Katsudon for the Win

By now, you must have seen pictures of Myanmar’s Election Fever from yesterday on papers and social media pages.

I cannot stress how big yesterday’s election was for Myanmar.  People all over Myanmar and abroad turned up to cast votes for the first time in 25 years, and many of these people voted for the very first time in their lives.  Yangon was a wonderful sight.  After people cast their votes in the morning, massive crowds gathered in front of the NLD headquarters in the evening to watch the live counting shown on huge LED screens.

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Myanmar Style Election Campaigns: Winter Melons on the Roof

One night at Casa de May, my father laments the fact that as a political science major in college, I have yet to have heard about winter melons popping up on top of marketplaces across Yangon.  By that, he means winter melons randomly hanging out on top of roofs at major markets.  One of the hottest trending stories this week!

Winter melons are called “kyauk-phayone” in Burmese language, same alphabets as “Kyant-Phont” or the incumbent USDP party.  The original market sporting the now famous melon is Insein Market, known locally as “Insein Zay-Gyi,” which – you have guessed correctly! – is composed of the same letters as Aung San Suu Kyi.

The placement of the USDP winter melon right on top of the market plaque symbolic of the opposition party is considered or rumored to be one of the many strategies to win the votes in upcoming election in Myanmar this November.  It looks like the election strategists have seriously thought their plan through to win it this year!

Several people have pointed out, however, that these trending vegetables are being used as lightning rods at markets.  But that makes up for a less interesting story, and…does that even work?

Oh Yangon and all its quirks!

 

Protect Your Saturdays! Starting with Wa Ma Ma at MyLan

Content in this post happened exactly 21 days ago, which means the publication of this post is considered already ancient. That was also my last full Yangon weekend untainted with work responsibilities – a trend that has accelerated since the announcement of a deal back in October 2014, which is also reflected in the declining number of posts ever since.

This has to change.

No matter how crazy work gets, I am going to have to draw my line at sacred Saturdays, to practice the art of doing nothing. Idling. Staying in my PJs and not brushing my teeth till 5 o’clock in the evening. To remember still how to write, a skill that has grown rusty since joining the corporate world. Hang out at my hammock. Send obscene WhatsApp texts to faraway friends. You know.

Therefore, I can hardly think of a better way to consummate this new personal campaign – “Protect Saturdays!” – than this post on discovering a new Wa Restaurant in Yangon.

Yangon has changed dramatically in the two years I have been back. This was my first time tasting Wa cuisine, which was made possible only because I had been wandering around in MyLan Food Fair (What is that?! This was unheard of circa 2012!). The moment we saw the sign “Wa Ma Ma Restaurant,” we knew we had to try, and I’ll tell you why.

Wa people make a distinct cultural and ethnic group residing in the mountainous Northern part of Shan State, Myanmar, with their own autonomous territory. Rumor has it Wa people practice cannibalism. Back in my middle school days, a new student supposedly the son of some big shot in the Wa administration joined our class, which sparked mixtures of wonder, awe and terror in the minds of 12-year-old Yangonites. In Pascal Khoo Thwe’s memoir, “From the Land of Green Ghosts,” he wrote about how Wa interrogators will force information out of captured spies with threats of … eating them! Efficient.

The best value deal is the “Daung Lan” to share, priced at 10,000 MMK (US$10) for a group of four or five, depending on their eating capacities. Daung Lans are a rare thing now, seen only at the National Museum and now Wa Ma Ma Restaurant. It is said that back in our ancestors’ day in 1800s, families eat together from one gigantic single plate, undeterred by the probability of spreading germs even in the days when penicillin was unheard of. Can you even imagine?

Wa Ma Ma, however, has a modern twist, asking us to wear plastic gloves and giving us individual plates to eat out of the larger Daung Lan. An order of Daung Lan comes with jasmine rice, brown glutinous rice, grilled pork neck, chicken with basil, bamboo shoots, and cucumber salad. If you are scared of hot and spicy food, this is not for you.

I make zero commission from this post, but book a table now at 09 49 44 55 22!

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Daung Lan

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Eating with hands a must…

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Two ladies from “Wa Ma Ma”

Bhutan = Everything in this country is RED!

Bhutan will be remembered as a country with a lot of red. This color brings up various memories and associations depending on the context. It can mean: Communism, love, passion, anger, violence, blood, Valentine, cheap lounge chairs in a fast food restaurant, and commercialism (most of the successful brand logos bear red). In Bhutan, red is Buddhism, originating from the robe of monks and nuns. The Bhutanese national flag shows off red as a deference to the Buddhist heritage.

The roofs are red, because that signifies the Buddhist heritage.

The roofs are red, because that signifies the Buddhist heritage.

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The rice is red.

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Even the green beans look red!

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The corn looks red.

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Beer is red.

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The butter tea I received looked red!

I am not going to sit around here and pretend like Bhutan is a rarefied quaint little exotic country. It has its shit. Bhutan has its fair share of trouble with census. Domestic violence is widespread. When asked if corruption exists in Bhutan, a Bhutanese man answered very politically:

“Bhutan is a free country and corruption is like stars. They are there during the daytime but no one takes any notice of it. You can only see the stars in the dark during the night-time.”

Nicely put! That said, Paro definitely makes you feel as if you are in some romanticized fictional kingdom in one of the Jataka tales, with the beloved King and Queen. This city has only 55,000 inhabitants. The farm houses look intricately designed with floral details and yet strike you as minimalistic and elegant. The soil is rich, with the stream flowing through the city, allowing people to grow red rice, potatoes and buckwheat. Wild flowers are everywhere!

I feel alive here.

 

Phnom Penh Nights

It’s a very live-able city.

Food is cheap. And there is a variety to it. Modern conveniences are there. Rent is affordable. Job opportunities abound if you know where to look. Spas offer amazingly cheap rates. The best, fresh coconut costs merely 50 cents. People I have come across are interesting. And if you are a heterosexual young male, gender ratio among expats definitely favors you. The only down side is that there is a lack of green space, which is made up for by the river front view.

My trip to Phnom Penh was long due. I hadn’t been out of Yangon for already three months. If you count only trips you take for yourself – and not for business, social obligations or relationships – it was since March that I hadn’t taken a break for myself. This was a much needed reset. I had thought I was going out of my mind.

My very first meal in Cambodia was ironically a semi-Japanese place, a quick five minutes away from my hotel near the Russian Market, chosen by my very thoughtful college buddy John who drove all the way to the southern tip of the city from his office up north so that I wouldn’t need to get around on a tuk tuk.

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“Cozy” is one of those words you use when you try to be sanguine about some unfortunate situation, much like the usage of the term “interesting.” If you are like most guys, you would rather disappear into thin air than be described as “nice” or “sweet” by a girl they fancy.

But when I think of this place, “cozy” is the word I use in the most genuine and blissful way. I felt cozy. And comfortable. In the most relaxed and carefree way. Without the need to worry about running into anyone or be engaged in any obligatory small talk. Generally, people, noises and spot lights are what I crave, but not when I am in Phnom Penh. Anonymity is calming.

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Just when I thought the ambiance couldn’t get any better, I studied the menu while waiting for John and Wes, sipping my passion fruit mint shake, listening to their tracks and watching staff get busy with noodles in the open kitchen in their “Noodle me please…” shirts.

And look! They have only two items as the main fare. The beautiful thing about this menu is that there is nothing to be studied. You make so many decisions and choices every day, it’s sometimes best to not have that luxury. This could be an urban legend but Obama is said to have the same shirts so as not to waste any of his presidential brain space on fashion every morning. Decision fatigue, some people say.

Which is why this noodle place is extra charming. You show up hungry and they feed you. That’s the best kind of menu, and a wonderful break from the many new presumptuously low quality dining establishments in Yangon.

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Sesame Noodle Bar
Street 460, between 135 and 155
Toul Tom Poung
http://www.sesamenoodlebar.com/