Writer & Photographer
I am based in Kuala Lumpur, and travel occasionally.
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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 is nothing I find so rewarding as to roam outside my own experiences and talk to strangers, learn something interesting, and write about it.
I’m drawn to exploring the many complex ways in which globalisation shapes human lives, telling stories across travel, migration, urbanism, culture, and justice. What often animates me is how people assert their identity, and their struggle for visibility, redemption, or survival. In particular, I’m interested in the spectres of the past that haunt every place—the wars that never die—and how the politics of memory can reshape history.
I write across varied forms: news features, narrative nonfiction, reported and personal essays, explanatory journalism, and travel guides. But wherever possible, I like to take on longform stories that afford room for immersive 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 in a mix of mainstream and literary media, such as the Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, CNN, Roads and Kingdoms, Esquire Malaysia, and The Malaysian Insider.
In November last year, I applied for and was selected to participate in the Out of Eden Walk Slow Journalism Workshop in Kolkata, sponsored by the National Geographic Society and mentored by Paul Salopek, Prem Panicker, Don Belt, and Arati Kumar-Rao. My story about the city’s old Chinatown explores themes of cultural survival, contentious histories, and what makes a Chinatown in this modern age. It will be published in the Virginia Quarterly Review.
I also have work forthcoming in the Mekong Review, among others.
Professionally, I write only in English, which is my first language. I also speak some Spanish, Malay, and Mandarin Chinese.
I always wanted to be a writer, 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) and my Master of Laws (LLM) at the City Law School. I try to compensate for not lawyering up by occasionally writing stories concerned with legal 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.
The first, Journey to Independence, covers the years 1941-1957 in two parts and premiered on History Asia in August 2016. The second, Formation of Malaysia, covers the years 1957 to 1965, also in two parts, and premiered on History Asia in September 2017.
In August last year, The Undeclared War, on Indonesia’s “Confrontation” with Malaysia in the Sixties was broadcast on National Geographic Asia.
In October, Sarawak Reclaimed, which tells the story of Sarawak’s journey from a private kingdom to a modern state that is at once Bornean and Malaysian, in two parts, was also broadcast on 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.
When I’m not out reporting and collecting ideas or cooped up inside eyeballing my laptop, you'll find me exploring parts of the city still unfamiliar to me, swing dancing, hanging out in a cafe reading and scribbling in notebooks, being a willing hostage in a bookshop, escaping 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.
Editing & Writing
I've had about seven 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. Most recently, 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 the online editor.
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.
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 to Singapore, where half my relatives live.
Later, I went to university in London, and living in that global city 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 seven dollars a day if I had to, speak Spanish without butchering it, and salsa without inflicting bodily harm on the locals. 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. Sometimes, I live for some months in another country to better explore it: I was in Peru two years ago, and I've been back to England. 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, Great Expectations, Little Women… Did any child ever read these books and not grow up wanting to be out in the world?