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Bio

 
 
Even when I don’t actually go anywhere for a particular story, the way I report is to immerse myself in something I usually know very little about, and what I experience is the journey toward a grasp of what I’ve seen.
— Susan Orlean
 
 

 
 
 

I’m based in Kuala Lumpur, and travel occasionally. Write emydeewrites@gmail.com or fill this in.

Writer/Journalist
Photographer
Researcher
Editor



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

I’m curious about the many complex ways in which globalisation shapes human lives in a rapidly changing world, telling stories that cross borders about culture, travel, migration, crisis, and justice. What often animates me is how people express and assert their identity, and their struggle for visibility, redemption, or survival. I’m particularly interested in the spectres of the past that haunt every place—the wars that never die and the politics of memory—and how their after-effects continue to reverberate today.

I think the stories that speak to me try to answer, in one way or another, a question the novelist Emily St. John Mandel asks (borrowing from David Foster Wallace): “how to transcend the everyday, in this world neither you nor I have made?”

I write across varied forms: news, culture, and travel features; narrative journalism; reported and personal essays; and Instagram singles or series. But wherever possible, I like to take on longform stories that afford room for deep research and reporting and a longer view on events, where I can poke at the origins of things, evoke a strong sense of place and, hopefully, offer a glimpse into people’s inner lives.

My work has been published online and in print, in a mix of general-interest and literary media—such as Virginia Quarterly Review, Mekong Review, Slate, Roads and Kingdoms, CNN Travel, Vice Asia, Esquire Malaysia, and The Malaysian Insider.

English is my first language. I also speak Spanish, Malay, and Mandarin Chinese—though I may require a translator in certain situations.

I always wanted to write, but I read law at university. I earned my Bachelor of Laws (LLB) at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and completed the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) at the City Law School. I try to compensate for not lawyering up by occasionally reporting stories about criminal justice.

 

For the past few years, I’ve been researching and fact-checking a series of documentaries on Malaysia's political history, produced by Rack Focus Films in Kuala Lumpur and broadcast on History Asia and National Geographic Asia.

I’m currently available for documentary research work.


I also offer editing services, bringing my experience from Esquire Malaysia as Associate Editor.

I go beyond sentence-level architecture, and can help you organise complex ideas and structure your writing, whatever the project may be—longform, magazine, book, website.


When I’m not out reporting and collecting ideas or cooped up inside eyeballing my laptop, I’m exploring parts of the city unfamiliar to me, swing dancing, scribbling in cafes, experimenting at writing short fiction, being a willing hostage in a bookshop, escaping into other worlds in the cinema, or cocooning myself in more books, movies, and music. I also enjoy hiking and horseback riding.

Other times, I work on personal and collaborative projects—like Sweatheart, a live true storytelling night in Kuala Lumpur, with funnyman Kuah Jenhan and spoken word poet Tshiung Han See.

 
 
 
 
 

Previous Experience

 

Editing & Writing

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

Aside from my freelance work, I’ve done internships at The Star, a Malaysian national daily, and The Guardian. Later, I spent a stint at The Malaysian Insider (a now-defunct online news outfit, replaced by The Malaysian Insight) covering the 2013 Malaysian general elections. Just before I started freelancing full-time in 2015, 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 translating services to other publications and companies.

Early experiments include a time at Ogilvy Malaysia as a copywriter and at Litro, a London-based literary magazine, as Online Editor.

Research

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 was born in a little town called Sitiawan and grew up in a little city called Ipoh, both in the Malaysian state of Perak, before my family moved to Kuala Lumpur when I turned thirteen. You could say that travel started early for me: I was weaned and conditioned on frequent interstate family road trips around Malaysia and across the causeway via 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 the rest of the world. But it was when I went backpacking on my own in Central America 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 salsa without inflicting bodily harm on anyone. 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.

But I'm not a perpetual traveller. Because of work commitments and often inexplicable ties that still bind, I’m usually based in Malaysia. Once, I lived for some months in Peru to better explore it and write about it. Still, Malaysia is my emotional home, even when I resist it. 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 Secret Garden, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Last of The Mohicans, The Call of the Wild, King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Moby Dick, Gulliver's Travels, Black Beauty, Great Expectations, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Little Women... Did any child ever read all these books and not grow up wanting to be out in the world?

 
 
 

 
 
I want to live other lives. I’ve never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.
— Anne Tyler