Findings, vol. 2
Stories old and new & some of life's good things.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in your inbox. I’ve been posting letters online but I’ve not been sending them out, in case you were wondering why you haven't received anything recently. I’ve been thinking about experimenting with a different way of sending you emails: as digests made up of individually published letters, recently published work elsewhere, writing from my archive, other people’s work, and things that have nothing to do with work (though I’ll still dispatch some letters individually sometimes). Hopefully, you’ll find it all a delightfully mixed bag. Let me know what you think.
Also, I would really really appreciate it if you would hit the “❤️” button on any letter you enjoy. It’s just nice to know you’re reading!
Quick note: two of three letters on this list are behind a paywall, but usually, most of the letters on Movable Worlds are free to read. To recap: paywalled letters tend towards more personal life updates, behind-the-scenes notes on my work, exploratory essays I may want to continue thinking on, and curated reading lists to help the writers among you tell stories better.
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For the latest issue of Mekong Review, I wrote an essay about all the river journeys I’ve taken. An excerpt:
While ambient sounds provided a soundtrack for my thoughts—in one village, it was the muezzin; in another, a neighbour partaking in a passionate karaoke session that seemed to swell the air above the open water—what kept coming back to me was the memory of entering the village of Pitas Laut, narrowing into a winding tributary under the hooded shelter of mangrove trees.
We could do so only because the water was “turned on”, as the villagers describe it in Malay, and even then we had to swap our boat for a slimmer one before we weaved between flanks of bakau kurap, an especially ubiquitous species of mangrove found here. In the rustle of the breeze, they seemed almost human to me—their roots like a dancer’s arched feet, their slim, spear-like seeds hanging from their branches like a woman’s earrings, waiting to fall off and grow new roots in the soil. From their tangled shadows we bumped up gently against a bank alongside a smattering of other moored boats, where marshy ground quickly gave way to a grassy plateau squeezed between river and sea, where this fishing community had built their wooden stilt homes.
Read the rest here. (You’ll need a Mekong Review subscription.)
For Al Jazeera, I reported a story asking the question: Can palm oil plantations play a meaningful role in wildlife conservation (and maybe tourism)?
Because of the socioeconomic benefits palm oil cultivation offers—as well as the fact that more and more wildlife is roaming in plantations—it is increasingly seen as necessary that palm oil be produced more sustainably and that agribusinesses take a more active role in conservation.
“When I first started, I always promised myself not to work with the palm oil industry. But now we cannot avoid working with them—at least for the elephants,” said Nurzhafarina Othman, the founder of the nonprofit Seratu Atai, which works with smallholders to minimise human-elephant conflict.
These animals need large areas to roam and in the last 40 years, 60 percent of natural elephant habitat in Sabah has been lost, mostly as forest is converted for agriculture.
Between 2010 and 2021, at least 200 elephants died—some of which were found to have been poisoned on or near palm oil plantations. The state authorities estimate there are fewer than 1,500 pygmy elephants left in Sabah.
I wrote more about this project on my Mastodon thread.
The Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Journalism Fund, which funded this story as part of a larger project, also made a Twitter—well, X—thread on the story and posted some “tips” they asked me to share, cobbled together from a short chat we had 😅
A young Bolivian who was working as an undocumented person in the city told me how he made ends meet working for restaurants and catering companies. Sometimes he worked in the mornings and in the evenings, and in between he couldn’t afford to spend money to make the journey home and rest. If he was lucky, he would get the occasional gig to babysit an eight-year-old boy, and the boy’s parents would give him money to take him to the cinema. There, he would be able to take a nap.
Other days, he might go to Chinatown. He had eaten there often enough and had made the acquaintance of a young Chinese waitress at a restaurant. Once, tired, he had asked her, “Do you think I could take a nap here before I go to work?” He was half jesting.
But it was that window between lunch and dinner, and there weren’t many customers around. To his surprise, she nodded and pointed him downstairs to a corner obscured with stacks of chairs.
They were just two people from different places trying to get by in a city they had dreamed of, and Chinatown was where their paths crossed.
Dear readers, being able to take you with me everywhere I go means a great deal, and I would be forever grateful if you would sign up to receive more letters like this in your inbox. If you have the means, you can also make a paid subscription. Thank you!
While travelling through the Lower Kinabatangan-Segama Wetlands of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, for this story last year:
Wait, am I being served up for dinner? Do a double take, what do you see? A mosquito net! No need for pesky ties and wall hooks, just open and close it like an umbrella. Genius! All thanks to my gracious hosts in the village of Dagat 🙏
(I’m still sharing photos from the trip on Instagram. There is a huge trove to go wade through…)
Finished this novel recently and it gave me, as they say, all the feels
Parts of it really moved me, and the ending actually made me cry. (Yes, I am the kind of person who cries at books!)
Reading it, I really felt like I was growing up with the characters. The book is about the compulsion to create a world of your own in a deeply imperfect one, the tricky business of collaborating with best friends, the impossibility of controlling what the world thinks of you/your work, and about how to live and love with some measure of grace in the face of things we can’t change.
Definitely worth all the attention it’s been getting. More importantly, reading this inspires me to keep working on my ideas, but to be a nicer, less self-interested person while doing it… 😅
Started playing board games during the pandemic and was recently introduced to Wingspan by a friend who, not coincidentally, is also a birdwatching enthusiast. I don’t even know how to explain it—there are many rules—and it takes at least a couple of games to get into it properly. But I guess you’re supposed to build a bird sanctuary, though collecting as many birds as you can is just one way to score points—there are many other ways to score points. I guess it can feel like trying to keep all your balls in the air at the same time and I’m a terrible multitasker…? 😆
A line from Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow:
“And what is love, in the end?” Alabaster said. “Except the irrational desire to put evolutionary competitiveness aside in order to ease someone else’s journey through life?”