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.

A BBC Journalist at the NLD Headquarters

When we are 95 years old and our grandchildren ask one day, “What did you do during the 2015 election weekend, grandpa / grandma?” what would you say?  What is the highlight of your election weekend? 

I did have an idea of throwing an election potluck party featuring dishes from every state and division of Myanmar, but most of my friends were too excited dancing in front of the NLD headquarters to remember to each much.

So, instead of a potluck dinner, I threw a quiet cooking session with my half Japanese friend as the head chef, making none other than “katsudon” for the win!

Yes, katsudon even though this has nothing to do with Myanmar.  But it makes so much sense to re-create this comfort food on the election eve night.  In Japan, students apparently have a habit of eating this dish before big exams because the word katsu supposedly sounds similar to “victory.”  That is exactly what Myanmar needs this election.  The Myanmar election needs every bit of luck it could get, and katsudon it is!  Power to the people and this choice of dish is somehow to play a part in my book.  It makes sense to me.  This deep-fried, Panko-crusted pork cutlet glazed with semi-cooked eggs over slowly simmered broth on some warm Shan rice.

Sigh.  Now I want it again.

When it comes to making choices and eating katsudon, naturally I think of passages from Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen.  Who doesn’t, right?

You may say it’s because I was starving, but remember, this is my profession.  This katsudon, encountered almost by accident, was made with unusual skill, I must say.  Good quality meat, excellent broth, the eggs and onions handled beautifully, the rice with just the right degree of firmness to hold up in the broth – it was flawless.  Then I remembered having heard Sensei mention this place: “It’s a pity we won’t have time for it,” she had said.  What luck!  And then I thought, ah, if only Yuichi were here.  I impulsively said to the counterman, “Can this be made to go?  Would you make me another one, please?”

About making choices:

We all believe we can choose our own path from among the many alternatives.  But perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we make the choice unconsciously.  I think I did – but now I knew it, because now I was able to put it into words.  But I don’t mean this in the fatalistic sense; we’re constantly making choices.  With the breaths we take every day, with the expressions in our eyes, with the daily actions we do over and over, we decide as though by instinct.  And so some of us will inevitably find ourselves rolling around in a puddle on some roof in a strange place with a takeout katsudon in the middle of winter, looking up at the night sky, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Waiting for the election results, fingers crossed.  Good luck, Myanmar!





#SolarPumped at Proximity Designs

Three years ago, a humanitarian relief group tested a solar pump up in the Dry Zone of Myanmar.  Back then, this particular solar pump cost US$10,000. There was no hope for scale.

Fast forward. 15.10.15


Today, Proximity Designs launches what is being claimed as the world’s first affordable solar pumps, with a flow rate of 100 liters per minute and a suction of 50 feet of ground water.  The product is beautifully designed, packaged and marketed, and one kit includes solar panels, a pump and portable, sun-tracking accessories.  

Lotus (Padonmar) is the name of this product, currently being priced at US$350.  This is comparable to US$250 Chinese diesel pumps available in Myanmar market.  Since I had to leave before Q&As, I’m not sure if this US$350 covers production or distribution costs.  Will probably read about this somewhere.

What a lovely evening.  Great job, Proximity team!


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!