Southeast Asia - New Naratif

Our 2018 Picks!

2018 has been New Naratif‘s first full year of operations—and what a year it’s been! We’re immensely proud of all the work we’ve done with journalists, researchers and artists scattered around Southeast Asia, and the stories that we’ve been able to tell together. Here are some of our New Naratif staff picks for the year.

Aisyah Llewellyn, Deputy Editor for Bahasa Indonesia

My first one is Between Dreams and Anxiety. This was one of the first pieces I translated and edited and the original Indonesian version blew me away. Parts of it are written so vividly and poetically, yet it’s tackling such an ugly subject—child marriage in Sulawesi. Even now I often re-read the piece in BI. It shone light on such a contentious but widespread issue, and did it in such a beautiful way. I’m also really proud of the fact that NN is leading the way in commissioning pieces outside the Java-(Jakarta!)-centric bubble that we are used to seeing when it comes to Indonesian journalism.

Kodingareng Lompo - New Naratif
When the sea is calm, Kodingareng Lompo is about a 45-minute boat ride away from Makassar in South Sulawesi. It’s also an island with a high rate of child marriage. Credit: Eko Rusdianto

My second one is Being LGBT in Brunei. Again, I love that we aim to publish coverage from all over the region—even oft-ignored spots like Brunei. This piece was a huge surprise in that it tackled such a sensitive subject; I had assumed that writers in the country wouldn’t want to touch issues like LGBT rights. I’m glad they did and that we published this piece and gave a voice to the LGBT community in a part of SEA that many people know little about other than the usual clichés.

Charis Loke, Illustrations and Comics Editor

My first pick is Dying Younger in Kelantan and Terengganu. In a country where the public discourse on inequality is often overrun by stereotypes, it is refreshing to read a measured, well-researched piece on what would otherwise be a contentious topic in the hands of politicians or clickbait writers.

Next up is Indonesia’s Struggle with (Halal) Plastic. Waste has been a fascinating topic for me to explore as an illustrator; I’ve also run an illustration workshop centred around waste management at a local wet market in Penang, where students followed different types of waste from creation to landfill. This piece shifted how I viewed plastic recycling and made me realise just how much I didn’t know about a neighbouring country.

Deborah Augustin, Membership Engagement Editor

My favourite piece has been the Myanmar’s Social Media Romances. A happy LGBTQ story in SEA! I think it’s also fascinating how Facebook has changed dating culture in Myanmar. Obviously, as the piece acknowledges, Facebook has also fomented hate in Myanmar, but it was also nice to see that queer people could also use it to claim more space for themselves.

Honey & Z - New Naratif
Honey and Z pose together in traditional dress. Credit: Chiara Luxardo

Jared Abdul Rahman, Consulting Editor for Sabah

My first pick: Blue Carbon: An Underreported Climate Story by Warief Djajanto Basorie. While I’m under no illusions that stories regarding the environment can be quite dry to most, this one about mangroves is particularly sentimental to me. My first attempt at writing anything meaningful was about mangroves. Of course, as a 10-year-old, I had a lot to learn. But I knew the importance of mangroves, and I wanted others to know it too. Warief helps me achieve this, and much more, in a way that I could not.

Mangrove - New Naratif
A mangrove forest in Java, Indonesia. Credit: JRayboun /

Red Lines and (Self-)Censorship: Journalism in Southeast Asia by Kirsten Han. On the back of New Naratif‘s rejected application to register its company, OSEA Pte. Ltd., in Singapore, Kirsten bares her teeth. Highlighting the daily challenges faced by journalists in the region, this piece reminds me why I never wanted to move back. Despite the threats and intimidation, however, these journalists press on. It is pieces like this that inspire me towards a sense of duty in standing my ground.

Kirsten Han, Editor-in-Chief

When we first started thinking about doing podcasts, it seemed like an impossible amount of work that we would never pull off. But I’m really proud of our two podcast series, Southeast Asia Dispatches and Political Agenda. Our last episode of Southeast Asia Dispatches. for 2018 is my favourite: I love how it takes us around the region, from Timor-Leste to Indonesia, from Malaysia to Myanmar.

It’s so hard to choose just two stories; I feel like I’m being forced to play favourites! But I’d also like to draw people’s attention to Invisible Ink, an illustrated story by Janelle Retka ahead of the Cambodian elections this year. We’d wanted something about the elections that was different from what other publications would cover, and this illustrated approach allowed us to look at the election from a more personal angle than if we’d done it as prose. It’s something that we’re working on exploring further at New Naratif, and I’m really excited to see what we’ll have for 2019!

Reynold Sumayku, Consulting Editor for Jakarta

My first pick is Revisi Kitab Undang-Undang Hukum Pidana: Politik atau Agama?, which was originally published in English, although I read it in Bahasa Indonesia. The story describes so much about what is happening in Indonesia, even though the writer set out to focus on the revisions to the Criminal Code. Kate Walton traced the phenomenon of the rising acts of intolerance, discrimination, and even persecution towards minority groups in Indonesia, the moral panics that influence the process of law-making, and the posturing of the elites seeking support for local and national elections. These are things that worry many Indonesians these days and also things I had wanted to cover in a story—until I realised it’d already been covered here.

Urban Poor in Singapore - New Naratif
An old woman with a cart sits in front of a Buddhist temple Chinatown, Singapore. Credit: Mapa Melvin /

My second pick is Urban Poor in a Land of Crazy Rich Asians. I don’t know much about Singapore except that it holds a status as “one of Asia’s runaway success stories”—but then I learnt that the city-state also has homelessness behind its giant luxury skyscrapers. Inequality and poverty is almost everywhere in the world but I like the narrative the writer has presented. It’s not just informative but also enjoyable reading.

Thum Ping Tjin, Managing Director

My first pick is straightforward: How Malaysia’s Election is Being Rigged. I worked really, really hard on this article and its success was very gratifying to me. It’s also an article which no other Southeast Asian news outlet could have published—over 5,000 words, lots of detailed maps and charts and graphs. It firmly sits in the space between the academic and the popular that I envisioned for New Naratif.

My second pick is How Do You Interview God? When I think about what we want New Naratif’s approach to regional stories to be, this article points the way. Two journalists, in two different cities, each using their local knowledge to write an article collaboratively that sheds new light and perspectives on a subject that the mainstream media had already covered extensively. “Possibly the best article I’ve read on the topic,” said a fellow academic, “Great job!”

And those were our picks for the year! If you’d like to see work from our first year (from September 2017 to September 2018) in print, head over to our shop to pick up a copy of our first book, New Naratif: The First Year.

If you haven’t signed up to be a New Naratif member yet, join us! Your membership fee enables us to continue producing more Southeast Asian stories, and you’ll be part of an engaged community working towards a better Southeast Asia.

See you in 2019!

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