures, cultural survival, environmental and human-wildlife conflict, criminal justice, and the legacies of war—often animated by the politics of identity. On a more intimate level, I’m drawn to the human struggle for visibility, autonomy, redemption, and survival.

I report from the ground and write news, culture, and travel features, as well as longform essays and narrative nonfiction. But my favourite form is the immersive travelogue-reportage hybrid, a la William Finnegan. I like to take on stories that allow for deep research, intimate storytelling, and a longer view on events—where I can poke at the origins of things, evoke a vivid sense of place and, hopefully, offer a glimpse into people’s inner lives.

My work has been published, or is forthcoming, in a mix of news, travel, and literary media—such as Virginia Quarterly Review, CNN, Washington Post, Public Radio International, Slate, Roads and Kingdoms, Vice Asia, South China Morning Post, Mekong Review, New Naratif, Esquire Malaysia, and The Malaysian Insider.

Based in Kuala Lumpur and sometimes in London, I’m also looking for international reporting opportunities to better understand the interconnections of our world.

English is my first language. I also speak Malay, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese—though I may require an interpreter in more formal situations.

I’ve always been writing, in some form or another, but I read Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science. (I try to compensate for not lawyering up by writing the occasional criminal justice story.)

 
 
 
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Editing

I also provide freelance editing services, bringing my experience from Esquire Malaysia as Associate Editor and the practical know-how of a writer in wrestling with words.

I can go beyond sentence-level architecture, and help you organise complex ideas and structure your writing, whatever the project may be—though I specialise in feature and longform nonfiction.


Other projects

In September 2018, inspired by gatherings like The Moth, Spark, and tenx9, I co-founded Sweatheart—a live true storytelling night in Kuala Lumpur—with funnyman Kuah Jenhan and spoken word poet Tshiung Han See.


At play

When I’m not out reporting and collecting ideas, or cooped up inside eyeballing my laptop, I’m exploring parts of the city yet unfamiliar to me, reading and scribbling in cafes, working on some essays and short fiction, swing dancing, tucked into a corner at a bookshop, or at the movies.

When I’m looking for adventure, I go hiking, horseback riding, or take long, very long, bus/train/boat rides.

 
 
 

 
 

Previous Experience

 

Editing & Writing

I've had about eight years of professional experience writing news and features for various publications.

I started out interning at The Star, a Malaysian national daily, The Melbourne Weekly, and The Guardian. Early experiments also include a time at Ogilvy Malaysia as a copywriter and at Litro, a London-based literary magazine for emerging writers, as Online Editor.

Later, I spent a stint at The Malaysian Insider (a now-defunct news website; the team went on to found The Malaysian Insight) covering the 2013 Malaysian general elections. 

Just before I started freelancing full-time, I was the Associate Editor, Feature Writer, and Books Columnist at Esquire Malaysia.

I’ve also written travel blogs and guides for the likes of Tripadvisor and Expedia, and provided copywriting and translation services to other publications and organisations.

Research

From 2015-2018, I worked as a researcher and fact-checker on a series of documentaries covering Malaysia's political history, produced by Rack Focus Films in Kuala Lumpur and broadcast on History Asia and National Geographic Asia.

In 2016, I did research for a Malaysian feature film set during the Japanese invasion of Malaya in WWII, focusing on the Malayan Volunteer Air Force and the British and Japanese military forces.

In 2010-11, I helped in researching a background paper outlining the UK’s approach to anti-terror legislation for the Malaysian Bar Council Human Rights Committee, to provide a comparative analysis for the Malaysian government. 

That same year, I also wrote a thesis on the practice of sharia law in the UK as part of my Masters of Laws (LLM) at the City Law School.

 
 
 

 
 

Where I'm Coming From

 
 
 
 

I grew up in a little city called Ipoh, in the northern Malaysian state of Perak, before my dad moved us to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, when I was twelve. You could say that travel started early for me: I was weaned on routine interstate family road trips around Malaysia and across the causeway, via my grandparents’ home in the state of Johor, to Singapore, where half my relatives live.

Later, I went to university in London, and living there must have set in motion a desire to see more of the world, unmediated by friends and family. But it was when I went backpacking on my own in Central America after I graduated that I realised I could travel alone without feeling lonely, live on five dollars a day if I had to, speak Spanish without butchering it, and do the salsa without inflicting bodily harm. It’s hard to overstate how those months changed the idea of travel for me. It was no longer about escapism, if it ever was, but a closer communion with the world—which, for me, always goes hand-in-hand with writing.

Because of work commitments and sometimes inexplicable emotional ties that still bind, I’m usually based in Malaysia. Once, I lived for some months in Peru to better explore it and to write about it; and I revisit London sometimes. But Malaysia remains my emotional home, even when I resist it, even when I want to get away. What's that line from that movie, Gone Baby Gone? Something about how it's the things you don't choose that make you who you are? I have the traveller's eternal problem of here versus there, no matter where I am.

But before I ever travelled physical distances, I wandered, even further, between the pages of books: The Call of the Wild, The Last of The Mohicans, Moby Dick, The Jungle Book, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Great Expectations, Little Women, The Lord of the Flies, The Hound of the Baskervilles… Did any child ever read these books and not grow up wanting to be out in the world?