Year of Discovery (Week 35: Themes in Crying in H Mart + Web3 and the Future of Work)
This week, I spent a lovely last weekend in Uganda, traversing the pristine tea fields of the Western region and staying in a quaint cabin sitting at the top of a hill dipping into a volcanic crater lake. Heavy gusts in the evening rattled the standalone cabin and I imagined us flying away like the house in Pixar’s Up. Thankfully, I awakened in the morning to residue puddles of the evening’s rainfall on our deck and light ripples glistening off of the lake.
Yesterday, I traveled to the UK for what feels like flying into the eye of the storm (or the Omicron storm at least). After a long series of ‘What Ifs’, I ultimately decided to make the trip to be able to see a close friend and to take part in my first Vipassana, the 10-day silent meditation I wrote about last week. A lifelong meditator, I’m keen to explore what crevices of my mind and my heart I am able to explore through complete silence for 10 days. All to say, I won’t be writing a reflection piece next week and will pick this back up the following one.
This week, I’m sharing a reflection on Crying in H Mart and Web3.
Themes in Crying in H Mart
Incredibly gripping books often mirror our identities and shed light on our vulnerabilities and experiences in profound ways. Crying in H Mart is one such book.
Last week, I eagerly turned page after page. The novel’s numerous themes resonated deeply with me: food as an unspoken love language across generations, an Asian American’s identity crises through the lack of positive representation in popular culture, a deep desire to carve one’s own pathway, and the prolonged death of a parent.
In the first chapter, author Michelle Zauner recounts her heartbreak and tears when visiting an H Mart, a Korean grocery store chain, following her mother’s passing. In H Mart, she finds traces of memories aisle after aisle in the various food ingredients and in the way aunties fussed over the young ones in the food court. The familiarity and wonder that Zauner captured as she described H Mart felt authentic to my own experience. Growing up, H Mart was a sensory experience for me, as my mother and I reunited with different fruits, vegetables, and spices that couldn’t be found in our local Kroger’s, and rewarded ourselves with a hearty Soondubu (spicy soft tofu and seafood soup) from the food court. The shared experience and excitement on those shopping trips created peace amidst the heartbreak that otherwise existed within our relationship and within the family. At H Mart, my mother and I proudly picked up ingredients to make dishes foreign to us, and we would pat ourselves on the back saying, ‘Isn’t it better for us to learn how to make it ourselves than go out to have this at a restaurant?’ While I knew the main reason for cooking at home was financial, we both blissfully and quietly agreed on a story we would tell ourselves to feel in control and on top of the world.
Along her storyline, Zauner also describes not finding many Asian Americans (except for one) who followed a similar career path as herself, which she experienced as daunting and exhilerating. Her ambition existed mainly in a field of a naiive optimism. When I launched Moringa, I also operated through a naiive optimism, not as sensitive to identity politics as I am today. For me, if something should clearly exist in the world, was a net positive (after calculating spillover effects) and no one was doing anything about it, I was happy to take the risk and jump in. Over time, I found myself feeling daunted by the challenges and curious about other people who were in roles and with identities like mine. I wondered how they navigated the external perceptions of who they were and what they were doing combined with the internal judgements and self-doubt. I wondered how they experienced looking like so few of their counterparts and the loneliness that came with not finding people with similar childhoods and cultural backgrounds that shaped their approach in leading self and others. Reading about Michelle’s journey reaffirmed the difficulty and energy that comes with creating a new pathway.
Michelle’s book was heartwrenching and I highly recommend it to anyone — especially women of color or children of immigrants as it will hit home. Reading a novel by an author who shares similar aspects to my identity blended with an incredibly gripping and raw writing style opened my heart in a way that’s difficult to access otherwise. I’d love to hear people’s reflections as they read the novel too, and please share recommendations on other novels!
Web3 and the Future of Work
It’s hard to think about the future of work without considering the implications that Web3 will have on the ways we can create value in the future. As I listened to the A16Z podcast “‘Play-to-Earn’ Gaming and How Work is Evolving in Web3" this week, I was struck by how gaming environments like Axie Infinity are focused on ‘building a nation, not just a gaming community’. Building a nation means giving people access to new opportunities, social networks and fun. It means incentives community-wide are aligned by shared economic ownership, tribes and a clear culture / set of values.
In accessing new opportunities through gaming environments, people worldwide can abscribe to new virtual nations and sets of rules. They can learn how to play, earn money and invest (like becoming virtual land owners). In Axie, the new jobs include collectors, scholarship managers, scholars (who farm tokens), gladiators (people who competitively win tournaments), politicians (people who drive governance for the community, make decisions on requests for funding to build out a part of the ecosystem, etc) and farm hands (people who accumulate or harvest materials). Many of the roles and jobs we find in our offline world are shifting online with more choice and without borders.
Axie has made more than $3 billion in total sales since launching in March 2018, with much of its early growth in the Philippines.
While I still wrap my head around the Metaverse, it’s clear that more of our lives over time will be online. NFTs, their increasing prominence and the value people place on them are indicators of how we are beginning to shift the way we perceive value from a tangible object to a digital product.
Is this a shift towards truly democratizing opportunity and building a world with more equity and equality?
Outside of gaming and in the crypto world, that seems to be the case. This July, NORC — a research group at the University of Chicago — found that 13% of Americans bought or traded cryptocurrency in the 12 months before that. By comparison, 24% of Americans invested in stocks over the same time period. Among crypto traders, 41% are women, 44% are investors of color, and 35% have incomes below $60,000 a year.
Jeff Zirlin, the cofounder of Sky Mavis (which operates Axie Infinity) says that the metaverse and gaming will be key for the next wave of millions of users onto crypto, with games providing a friendlier onboarding and community. After people onboard onto the games and begin playing to earn, they can interact with DeFi (decentralized finance) products and the broader crypto ecosystem.
So with crypto becoming the norm over time and full online worlds and nations being created, how are you thinking about how to engage digitally? What role(s) do you see yourself playing as the world becomes digital — is it similar to the one you play offline or do you plan on reinventing yourself?
What I Listened to This Week: Discovery, Translation, and the State of Bio Today