Lady Don't Fall Backwards


COURTESY of Myanmar’s foremost exponent of noir fiction, Ye Mon Chan Dala, this website presents Lady Don’t Fall Backwards. Set in the 2040s, this is the tale of a tough guy in a tough town. Though it is as vibrant and cutting-edge as any major city in Asia, Ye Mon Chan Dala’s Yangon is recognizably the descendant of the town we all know today. Some of its problems have been solved: its urban freeway system, the envy of Asia, has cut traffic congestion to almost nothing, even as the city is now connected by high-speed road links to Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw, and to the giant Thura U Shwe Mann International Airport in Bago Region. Its extensive subway network is fast, clean, cheap and virtually crime-free.

Still, there are shenanigans galore – certainly enough to keep our hero, private eye U Mar Lo, busy. Though his office is in the Old City, known today as downtown Yangon, much of the action takes place in the glittering new Southwest New City that has risen from the once-empty fields of Twante township.

Join the story as Mar Lo is hired by a crusty old war hero to find out what happened to his wild daughter Ma Doris, who has eloped with the cheeky English lethwei fighter Jack Lenihan, known by his ring name the Liverpool Lasher. Worse, the General has accused Ma Doris of making off with the family heirloom – the Laukkai Jade. As if that were not enough, Mar Lo also has to contend with the General’s other daughter, the equally wayward Ma Mildred, whose underworld connections start to get nervous as the private eye’s investigations take him ever closer to their big-money operations.

Ye Mon Chan Dala takes up the story: “Southwest New City was as new and sharp as a sickle moon. They built it fast, and they built it high. Thirty years ago, they say, back in the twenty-teens, the paddy farmers in the empty fields around Tamartagaw or Tamangyi village would gaze eastward across the Hlaing River at the rising towers and bright lights of the old city, wondering when their turn would come. Now the people of Kyeemyindaing and Ahlone townships look up westward beyond the Bakara A Latt Bridge at the cloud-capped towers of glittering Southwest New City. And these days, K1 billion won’t even buy you a parking space in Tamangyi.

“The broad avenues and boulevards of SNC run north-south, and its narrow streets run east-west. The high-flying finance boys and girls, the pin-striped lawyers, the corporate planners, the software engineers, spend their days grafting away in those lofty megaliths. Come sundown, they descend to the narrow streets, and the cellars below, looking for fun. SNC after dark is ground zero for the night spots, the jazz clubs, the gambling dives, the dance halls, the drinking dens, the places of ill-repute with the huge reputations.

“Everybody knows who rules the broad boulevards – the Wanbaos and the Huaweis, the Kanbawzas and the Toyotas and the Maxes, the Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Myanmar giants of finance and banking and IT and shipping and bio-engineering and aerospace.

“Nobody will tell you who owns the dark and narrow streets below.

“But I know. At street level, and below, the big boss was not some East Asian kingpin. The triads and the tongs and the yakuza had all tried and failed to muscle in. Down in the streets of Southwest New City, the big man was one of our own. The underworld bosses who had dismissed him as nothing but a two-pya hoodlum had all been crushed and discarded by this cunning, ruthless, tattooed, betel-spitting hustler, red in tooth and claw. Forget the multinational behemoths with their 20-foot-high logos on their signature buildings and their stock exchange profiles in London or Shanghai or Tokyo. The real boss of Southwest New City was Tough Eddie Htoo Htoo.”

Down these mean streets must walk a man who is not himself mean.

So get yourself down to Tough Eddie’s swankiest niterie, the Spearmint Bullock, on 13th Street in the dark heart of Southwest New City. It’s after midnight. Sweet-talk your way past the gorilla on the door, move along the corridor and down the dimly lit staircase. The band in the corner is playing something cool and moody, mostly tenor sax and Burmese harp. Slide onto a chrome-pillared bar stool next to private eye U Mar Lo as he swaps tough-guy banter with the wisecracking barman. Order yourself a Nay Pyi Taw Knickerbocker, a potent light-orange cocktail with a thick slice of lime. And get ready for fireworks as our hero confronts gangsters and their molls and the hard men at City Hall to unravel the mystery of the Laukkai Jade.