Ar Lain Ta was a man of humble origins. His parents were farmers from the west bank of the Salween River. The terrorist but legally sanctioned army of Burma, known as the Tatmadaw, had driven his parents from their farm.
The Tatmadaw used what they called a “Four Cuts Strategy,” which meant isolating and controlling sources of food, funds, intelligence, and recruits. His father, a farmer named U Hla Pe, had been meditating, and his mother had been in the fields slicing the pods off the poppies, when the Tatmadaw arrived and began looting homes, gang-banging the wives and daughters of friends, and plundering animals and the croplands.
Instead of surrendering to them and becoming unwilling participants in the construction of a 100-mile-long railroad line from Aung Ban south to Loi Kaw, in a slave labor camp where cholera, dengue fever, yaws, blackwater fever, yellow fever, amoebic dysentery, and other antagonistic life-forms constantly raided the camps, U Hla Pe chose to slip through the fields and flee with his pregnant wife across the Salween into Mae Ark, a small Pa-O village which was controlled and protected by a benevolent lord of the opium trade named Chang Te Tzu.
Very little is known about his mother’s origins. Her name was Nang Saeng Zoom, however it is not known whether this was her given name or one that she acquired later on in her life. It is said that she loved the fields and she talked to the plants as she worked. There were some that said she was haunted by the ghosts of her ancestors.
The story about Ar Lain Ta’s mother was passed on by an old farmer in the opium den that he retired to after his day’s work was done. One day, when Chang Te Tzu was visiting the village, he became very ill with symptoms of cholera.
The diarrhea came on suddenly and violently, and his stools were filled with rice-like particles. He vomited and defecated simultaneously, and the muscles in his arms and legs knotted and contracted spasmodically, appearing to be boiling beneath his skin to all those who watched with horror.
The man collapsed and virtually seemed to shrink in size within moments. Other observers said that his skin turned to light parchment paper and began to rip in places.
At that moment, Nang Saeng Zoom appeared and light seemed to shine from her eyes as she lifted the seemingly weightless Chang Te Tzu and carried him quickly into her dwelling. His personal guard stood well away and did not interfere for they were afraid that they would be stricken with the strange malady that had infected their Lord. Normally they were afraid of nothing and would charge into battle no matter what weapons their enemies wielded, but this was something out of their realm.
Nang Saeng Zoom lit lamps and mixed potions from strange herbs that were hanging on the walls of her hut. Soon alien smells and chants mixed with the sound of moaning, and the smell of feces, vomit, and death spilled into the air. At first, the smells were weak and the chanting was soft, but like a rising wind they increased in velocity and power. Suddenly, they began to diminish and, within hours, the stench of Hell was gone and the people nearby the hut heard the voice of Chang Te Tzu singing in harmony with the sweet soprano of Nang Saeng Zoom.
It was told–and there are no villagers who will contradict this–that in the evening, Chang Te Tzu emerged from the hut of U Hla Pe with Nang Saeng Zoom on his arm. He was in such robust health that he appeared to glow. When he asked Nang Saeng Zoom what he could do for her, the only boon that she requested was that Chang Te Tzu take her soon-to-be-born son and raise him with the best education possible. When Chang Te Tzu asked her how she knew that the child would be male, she laughed. He began to laugh, also; he laughed so hard that his body shook and the laugh leaped from him to his men and coursed through the entire village like an unstoppable, titanic tide.
Three days later, when the harvest was being celebrated, Ar Lain Ta was born. It was the largest harvest in the history of the village. Soon after that day, U Hla Pe met with an unfortunate accident–the details of which are unknown–while working in the poppy fields. Six months later, Chang Te Tzu married Nang Saeng Zoom.
To this day the people speak of the wonder and magic of the times when Chang Te Tzu ruled with Nang Saeng Zoom at his side. There were those that said that she wielded the power during this era in which Chang Te Tzu’s influence spread across the land, and even reached overseas to the Americas. Of course, this is nothing but rumor and innuendo. Only the walls of their many dwellings know the truth, and they are not speaking. Yet there still remain servants from this era who might talk if they were so inclined.
However, these servants who still live now serve Ar Lain Ta, the birth son of Nang Saeng Zoom and the adopted son of Chang Te Tzu. It is said that he is everywhere at once. There are many stories told about Ar Lain Ta, the man of many names.
Some say that Ar Lain Ta speaks more than eight languages fluently. It is documented that he attended Harvard University and now has two post-graduate degrees: a doctorate in International Relations and a doctorate in Ethnobotany.
There are many stories about Ar Lain Ta, yet there are not many people who have specific memories of meeting him. Many students say that he was like a phantom; sometimes they noticed him and sometimes they did not. Even the professors have different versions of their experiences with him and their stories are always subject to change.