cheap eats through myanmar

Backpacking through Myanmar, I made it a mission to find as many delicious, hopefully non-fried meals under $2 as I could. While this is won’t be any extensive catalog, here are a few highlights in different places that’ll fill the belly without breaking the bank.

Yangon

Feel Restaurant

Great food, great variety, great prices. A collection of smaller stations that you pay at individually for a whole slew of options. It’s an easy walk from the Shwedagon Pagoda for that after-sunset dinner you’ve been waiting two hours for.

999 Shan Noodle Shop

Clean, perfectly fine, and in the center of downtown. The staff can be a bit dismissive because of the place’s popularity, but other than that it’s a pretty good bowl of noodles and salad at a decent price.

Bagan

Bibo Restaurant

Arguably the best meal I’ve had in Myanmar. The food was fresh, delicious, and the prices were fair. The service left a bit to be desired but it was well worth it.

Traditions

Right by the New Bagan Hotel (which I recommend if you can grab a dorm room for $10). The green curry was delicious, though the beef itself was questionable as to be expected. Other salads and soups were solid all around.

Black Rose

For how many tourists frequent the spot, the food was good and the prices were very fair, especially given there aren’t too many other options for budget eaters in New Bagan.

Mandalay

Mingalabar Restaurant

Would give this place its own article if I could. Between two of us we split a veggie curry, noodles, fried tofu, and a tomato salad and paid 8,000 kyat total. Each dish was delicious and they claim it’s all cooked in healthy oil (which is a first). The room was air conditioned and the service was top notch. On a backpacker budget you can eat like a king without feeling bad, so this place is definitely fighting for that number one spot. 

Kalaw

Street Mohinga

Mohinga (the traditional Myanmar fish breakfast soup concoction) is everywhere. The best bowl I had in the country, though, was served to me by the master of the trade herself. Surrounded by every ingredient, our mohingerator (not a real phrase), looked like the abuela I never had and fed me until I was stuffed for a whopping 400 kyat. With no name to give you, the best I can offer is a map suggestion below. You’ll know her if you see her though.

Sprouting Seeds Cafe and Bakery

This one is a bit of a bonus. I’m normally one to avoid western foods (and prices) while traveling, but after learning that the cafe employs locals from a nearby orphanage and takes part in a great amount of community service, I was happy to pay more than I ever would for a baked good. And it was delicious.

Nyaungshwe (Inle Lake)

Innlay Hut Indian Food

One of the better Indian restaurants I had in Myanmar, with prices to match. As an added bonus, the manager had bumped Eminem the entire time and plans to open his own spot soon, the Slim Shady Family Restaurant, so keep an eye out.

Sin Yaw Restaurant

I figured a place this close to the main road and covered in colorful lights would be touristy and lower quality, but it was the opposite. The Shan noodles were great, especially at 1800 kyat, and the service was excellent.

Bamboo Hut
While it may run you a few hundred kyat more, if you make it down here on a bike ride after sampling the awful wines at the gorgeous winery, it’ll be worth it. The restaurant itself is paradisaical and the vegetable curry was delicious. 

Hsipaw

Mr. Shake

Solid shakes by any standard, though they were missing a few ingredients on the list (papaya, avocado, and another). Fried dumplings were a surprisingly great pairing, though there aren’t many meals that fried dumplings wouldn’t enhance. 

disneyland kinda

I’m a sucker for themes. Parties, Vegas casinos, miserable first dates, you name it. Maybe it’s the kid in me, maybe I was just destined to plan children’s birthday parties, who knows. After three weeks in Myanmar, showing up in Bangkok with no plan or clue felt like getting dropped off in Times Square for the first time from Des Moines or Fargo or one of any Springfields stateside. 

Enter Terminal 21 Mall. Nine stories, six hundred and sixty-five shops, and the greatest place on earth in Bangkok this week. It’s a f**king work of art. Each floor is designed after a city, and their commitment to the cause never wavers – think Disneyland meets capitalism (err more capitalism). With no intention of anything other than finding lunch, I wasted spent enjoyed an entire afternoon of pure, mindless, visual bliss. I bought a cup of coffee in London, Michelin-star pork buns in Istanbul (don’t ask me why), and dried mango in Rome.

Three hours later the adventure wouldn’t be complete without a $3 showing of Guardians, the Russian version of the Avengers that features a bear with a turret strapped to his back. 

Yes it’s just a mall. No I don’t care. One day when I win the Super Bowl and they ask me where I’m going, I’ll tell them “I’m going to Disneykok!”

…will work on that last part.

hawks and robbers

I sliced open the bottom of my foot on a loose stone yesterday morning while climbing down a temple after sunrise. Hobbling down the steps with a bloody foot, I made it to the bottom and limped toward a nearby bench to try and wrap the cut. Naturally within seconds of reaching the ground I was mobbed by a horde of small children trying to sell me their wares. It went a little something like this:

Child 1 (inches from my face): Postcard? Postcard? Nice postcard?

Me: No thank you.

Child 2 (also inches from my face): Nice gift from my shop look nice gift look very nice!

Me: No, thank you.

Child 3 (getting in on the action after seeing Child 1 and 2): Where you from? Postcard? Postcard?

Me: No, no postcards. No postcards.

Children 1-5 (in unison): Blahsbsjsjsjd postcard shsjakdhbsn postcard agskajdhdjs nice postcard!

Me: NO I DON’T WANT A FUCKING POSTCARD I’M TRYING TO STOP THE RIVER OF BLOOD POURING OUT OF MY FOOT.

Child 1: Okay but very nice postcard you want?

Honest to god I could’ve been on fire with ants crawling all over my eyes and they still would’ve tried to hawk me whatever it is they were selling. 

ants-v3

In most cases I’d say you can’t knock the hustle, but when you’re up against an army of children like this the only solution is a priest, an exorcism, and the power of Christ compelling. 

It was a fervor unlike any other I’ve seen in Myanmar, due I’m sure to the fact that Bagan is the one true tourist hub of the country. The ethical question was raised whether buying from these kids is better than not; on one hand you’re encouraging families to continue utilizing their small children as hustlers, on the other hand they’re already this deep and need something to eat at the end of the day.

But let’s shift back to postcards for a second. Thanks to the fact that anything relevant I could possibly have to say can be transmitted across the world instantaneously, I’ve taken it upon myself to revamp the postcard industry by introducing my very own “Plastered Pen Pal Program.”

…in other words I’m going to write intoxicated postcards. Message me your address and I’ll be sure to send you one at some point in the near future.

my $2 trip to the crocodile farm

Two tea shops deep into a true bender and unable to find a single food hawker selling cornlimechutneybean, I decided to play one of my favorite games, “Get on the First Bus and See Where it Takes You” (kinda like Settlers meets Saw, a game I’m currently 2/2 in thus far mind you) in the hopes that it would land me somewhere near a crocodile farm. Never having seen a crocodile tree or plant, I was excited to learn how they’re grown. 

About two hours and three miles of walking in the blistering sun later, I spent a grand total of five minutes throwing fish at the demon creatures before abandoning the mosquito cesspool. I bummed a ride to the main road with a monk, took the fourth bus I saw (it was red instead of purple and by that logic I chose it), and finally found what I was really after. All in all, lessons learned were the following: 

  1. Don’t try and pet stray puppies; rabies comes in all shapes and sizes.
  2. Air-conditioned is apparently a subjective term. 
  3. Crocodiles are too fat to run or jump (according to the guy brave/crazy enough to get into their pit and feed them).
  4. Traffic lights are arbitrary and I’ve never been more thankful to NYC for teaching me how to jaywalk.

fullsizerender-1

Cost Breakdown:

  • Bus: $0.15
  • Entry Fee: $0.75
  • Water: $0.25
  • Monk Taxi: $0.20 (left in his car)
  • “Air Conditioned Bus”: $0.25
  • Corn: $0.40

seven sentences

In Mrs. Spivak’s eighth-grade English class, our final project was to write a letter to our high school graduate selves. She’s not even going to read it? Easy enough. Scribble something down on paper, seal it in an envelope, and go back to playing Pokémon or whatever else it was 14-year-olds in 2005 (and adults in 2016) did. I opened the letter ahead of starting college and was left unfulfilled – quick sentences about friends, slapdash remarks about that day’s events, a status check on my virginity, and a rousing finale of “You’d better not be doing drugs.” It’s a peculiar position being disappointed in yourself in the third-person: Really you lazy f**k, you couldn’t write anything more? I decided to pen myself one with a bit more punch, highlighted by a more worried status check on my virginity and “You’d better not be doing too many drugs.” Rinse and repeat and here I am three iterations deeper into my soul.

It’s a weird feeling opening up to yourself. Putting your deepest insecurities down on paper and addressing it to someone is simultaneously frightening and invigorating; your mind is so trained to equate letter writing with social communication that it has trouble processing why in the world you’d write down what you’re writing down. Write the things you hate, write the things you love, and be prepared to look back a few years later mortified. The irony really kicks when you’re too embarrassed to write your own thoughts to yourself.

But that’s a long-term investment. In the interim, let’s start with seven sentences.

I’ll be the first to admit I have an awful memory. Short-term, extended, what we spoke about last Friday, the whole thing. Great memories disappear for no reason, and no matter how many times I tell myself I’ll write it all down, I don’t. The answer? Set lower standards/expectations/goals. But just this once.

Seven sentences per week, that’s all I’m proposing. Maybe they’re all written in one night, maybe they’re spread throughout the week. Maybe they’re all about the girl you fell in love with on the subway, maybe they’re all about the parfait you spilled on the random person next to you while falling in love with the girl on the subway (true story). Seven sentences so you can pick a week of your life that existed and mattered and look back on it. Seven sentences so your children’s children can connect with you in a way you might not have been able to with your own grandparents. So generations after you can revel in your heroic escapades dealing with dramatic friends/coworkers/farm animals and ending with pizza in the LES.

It’ll make writing your memoirs one day easier. Or just help the jury put you away quicker. Worth the gamble I’d say.

no news is good news

…is really as cynical of a phrase as you could possibly come up with. Think about it. When you break it down, what you’re actually saying is there is no news that is good news.

Which sounds a lot like 2016 as a whole.

One day we’ll look back at this year in history and remember the attacks in Paris, the coup in Turkey, the soon-to-happen elections (lord only knows), Syria going completely off the rails, Harambe, Brexit, Zika, Harry Styles cutting his hair, Harambe, and Pokemon Go. Significantly too much violence for a world without gladiator fights and dinosaurs.

The positives? Leicester City and the dog filter on Snapchat.

The fact is no news would be good news. Yes, of course plenty of other marvelous things happened: People fell in love, cookies were baked, babies were made, cookies were eaten. But still. We’ll chalk this one up as a loss and make 2017 better. Let’s just try not to burn it ALL down before we get there. I need that midnight kiss, this is my year.

 

subway love – a graduate dissertation

8:36 AM. You’re crammed against the door of the packed F train, red solo cup of coffee in your hand. It doesn’t taste terrible, but at this point you’re not even sure if the caffeine is just a placebo to get you through the morning. The man next to you is pouring sweat through his work clothes, the woman across from you looks halfway to the grave. The only saving grace is the three-minute countdown to Broadway-Lafayette, where at least you’ll be able to breathe again. “Things could be worse…” you tell yourself, “at least it’s not Monday.”

You look up, and there she is.    

Pause.

This is New York City, you see hundreds of beautiful people everywhere you look. She’s not the prettiest girl you’ve seen this week, not even the prettiest today. But this is different. It’s not that you’re attracted to her – you’re attracted to an ethos. An idea in your own soul projected onto another person standing twenty feet down a crowded train car. All of a sudden you’re excited about absolutely nothing, butterflies in your stomach not even your breakfast sandwich could give you (a different kind of love for a different day). Why has today instantaneously gotten better? She’s reading a book/listening to music/staring off into the abyss, it doesn’t matter. She’s there and you’re there and the hordes of people standing between you have disappeared. Think Harold and Kumar meets The Notebook.

That’s subway love.

 

subway·love

/səbˌwā · ləv/

noun

  1. definition:  unrequited love found in the depths of humanity, a hopeless place where everything and nothing is possible. happens every three to four months, with a feeling of euphoria lasting up to four hours.
  2. synonyms:  infatuation of the soul, lurve, bae.
  3. origin:  old English of Germanic origin; from an Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit transmuted by Hermes himself.

 

The beauty to note is that you’re fully aware you’ll never speak to her, and that’s what makes it that much more real. It’s not her, it’s the idea of her. It’s the idea that through every struggle and ounce of pressure you face there can still live that shred of hope that keeps you going. Every bad date, every rejection, every single friend on your Facebook news feed who suddenly decided to get engaged doesn’t matter anymore – she does. You wonder what stop she’ll get off at, what her favorite coffee shop is, her dreams, aspirations, thoughts on war and peace and harambe and everything else all at once.

And then the doors open up at 23rd and before you even know it she’s gone. Just like that.

You’re not upset. You don’t feel empty either. It’s a boost of positive energy no amount of espresso or plaudits from your boss could come close to giving you that morning. You want to share it with the world but it doesn’t make sense.

But that’s okay. It’s subway love.

‘Tis better to have subway loved and lost, than never to have subway loved at all.

-Jafar from Aladdin