Monday, September 4, 2017

Shaving my head & Shan noodle

I am practically bald now. You can see through all my scalp and all. Yes, I am 26-year old and bald. It took me over 5 years to be able to own up to the word “bald”. 

Anyone who has struggled with hair loss knows the cruel slow knife-death of the process. There is very little that one can do, except watch your hair follicles leaving in clumps whenever you take a shower or run your hands through the scalp. The process is progressive, meaning you wake up tomorrow facing an even bigger hurdle than the one today. In a mere-5 year, my former dense mane, that I used to curse at in the morning for giving me thick cow-licks, quickly disappeared. These 5 years were definitely difficult times, and I felt a lack of courage to talk about it, with anyone, including myself, really. In the beginning, I started cutting my hair shorter to (ironically) conceal my thin areas. Surprisingly, I found out my parents and many relatives are anti-short hair. Some of my friends suggested that I go back to my long hair. I wanted to scream out, “why the fuck would I cut my hair short if I can grow it long? I look freaking old AF with shaved head”. But instead, I made pathetic attempts to change the conversation topic. 

Yes, there are options to treat hair loss, ranging from hair transplant surgery and injection of your own blood serum into the scalp to testosterone blockers. During the last five years, I have read many research articles on these treatments, which are exorbitant-yet-useless at best, and harmful at worst. Yes, they do provide a hay of hope for me to grasp on to, as I was drowning in the abyss of desperation. The more I pondered, the more I realize I couldn’t bring myself to undergo these procedures. It is not because I have this soaring self-love that makes me falls in love with every part and crevice of my body. If I haven’t made it clear, I hate being bald. But, gradually I was able to see the toxic relationship I have with my hair. Doing the procedures will further add fuel to the chaos.

I was letting those bloodless keratin fibers define who I am and my worth, so I started to buzz my head short and finally shaved it. However, the path of resistance was neither easy nor direct. In other words, I just did not wake up one day in the morning and said “I am no longer defined by something that has fixated my attention for years”. Those over zealous self-love statements are trendy on online articles, but impractical or sometimes even dangerous in real life. When I think of ungrounded self-love, I think of narcissism, delusion and Donald Trump.

What worked for me, over the years, was recognizing that I cannot force myself to like the half-empty part of the glass, but I could, with every ounce in my power, to either do something about it or accept it. I started focusing more on my career, volunteering, being with and helping people I love, music, reading, traveling, learning new skills, and honing my old ones. More importantly, I accepted that I am getting bald and will be bald. Right now, every time I think about my choice to shave my head in a society drowned in values of superficiality, I feel immense sense of pride and courage for myself. On the day I shaved my head, my roommate decided to throw me a surprise birthday party. As I successfully traversed the night feeling confident, I realized that everything would be ok. Every time, I look at my bald self, I was reminded of my unique personal journey, choices I have made, experiences I have and relationships I have built. These collective experiences helped me influence who I am and who I aspire to be. Within the last five years, I learned that my life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.

Right now, there are many topics in the world that deserves a page-long essay other than my hair – Houston flood, India flood, US healthcare bill, Germany election, Police violence, Immigration reforms and such. But, if I can convince someone out there struggling with personal image that I empathize with their pain, and more importantly, ensure that they are not alone, it is worth it for me to bare out my privacy and vulnerabilities. If you still think I have wasted your time, I hope the following Shan noodle recipe can convince you the otherwise.

Note on the recipe

This noodle, hailed from the cool, cloudy hilltops from Shan State of Eastern Myanmar, holds a special place in my life. My father loves Shan state and its cuisine. I still remember following him around bustling bazaars to eat in hole-in-the-wall noodle shacks whenever we are visiting Shan State. The intoxicating smell of five spices and Chinese celery, loud conversations among bazaar dwellers, and muddy ground from frequent overnight rain still linger in my memories whenever I think about Shan states. Even to this day, after he picks me up from airport, he would still take me to his favorite Shan noodle place in Yangon. He still orders the same dish – noodle drenched in warm soft tofu (tohu nway). I still order the same thing – Shan noodle with sticky rice noodles.

The noodle is drenched in savory tomato-based meat sauce flavored with five spice powder and fermented beans, a reminder of influence of the neighboring Southern China. I used miso instead of fermented beans for accessibility and versatility of the ingredient. As you are eating, feel free to add more soy sauce, chili oil, garlic chips or blanched pea-shoots to your preference.

Servings: 7-8 people

1 cup of peanut oil
5 cloves of garlic (minced)
half of a medium-sized white onion (diced)
0.5 tsp. of turmeric
1 tsp of smoked paprika
1.5 lbs. of ground pork (at least 20% fat)
3 cups of finely chopped tomatoes
3 heaping tsps. of miso paste
1 cup of hot water
1 tbsp. of fish sauce
3 tsps. of five spice powder
1 tbsp. of soy sauce
2 tbsp. of tomato paste


Heat the oil in a large pan over medium high. Add in chopped onions and minced garlic, and cook for about 2 minutes until the vegetables start to lose their white opacity.

Add in turmeric and paprika, and stir thoroughly to make sure the oil is evenly laced with ruby and golden specks. Then, add in the ground pork and turn up the heat. Make sure you break apart the meat chunks with a strong spatula. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, until there is no more visible rawness.

Dissolve miso paste in one cup of hot water – I used a strainer and push the miso through the mesh with the back of a spoon. Pour in the miso liquid, and then plunge in your chopped tomatoes, and the rest of the ingredients. Cover and cook for about 45 minutes under low heat. Check on it about every 10 minutes to make sure you are not burning the whole dish. Other than that, the sauce is a breeze to make.

Preparation for one bowl

100g of pho noodle
3 tbsp. of meat sauce
1 tbsp. of garlic oil
1 tsp. of chili oil
1 tsp. of soy sauce
Fried onion or garlic chips (optional)
Blanched pea tendrils (optional)
Pickled mustard (optional)
Cilantro (optional for garnish)
Toasted sesame seeds (optional for garnish)

Make garlic oil according to the instructions here.
Mix everything together and adjust the taste with soy sauce. Top with cilantro and toasted sesame seeds.

Pickled mustard
1.5 cup of apple cider vinegar
1 cup of mustard greens (mostly stems)
1 tbsp. of sugar
1 tsp. of salt

Heat up the apple cider vinegar, and dissolve sugar and salt. Put the greens in the vinegar and let it pickle overnight in the fridge.



  1. Hi there. I totally feel your pain. I'm an Asian female who started losing her hair in her early 20s. I'm in my early 30s now. And not to discount your journey, but I feel more agony in that it's more socially acceptable for a man to sport a shaved head than a woman. I have to keep my hair short to give the appearance of thicker hair. I might actually shave it someday, social norms be damned. I agree with you that this journey through the hair loss lens has shown the superficiality of the emphasis on lush heads. You're not alone, bro! P.S. Your recipe looks amazing!

    1. Hello, yes I agree with you that hair loss in women sucks even more. I empathize with you. I love how you say social norms be damned.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story! You're definitely not the only one that goes through this. My mom is currently going through it, and I know how it affects her self esteem. I think sharing the hardships we go through humanizes us and in some sense, allows that hardship to lose some of its power over us. Keep telling your stories :)

  3. For what it's worth, I think you're totally rocking the bald look. :) You look hip!

  4. You, without a doubt, have some of the coolest food photography on the internet. I LOVE the pour shot with the hot steam, so good!

  5. Ever since I was in middle school, my mom had to pull out grey hair for me, like in massive amounts like you won't believe it!! Not sure what it is but I have had grey hairs since that age and no matter what I do (or not do), eat or not eat, they are there and still there! I used to be very self-conscious about it, but like you said there are bigger problems out there and I think those people whose homes are taken by the Harvey would rather have my grey hair now! (not the best looking, but...). You may be bald, but you and that noodle totally ROCK it! and yes...Chinese celery...I love it so much!!!!

  6. It isn't quite the November month ( I loved your post about how November is a month of change for you) but change can come as you least expect it and hey, you are not defined by how your hair looks! I am on call at the moment (also in medicine but in residency!) and LOVING all the wonderful photos and recipes you have written on this beautiful blog!! Thank you for sharing :)

  7. This is full of taste. It is aromatic. It makes the curry delicious. I love it. Thanks for this sharing. gewürze der welt

  8. Just learned about your blog. I hope you don't mind I have shared your recipe of garlic noodles on my FB page. Now I have to prepare it. Thank you for sharing your recipes!

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  17. Been trying to find a recipe for sticky shan noodle! Were you able to find the authentic noodles found in this dish? I like pho noodles but I don't find them as bouncy or chewy as the ones I had when I was in Myanmar.

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