How I Tell Stories
I’m based in Kuala Lumpur, and travel occasionally. I’ll go wherever stories lead.
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I tell true human stories that span travel, culture, and politics. I’m deeply curious about the world, and there's nothing I find so rewarding than to roam outside the realms of my own life and talk to strangers, learn something interesting, and tell all about it.
My favourite stories are those that feature immersive reporting and exude a strong sense of place and history. I’m interested in stories about migration, social justice, subcultures, and collisions between art and politics; and I’m particularly drawn to stories that explore the connections between conflict, memory and identity.
I am comfortable writing across varied forms—from news features to narrative nonfiction, reported and personal essays, and travel features, guides, and lists. So far, my work has been published at Roads and Kingdoms, the Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, Esquire Malaysia, Esquire Singapore, CNN, The Guardian, Vice Indonesia, and The Malaysian Insider, among others.
In November, 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 two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Salopek, Don Belt, Prem Panicker, 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.
Professionally, I write only in English, which is my first language. I also speak some Spanish, Malay, and Mandarin Chinese.
For the past few years I have also 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 and premiered on History Asia in August 2016. The second, Formation of Malaysia, covers the years 1957 to 1965 and premiered on History Asia in September 2017.
In August this year, The Undeclared War, on Indonesia’s “Confrontation” with Malaysia in the Sixties was broadcast on National Geographic Asia. Two more, on Sarawak's journey from private kingdom to modern state, was broadcast in October.
All that aside, I’m also available for editing work, bringing former experience from Esquire Malaysia as Associate Editor.
When I have time, I work on personal and collaborative projects like Sweatheart. I’m also working on some short fiction.
I am one of those people who, despite reading law at university, always wanted to be a writer. I did my Bachelor of Laws (LLB) at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and my Bar Vocational Course (BVC) and Master of Laws (LLM) at the City Law School.
Editing & Writing Experience
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 (Malaysia’s highest-circulating English daily) and The Guardian. Later, I spent a stint at The Malaysian Insider (a now-defunct leading online news outfit, replaced by The Malaysian Insight) covering the 2013 Malaysian general elections. Most recently, I was the Associate Editor, Features Writer and Books Columnist at Esquire Malaysia, for which I’ve also written news, cultural and personality features.
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 the UK. 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 venture out of their own lives, inside other worlds?