Hello, I’m Emily.

I’m a freelance writer & editor, documentary researcher and photographer interested in the space between travel and journalism, particularly in Asia and Latin America.

Interviewing Rohingya refugees at the temporary shelter in Bayeun, Aceh, Indonesia. July 11, 2015.


In a sort-of nutshell

So you get where I’m coming from: like many people, I’m a culturally scrambled byproduct of globalisation. I’m a third-generation Chinese born and raised in Malaysia, possibly now best known for the missing MH370 plane and the scandals dodging the current government, and which is still home despite all the good, the badthe ugly, and the ridiculous. I studied at a Chinese-language primary school and later switched to Malay as the main language of instruction at secondary level, but I grew up on English books, movies and music, since it’s the language my parents first taught me. I took this multilingualism for granted as a kid (most Malaysians will learn at least two languages at school), and it wasn’t until later, when I started travelling, that I really became interested in picking up new tongues. Later, I spent some years studying in Melbourne and London—mostly reading Law, though really, I’d wanted to be a roving writer since I laid eyes on Brooke Shields as Brenda Starr—my comic-book hero—at the tender age of eight on late-night TV while my cousin, who sometimes moonlighted as my babysitter, tried to get me to bed.
I’d been on holidays with family and friends, of course, but I guess this travel thing really started when, after graduating in 2007, I went backpacking for ten months through Central America. It was there in that restless region that I realised I could travel alone without feeling lonely, speak the local language without butchering it, and salsa without tripping over the locals. You could say I’ve not been quite the same since. More recently, in October 2014, I headed back out there again after quitting my desk job as Associate Editor at Esquire Malaysia—this time to South America; I guess it’s the part of the world I’ve been most interested in on a more substantial basis, given that I speak Spanish and have built up a certain familiarity with the culture, while still retaining the curiosity of an outsider. I am, however, planning to explore my own backyard in Asia more in the coming years. Going away for a while always makes me want to be home a little more.

How I travel

Simply poring over maps—the foreign sound of the names of places, all the unmarked patches of land in the world—excites me. I travel to see anything I’ve never seen before; wild, otherworldly landscapes; the hidden histories of places, interesting goings-on I read in the news; and communities that lead vastly different ways of life. Or, I travel to do anything I’ve never done before: like cage-diving with great white sharks in Australia, or spending a total of seventy hours over ten days in the Peruvian Amazon in a small canoe during the rainy season, when the jungle is flooded. I’m an experiential traveller—I like immersive journeys with a sense of the epic, during which anything can happen and you don’t know how things will end. I’m also a “slow” traveller, not in the sense of being idle necessarily (though I rather like long journeys—time permitting, I will almost always take the more unconventional transportation option), but in the sense of staying just long enough to understand a place simply because I find it interesting, even if it’s not a place I particularly like or would recommend someone visit as a holiday destination. And of course, there are times when I just don’t want to take travel so seriously at all, when I’ll eschew research and plans for spontaneity and don’t need an explanation for every curiosity I see, when I’m just out to have a good time.
Budget-wise, I usually travel cheaply, but allow myself the occasional treat. I am more willing to spend my money on experiences, such as those I need a guide or custom transportation for, than accommodation or food. On this blog, my suggestions on the latter will usually veer towards reasonably good food at reasonable prices, with the occasional fine-dining meal. As for accommodation, I usually go for clean but no-frills guesthouses, especially if they have knowledgeable or interesting hosts—such as historians or anthropologists. When roughing out is called for, such as in the Amazon jungle, my threshold is usually pretty high, but I’ll make a note on basic hygiene, safety, or yes, bug concerns.

What is Mock-heroic.net?

At its heart, this is a photo journal—mostly, but not exclusively, about travel and culture and being curious about the world.

This blog starts from July 2014, having just quit my desk job as a magazine editor and journalist to turn to location-independent freelance writing. However, I will be posting about previous travels too with the #throwback hashtag as I go along.

I think this blog will grow to become a freeform mix of things, in an attempt to recapture what the Internet was like back in 1997 (in spirit, I mean; not the aesthetics of blinking GIFs—remember Geocities? Xanga?), when I wrote my very first blog, and when it wasn’t all about branding. And because in my professional writing I’ve always got to be mindful of a target audience and I get bogged down by what a piece should be, I’m going to throw all of that out the window here. Depending on what an experience lends itself to, lists and recommendations will alternate with more personal posts, and there’ll be fragments and perhaps what may appear to be the plodding note-taking of minute details. Think of this as a scrapbook of sorts, though my slight OCD tendencies will, I’m sure, attempt to impose some kind of order.

What’s with the name?

mock-heroic: imitating the style of heroic literature in order to satirise an unheroic subject.

“Mock-heroic.net” is a relic of self-deprecation from my first mochila-toting year back in 2007-08. However, the archives of my old blog have been swallowed up by the vast wasteland of the Internet—because I’m appalling at backing up and embarrassed by anything I wrote beyond yesterday—so this is a fresh start. But settling on a domain name—too juvenile? Too serious?—is such a fraught enterprise that I’ve decided to stick with this.

The sentiment originally behind it stands. When I think of travel, I think of the swashbuckling explorers of a bygone era, I think of foreign correspondents and photographers, I think of the many migrants who undertake Herculean journeys hoping for a better world; and then I think about what travel’s had to become today and our attempts at bravado in search of adventure—how the reality sometimes falls short of the expectation—and “mock-heroic” seemed apt. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of awe all the same, but compared to a previous age, there are fewer truly unknown unknowns. Thinking unselfishly, that’s probably a good thing.

On photography

In terms of photographic subjects, I am particularly drawn to the character of places, vignettes of life, and the moments between the “real” moments.

I shoot with anything I can get my hands on and whatever I’m comfortable with in a given situation, a list which has included phone cameras, disposable cameras, consumer cameras, lomo cameras, my analog Nikon FM2 and my digital Canon 6D—so the resolution of the photographs published here varies.

My general guiding principle for editing photos: that they look as close to “reality” as possible. I only edit for exposure and colour tone, or to achieve a more film-like effect, and sometimes use filter factories like Radlab and VSCO to this end.

Almost all photographs featured on this blog belong to me—they are either taken by me or are of me, so please do not download them or use without permission. When I post someone else’s photos, I will credit them accordingly.

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