April: Random Musings

It seems like every week brings us closer to a breaking point that we will never actually reach–an asymptote, if you will. The limit as x approaches infinity.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was only a debate argument until it was not. Even though it’s been almost two months since the headlines broke the internet, I’m still processing it. The clips of the Shenzhen and Shanghai quarantines seem like eerie dystopian filters. My relatives are locked in their homes and face difficulties securing food while some students at my university are hosting anti-mask protests.

So I’ve been trapped in my own thoughts. I’m trying to parse through them, trying to find some coherence and connection. A meta level takeaway that I can put into my pocket. But I haven’t been able to. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe what I’m experiencing. It’s like taking someone from a thousand years ago to the 21st century and asking them to describe what they see (analogy source).

Here are just some of my random musings, in no particular order:

On Food and Supply Chains

  • Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them by Dan Saladino highlights a paradox of the modern food system: as consumers, we seem to have more options than ever for our diets. At the same time, the overall diversity of the food system is rapidly diminishing–and it’s not just niche foods that are at risk. Even the standard Cavendish banana is in danger of being wiped out by a virus. Another paradox is that although modern consumption patterns are responsible for the problem, they could also be a solution. If consumers demand a food item, then farmers or producers are incentivized to keep the supply up.
  • I listened to this podcast episode on indigenous cuisines and it was so inspiring to hear how chef Mariah Gladstone uses traditional indigenous cooking as a way to fight back against the illnesses and poor health that colonialism has brought onto Native Americans.
  • The vulnerability of Shanghai’s food supply chain might partially be explained by cultural differences in food consumption. The Chinese, still scarred by memories of famine, demand non-perishable foods. Meanwhile, Americans might have simply stocked up on canned goods and frozen prepared meals. But I’m no expert, so take a look at this thread:

On Gaps and Creativity

In Susan Cain’s talk on the Tim Ferriss Show, she describes how creativity emerges from a state of longing:

But I think there’s something about that in between state where you’re not depressed, so you’re functional, but you’re acutely aware of the gap between the desired world and the one that we inhabit and the desire to fill that gap. That’s really the creative impulse. 

For me, a lot of my writing and introspection emerges from the desire to grasp the nature of my relationships with my family members and how that has shaped who I am today. I’m trying to draw the line between vague memories of my father walking me to elementary school every morning, and how today we can still walk together after dinner, the rain lightly pattering our umbrellas, in comfortable silence.

At other times, I don’t know what I’m trying to reach. I craft characters and universes that allow me to time travel and adopt new personas: an immigrant boy in San Francisco Chinatown during the gold rush, a renegade in a futuristic cyberpunk Seoul, an android who undergoes surgery to become “human.” Three years after my trip to Shenzhen, I scoured scholarly journals on the city’s electronics design ecosystem to put some sort of belated explanation to the shopping malls and street vendors I had stopped at.

Susan Cain and Tim Ferriss also discuss how language itself may never truly be able to capture how we feel. For one, language isn’t universal. There are so many beautiful words that lack English translations, and yet we know these words are real.

  • Saudade: “Portuguese and Galician term that is a common fixture in the literature and music of Brazil, Portugal, Cape Verde and beyond. The concept has many definitions, including a melancholy nostalgia for something that perhaps has not even happened. It often carries an assurance that this thing you feel nostalgic for will never happen again. My favorite definition of saudade is by Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo: ‘a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.'”
  • Mono no aware: “‘Mono’ means ‘thing’ or ‘things’; ‘aware’ means ‘feeling’ or sentiment, and the particle ‘no’ indicates something an object possesses. So mono no aware signifies the deep feeling or pathos of things, the powerful emotions that objects can evoke or instill in us. It is often associated with a poignant feeling of transience, a beautiful sadness in the passing of lives and objects, like the glorious colour of autumn leaves as they are about to fall.”
Cherry blossoms, or sakura, embodies the concept mono no aware–transient beauty.

Likewise, the translations of Tang dynasty poems never hit the spot. There’s something missing in the English language that can’t capture the poets’ eloquence. Restrained by stanza length, the characters are chosen deliberately so that only half as many are needed compared to conversational Chinese. I also think sad Mandarin songs are so much more poignant than English ones; perhaps due to the natural melodic lilt of the former language.

On Autonomy and Shaping Our Own Stories

Imagine if your whole life, you have been the protagonist. At least in your own mind. You are the primary actor in the play of your life. And you’ve always been the primary actor in the play of your life. And there are other actors, of course. All these people you’ve ever met. And for the first time, you’ve realized that it is a play, and you’re sitting in the audience, and you’re the playwright. You’re the person who has the ability to look at it from every perspective and you can change the lines of the primary actor.

Tim Ferriss

It seems like just yesterday when people were telling me that where I go to college would shape my future for good. Now that I’m here and realized all the diverse pathways and options I have in front of me, I’m once again at a crossroads: what will my post-grad plans be?

After talking to over a dozen people in the last two weeks, the same message comes up again and again: you get to set your own destiny. And what you choose now will not pigeonhole you. It’s all about how you tell your own story. So figure out what energizes you.

(Having had no real professional experience, I still find this difficult to believe. After all, it seems like my parents have been doing the same thing for decades now. Then again, I have so many privileges they never had…)

✨ Monthly Favorites

  • Books:
    • The Comfort Book by Matt Haig — a collection of notes, lists, and stories written over a span of several years that originally served as gentle reminders to Haig’s future self that things are not always as dark as they may seem. Incorporating a diverse array of sources from across the world, history, science, and his own experiences, Haig offers warmth and reassurance, reminding us to slow down and appreciate the beauty and unpredictability of existence.
    • Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need by Sasha Costanza-Chock — An exploration of how design might be led by marginalized communities, dismantle structural inequality, and advance collective liberation and ecological survival.
  • Movie: A Sun — A family of four fractures under the weight of unmet expectations, unexpected tragedy, and uncompromising pride.
  • Podcasts: I’ve been loving the Tim Ferriss show, and here are three of my favorites I’ve listened to in the last few weeks:
    • Guy Raz — Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs, The Story of ‘How I Built This,’ Overcoming Anxiety and Depression, and More
    • Dr. Peter Attia vs. Tim Ferriss
    • Susan Cain on Transforming Pain, Building Your Emotional Resilience, Exploring Sufi Wisdom, Tapping into Bittersweet Songs, and Seeking the Shards of Light
  • Piece I wrote: Where the Wild Miners Are: Illegal Mining in the Brazilian Amazon

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