Last updated February 2024

“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


However you found your way here, welcome!

I’m

, a writer-photographer and editor—usually in Kuala Lumpur, sometimes in Berlin, or wherever my curiosity takes me.

Published at least once monthly, this newsletter is named to convey the idea of a world in flux and how we meet it with our interior worlds, accumulated over time and carried with us wherever we go.

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 heart, what animates this newsletter is 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.”

I think a lot 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. You’ll find 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 always interested in the emotional terrain of migration: the passions that propel each of us through the world in our attempt 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? All without forgetting, at the same time, that some people 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?

With these letters, 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. You’ll receive dispatches from my desk too, where the work does (and doesn’t 😅) get done.

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.

If all this sounds interesting to you, sign up to receive my letters in your inbox.

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 fistbump 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 is invaluable ❤️

At the same time, I want to note that this newsletter isn’t a full-time endeavor. I try to write more than once a month and squeeze letters between other projects. 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.

I hope every letter makes its way to you as a little surprise, and that you find something in it that intrigues, tickles, and awes you.

Till we meet next between the lines,

p.s. Before you ask, someone I call W.C., a.k.a “Willing Companion”, occasionally appears in my letters—a reference to Martha Gellhorn’s U.C., “Unwilling Companion” (a.k.a Hemingway), in Travels with Myself and Another 😁

pp.ss. Two doggies sometimes make an appearance, too. Let’s call the little one Miss Marple because she always has her nose to the ground, sniffing; 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! 😆)


What exactly will I receive in my inbox?

At least one letter every month, possibly more.

Findings
Since May 2023, a digest (once or twice monthly) containing brief impressions from wherever I am + letters new and old + readings + joy, wherever it is found.

Wayward
Personal dispatches from my writing desk, my reading couch, or wherever in the world my curiosity takes me.

The Great Affair
Letters by, and conversations with, friends and familiar strangers about what moves them and how they’re finding their own place in the world.

Landmarkings
Notes and readings on how we “see” the world and tell its stories. (This has been phased out. I will still write the kinds of things I wrote about here, but I will now do so under the Wayward vertical.)

I’m hoping that what I put down in this newsletter will form the raw material of things that may make it into longer, more thought-out, work. For a long time, I was struggling with what to publish here and what to save for fuller expression, and I think this approach may help clear my head.

So, this newsletter is a writer’s notebook: always an ongoing conversation. I would like it to be a continuous discovery, each letter building on the one before to help me 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.

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, traveling 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 travelers! 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

How else can I show my support?

Ask a friend to subscribe to Movable Worlds.

Write a recommendation for Movable Worlds, which I’ll share publicly.

Write a guest letter. I pay USD$150.

Follow me on Instagram and Threads.

If you’re a publisher/editor, commission me to write, report, or edit. My work here.


Some housekeeping notes

You can ignore this section if you want to just stick to receiving 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.


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 can I get in touch?

Reply to my emails, or write movableworlds-AT-gmail.com. Or use this form.

I would love to hear about your experiences in relation to anything I write about, and I’m happy to receive story ideas and reading recommendations.

I would also appreciate a heads-up on factual errors or alternative perspectives. I try always to be accurate and inclusive, but I’m sure to have my blind spots.


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 by Emily Ding

From Kuala Lumpur, Berlin, and places in between: a newsletter 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 I live, and try to write. Published essays & reportage in some places you know. Based between KL and Berlin. / www.emilyding.me