Out of a personal need as well as a desire to drive healing and holistic living, Chingyi Pau quit her corporate job to explore the world of healing and plant medicine.
What’s your story?
As the founder of a functional mushrooms company, people might be surprised to learn that I got my start as an engineer – but I’ve always loved applying rigorous problem-solving to the real world! There’s a stereotype that people interested in plant-based healing are woo-woo hippies, but issues of nutrition and environmentalism actually require deeply methodical thinking. Two things sparked my interest in mushrooms: first, after spending the bulk of my career working in environmental sustainability (doing everything from CSR to factory QC to ethical sourcing for a start-up fashion brand), I had an epiphany: making ‘sustainable’ consumer goods isn’t a solution if we don’t need those goods, to begin with. The planet doesn’t need saving, it’s us humans that do. Second, a few years ago my mum was diagnosed with cancer. This catapulted me into researching alternative and natural remedies for improving health, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, which uses a lot of mushrooms. I discovered that there were no reasonably priced, high-quality mushroom extracts on the market, so Holy Shrooms was born out of a personal need as well as a desire to drive healing and holistic living on a collective level. I like to think that Holy Shrooms is the amalgamation of many different parts of my identity: as an engineer and a tree-hugging hippy, an entrepreneur and a do-gooder, and as an Asian person educated in and influenced by the West.
What excites you most about your industry?
Holistic living isn’t just a fad – it’s the future. The recent UN Climate Report said that we have 11-12 years to prevent irreversible damage to our planet from climate change. So learning to live and consume in a mindful manner is not just a question of getting an immune boost or becoming more healthy (although it’s absolutely about those things!), it’s also about survival. But this is exactly what excites me so much about the industry: it has the potential to save us. If you respect what plants have to offer us in the way of nutrition and healing, you are also learning to respect that the ocean isn’t a place where we should be dumping our plastic. Once we learn to use the planet’s resources intelligently and responsibly – as food and otherwise – we can fundamentally change the world and the survival of all its inhabitants.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Hong Kong, to an incredibly traditional family, I grew up between Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chicago. After college, I came back to Hong Kong, as it has always been home.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I prefer Hong Kong, but I’m biased. A lot of people now prefer Shanghai over Hong Kong. But I still treasure the freedom I have here. The ecosystem of business is mature in Hong Kong, from government policies, infrastructure, to talent acquisition. It’s comprehensive and supportive to start up businesses. And Singapore, Ho Chi Min and Bangkok are also on my radar.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“In order to find your true calling, you must find yourself first.”
Who inspires you?
This is a tough one, I love exploring new ideas and find inspiration from all walks of life. First of all, I believe every person I encounter in my life gives me inspiration, and I am grateful to all of them. And the most important inspiration to me is my Mom. Through her healing journey, I drew a lot of inspiration that catapulted me to start Holyshrooms.
Others who inspired me in a transformative way is Dr. Paul Stamets, who is one of the most important scientists, mycologists and thought leader of our time, working on cutting edge studies in terms of using Fungi to treat various diseases, to deal with plastic and nuclear wastes, to reforest and aide in agriculture. I first learned about Functional Mushrooms from Dr. Stamets, it has since changed my world.
Another important one is Dr. Gabor Maté, a clinical psychologist that dives deeply into the human psyche and explored the connections between sociological behaviors and those effects on individual behaviors. His way of systems thinking looks at mental health issues holistically from basic human needs, childhood traumas, societal dysfunction, to genetics and epigenetics. He offers solutions from a scientifically mind, body and spirit approach, which helped me tremendously in self-discovery and also helped me to shine light on my own journey and battle with depression.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I am obsessed with understanding holistic healing, and the wisdom of using plants for healing. Clinical studies on Psilocybin fascinates me, and from one of the papers I read recently, I learned the fundamental mechanism of action for using psilocybin to treat depression is that psilocybin affects hippocampal neurogenesis and extinguishes conditioned fear. That is the reason why some people describe a transformative experience because their brain chemistry is rewired in a way that they can now face those conditioned fear and trauma that were detrimental and debilitating. That being said, this is not to promote substance abuse, but focusing on the medicinal benefits, and clinical research on this matter.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I won’t change a thing. All my experiences in life and all the decisions I have made led me to this point.
How do you unwind?
I love music, listening to music always re-centers my soul. Meditation and walking in nature also gives me a necessary grounding.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love to trek in the mountains in Myanmar, Nepal and northern India. I also enjoy relaxing in Ubud and Penang,
Everyone in business should read this book:
“The Surrender Experience” by Michael A. Singer.
Shameless plug for your business:
Holyshrooms is Hong Kong’s first Functional Mushrooms and Adaptogenic herbs brand. Functional mushrooms are scientifically proven to boost a variety of body and brain functions. It’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Holyshooms is modernizing these ancient plant wisdom and bring high quality, accessible mushroom extracts to the community in support of a holistic lifestyle. Check out our shop on www.holyshrooms.co. If you are not sure what these mushrooms can do for you, we share a variety of resources on our website and in our social accounts. Be sure to keep a lookout for upcoming workshops as well.
How can people connect with you?
Follow Holyshrooms.co on Instagram and Facebook! I often share inspirations and my take on a holistic lifestyle in the @holyshrooms.co account. You can also email me at [email protected].
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.