“This looks so wonderful! (In fact, breaking my vow not to sign up for new newsletters for this one!) Everything Emily writes is stellar.” —Abby Seiff



Hi! I’m , an independent writer-photographer and editor based in Kuala Lumpur and Berlin.

My stories—on humans & nature, migration & culture, memory politics & the legacies of conflict—have been published in news and literary media.

As a former columnist for Virginia Quarterly Review, I contributed a series of narrative nonfiction as braided Instagram posts. I have also written personal, travel, and critical essays for The Mekong Review.

My news features have been published in Al Jazeera, The Washington Post, The Guardian, CNN, Public Radio International, South China Morning Post, Foreign Policy, Slate, Roads & Kingdoms, Wired UK, Esquire Singapore, etc.

Presently, I am focusing more on personal projects, experimenting with different and hybrid forms (fiction included), trying to learn again as much as unlearn.

Born in Malaysia, I studied Law and History in England and lived there for several years, spent a handful of seasons in Latin America, and more recently began an acquaintance with Germany.

I still call Malaysia home but am ever curious about all the places I’ve never been, hoping to better understand the interconnections of our world.



Why “Movable Worlds”?

I hoped for it to convey the idea of a world in flux and how we meet it with the worlds we carry inside ourselves.

It also alludes to my lifelong love for stories—both the real and fictional worlds they bring to life that illuminate, and sometimes unsettle, our own.

At the heart of it: a curiosity about all the different worlds that are possible inside this one. As Suzanne Joinson wrote, “Stories of human nature are linked with pathologies of places.”


What will I read here?

We’ll journey together to places in the world, places in the past, places in books, places only in our minds—forever searching for more meaningful ways to live by obsessively documenting and telling stories.

As I mentioned, I’m currently turning my focus to personal projects. I vacillate between two impulses when writing: the desire to share information, and the desire to express myself and my ideas. At this moment, I’m leaning into the latter. I want to play, surprise myself, sharpen my pen, and I’m reading a lot more to learn from other writers. Upcoming letters may increasingly reflect this.

Through it all, I’m never not thinking about how we engage with place: exploring it, living in it, simply passing through it—and how we shape it and are shaped in return. While I tinker on longer-form work in private, you’ll receive journals and postcards, a mingle of written and visual impressions, from where I live and wherever I travel. Sometimes I’ll explore a place through the lens of a particular story: the Troubles in Belfast, say, or how the Chinese in Kolkata are contending with their dwindling population.

I’m also interested in the emotional terrain of migration: the passions that propel us through the world as we try to find our place in it; how our private lives are impacted by public events, continuously reshaped by memory and imagination. How do we steer our way through the possibilities and fault lines of overlapping citizenships: of our communities, our countries, the world? Without forgetting that some others can only ever long for elsewhere, while others have no choice but to leave, and leave again, in pursuit of an ever-elusive dream of home?

But my interests are varied; sometimes, I’ll just want to share with you something I’ve learned—which, these days, may have something to do with finding more personal ways to understand the climate crisis. My hope is that you’ll receive each letter as a mixed parcel of delights—with, as one reader puts it, “literary overtures”—drawing on the delicate interconnectedness of all things, heightening the texture of our ordinary days.

Take this newsletter as a writer’s notebook: a continuous discovery, each letter building on the one before as I piece together my picture of the world. In times of such rapid change, when old certainties are giving way, nothing can be the last word on anything.


So, subscribe?

You can do so for free, and as a free subscriber:

  • you’ll be able to read, like, and comment on all public letters,

  • but only read previews of paywalled letters.

If you would like, however, you can make a paid subscription. This means:

Whether you go free or paid, you’ll be supporting my writing and curiosity, sending me a fist bump of encouragement—what with the media meltdown and all the things that demand our attention these days—that you want my work to exist in the world, which means a lot to me.

I try to write at least once or twice a month between other writing. There may be lapses when life or an all-consuming deadline gets in the way, but I’ll make up for it by sending more letters in subsequent months or pausing paid subscriptions/extending them for free.


A note on recurring characters

For years, I mostly travelled on my own. These days, I usually travel with W.C., a concept artist, so he gets an occasional mention. W.C., “Willing Companion”, is a nod to Martha Gellhorn’s U.C., “Unwilling Companion” (a.k.a Hemingway), in Travels with Myself and Another 😁

W.C., who always has his satchel on him.

Two dogs sometimes make an appearance, too. Let’s call the little one Miss Marple because she always has her nose to the ground, sniffing at everything; and the big one Ducky, because she had disproportionately large, almost webbed-looking feet, as a puppy. (And yes, it’s ridiculous probably, but I am reluctant to name my dogs publicly, even if it wouldn’t implicate my passwords 😆)

Despite their size difference, they get along really well!

More of what readers are saying

“It feels personal, insightful, on the ground.” —P.C.

“A good thing to read while waiting in line, or anywhere really, is @emilydingwrites’ newsletter.” —Florentyna Leow

“How to describe Emily Ding’s newsletter? I forgot to have lunch yesterday so I’m going to go with food—it is my nasi campur of newsletters. There’s a bit of everything and depending on my mood this or that will be delicious. The newsletter is about having a sense of place and storytelling, but there’s something else to it.” —Stuart McDonald

“I love welcoming new newsletters into my inbox and this one looks like it’ll be a ripper!” Erin Cook

“I want to thank you for your contribution to some really interesting articles. I’ve been enjoying your newsletter; the subject matter is capacious and your writing style is succinct and unique. When I’m reading your webpages, it’s like going down another rabbit hole, but one filled with intrigue and relevance.” —Jan Setter

“Plugging old internet friend @emilydingwrites’ newsletter of curiosities and musings. I look forward to receiving it every time she publishes.” —Jasmin Wong

“For experiences of and insights on travel, for interesting things to read, and to feel your world expand again a little bit, check her newsletter out.” —Cristabel Tan

“Really enjoyed the newsletter, love the range of content on there, especially the article recommendations, and the quotes you picked out! It made me feel like I was reading an actual newsletter, and I was back in the early 00s, travelling around Asia, when Internet cafes were still a thing, and smartphones were not to be seen.” —Lu-Hai Liang

“We need to hear more of Asian solo female travellers! Keep those letters coming, Emily. Thank you for evoking once again the fernweh in me.” —Ying Reinhardt

“Yassssssssss pls follow, for amazing and introspective travel writing, one of my fav travel writers. I am immediately transported to another place reading her things.” —Yaner Lim

Dear readers, being able to take you with me, every step of the way, means a great deal. So please sign up if you would like to receive more letters like this in your inbox and to support my writing and curiosity. You can also make a paid subscription. Thank you! 🩵


How else can I show my support?

Follow me on Instagram.

Tell a friend to subscribe to Movable Worlds.

Write a recommendation, which I may share publicly.

Write a guest letter. I pay USD$150.

If you’re a publisher, commission me to write, photograph, or edit.


Some housekeeping notes

You can ignore this if you want to just stick to reading my letters in your inbox. That’s the main thing!

If, however, you’d like to get more use out of Substack, on its website or app, here are some tips:

  • You have to be signed into Substack to like or comment on a letter, unless you’re doing it directly from inside your email client.

  • If you don’t remember ever signing up properly for a Substack account but have previously subscribed to a Substack newsletter, then you already have an account. On the login page, just enter your email address and a log-in link will be sent to you. If you know your password, click “Sign in with password”.

  • You can adjust your profile settings to determine how you receive newsletter notifications for Movable Worlds (and other Substack newsletters you subscribe to)—whether by email only, or also on the Substack app. Since this is a newsletter and I would prefer to meet you directly in your inbox rather than through an app, I would not recommend turning on “smart notifications”. Pick one of the other two options.


How this newsletter has evolved

It first began in 2019 as an ad-hoc reporting diary, in which I shared unpublished fragments of human stories I found while on assignment, as well as haphazard lists of reading and culture recommendations. I posted only sporadically, with months-long gaps between letters.

But amid the pandemic, I felt I wanted to be more intentional and expansive with this newsletter. I’ve since refined its mission statement and consolidated the archives, in separate categories, to better reflect the tweak in focus. Since June 2021, I’ve been publishing at least once every month, and hope in time to build something of more consequence.

In November 2021, I changed the overarching name of this newsletter to Movable Worlds, to better encompass everything I might conceivably want to do with it, and gave the name “The Great Affair” over to the guest section.

Thank you for sticking with me!

Subscribe to Movable Worlds

From Kuala Lumpur, Berlin, and places in between: letters about how we seek and tell stories to make sense of a changing world & our place in it.

People

I write, and try to live. Or live, and try to write. | Essays & reportage in some places you know; currently experimenting, slackening old habits ✍️ | Trying to imagine a gentler world 🌱 | Based in KL & Berlin | www.emilyding.me