Unpolished Gem

by

Alice Pung

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Alice Pung / Agheare Character Analysis

Kien and Kuan’s daughter, Huyen Thai’s granddaughter, and the protagonist of Unpolished Gem. Alice is the first Pung born on Australian soil after her family escapes the violence of Pol Pot and the Cambodian Killing Fields. Her father names her after Lewis Carroll’s famous story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, because Australia is an “enchanted Wonder Land.” Alice represents her parents’ efforts to achieve the “Great Australian Dream,” and they are dedicated to raising a genuine Australian child. However, Alice feels out of place in Australia’s “whitewashed” society. She doesn’t look like her classmates, and she is acutely aware of her differences. Yet Alice doesn’t feel entirely Chinese either, and as English words begin to replace the Chinese language in her head, she feels more and more isolated from her family. Alice is saved by her grandmother’s stories, which teach her about her Chinese culture and history, and she feels a greater connection to her Asian roots because of them. Huyen Thai also teaches Alice to be proud of her Chinese heritage, and when Alice’s mother becomes consumed by her work and ignores her, the stories help Alice to feel loved and cared for. As Alice grows, she becomes a smart and capable young woman, and she constantly pushes the boundaries of both her sexist culture and society. She resents the housework her mother makes her do (her brother, Alexander, doesn’t have to do chores because he’s a boy), and while she deeply loves her younger sisters, she grows tired of caring for them every day. She wishes she had the same opportunities as boys, whose existence seems “infinitely more interesting,” and her life confined to her home feels small and cramped. As Alice nears her graduation, the stress of her studies and responsibilities at home prove too much, and she suffers a mental breakdown. Alice eventually graduates and secures a scholarship to law school, but she still struggles with her future. After she falls in love with Michael, a white Australian boy, Alice ultimately breaks up with him because she feels unable to make serious decisions about love and sex at such a young age. Plus, her mother disapproves of Michael, whom she has deemed the “white ghost.” Alice is deeply committed to her family and Chinese culture, and she is determined to find a lasting love like the kind her parents share.

Alice Pung / Agheare Quotes in Unpolished Gem

The Unpolished Gem quotes below are all either spoken by Alice Pung / Agheare or refer to Alice Pung / Agheare. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Plume edition of Unpolished Gem published in 2006.
Prologue Quotes

He steps out onto the footpath, away from the damp smells of the market. This is the suburb of madcap Franco Cuzzo and his polished furniture, the suburb that made Russell Crowe rich and famous for shaving his head and beating up ethnic minorities, so it doesn’t really matter that these footpaths are not lined with gold but dotted with coruscating black circles where people spat out gum eons ago. “Don’t swallow the rubber candy,” mothers say to their kids. “Spit it out. Spit it out now—that’s right, onto the ground there.” Ah, this wondrous new country where children are scared of dying because they have swallowed some Spearmint Wrigley’s, not because they stepped on a condensed milk tin filled with ammunition!

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Kuan Pung
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 3-4
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1 Quotes

Back where my father came from, cars did not give way to people, people gave way to cars. To have a car in Cambodia you had to be rich. And if you had money, it meant that you could drive at whatever speed you pleased. If the driver zipping down the country road accidentally knocked over a peasant farmer, he knew he had better zoom away quick because the whole village might come and attack him with cleavers. The little Green Man was an eternal symbol of the government existing to serve and protect. And any country that could have a little green flashing man was benign and wealthy beyond imagining.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Kuan Pung
Page Number: 8-9
Explanation and Analysis:

Later that evening, in the bed that fills up the entire small storeroom where they sleep, my mother and father lie thinking about their full tummies. “Wah, who would believe that they feed this good meat to dogs? How lucky to be a dog in this country!” My mother puts her hand on her sticking-out stomach and smiles. Good-oh, she thinks. Her baby is going to be born with lots of Good-O in her. Good stuff.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Kien Pung, Kuan Pung
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

“Your father was trying to tell them that the beds were made to be slept in, when suddenly he was told that he was needed at the hospital. Something must have happened to me, your father thought. Why would a hospital need him? He thought about bringing along his acupuncture needles just in case, but there was no time. When he arrived at the hospital, he discovered that the doctors just wanted him to be there to see the baby come out!” In Cambodia the husbands usually find a chair and sit in from of the room where babies were being born until they heard the wahwahwah sounds, and it was only then that they would know that the whole messy business was over and they could find out whether the child had the desired dangly bits or not.

Related Characters: Kien Pung (speaker), Alice Pung / Agheare, Kuan Pung
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

“Have you thought of a proper name for the baby yet?” my grandmother asks her son. She has nothing but disdain for those parents who do not give their children Chinese names. Did they really think that new whitewashed names would make the world outside see that yellow Rose was just as radiant a flower as white Daisy?

Related Characters: Huyen Thai (speaker), Alice Pung / Agheare, Kuan Pung
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

Beautiful things do not need to be expensive, and precious things are to be kept hidden in case of burglars, or guests with kleptomaniac fingers. My parents could never understand those houses where the Royal Doulton plates and family antiques were displayed for every eye to see. After war, people learn to keep good things hidden. They learn that nothing is permanent, and that the most beautiful things are not necessarily the most expensive.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Kien Pung, Kuan Pung
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Many old folk who became family friends take good care of them, tell them who are the good boys, and the old women watch with a cunning eye to see which young woman would be best suited for the son or cousin of so and so. “Ah Ly, I know a good young man for you.” And they sing the praises of someone’s son or someone’s brother—never mentioned by name, they are always someone’s son or someone’s male relative, because they do not exist in isolation of their family. No one exists in isolation of their family, and if they do, there are plenty of old people to look after them […].

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Ly, Sim
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

When I am a bit older, I don’t know whether [my mother’s] answer is a lament or curse: “Just wait till you get older and have a mother-in-law like mine. Then you will understand. You will understand.” What will I understand? I wonder. Suffering? There are far better things to understand than the inconsolable hardships of life. Constantly sighing and lying and dying—that is what being a Chinese woman means, and I want nothing to do with it.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Kien Pung, Huyen Thai
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Or perhaps my word-spreading is also the only way to see that there was once flesh attached to these bones, that there was once something living and breathing, something that inhaled and exhaled; something that slept and woke up every morning with the past effaced, if only for a moment. That there was a good beginning, and in this good beginning the stories would come like slow trickles of truth, like blood coursing through the veins.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Kien Pung, Huyen Thai
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

My grandmother was possessed of healing powers, or so it was claimed by those who knew her back in Cambodia. Five sons, people exclaimed—seven children, all of them so bright! Of course, everyone chose to forget about the first two babies who died, because they were just girls.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Huyen Thai
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

When it came down to childrearing, they were her children, he had nothing to do with such prosaic things. Fathers were only there to plant the seeds, it was mothers who did the watering and the fertilizing. Of course, the paternal influence would occasionally return to lop off a few leaves for good measure, and smirk for photographs in front of his prize garden, but he made sure to leave immediately afterwards in case the cumquats only glowed orange but were black inside. It was never the pa’s fault if the kids went bad.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Huyen Thai, An Pung
Page Number: 37-8
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2 Quotes

A lady was the most abhorred thing you could become, because ladies were lazy bums who sat around wasting their husband’s money and walked down the street with perfectly made-up mien visiting the jewelry stores to which my mother delivered her wares. My mother was certainly not a lady. She worked and worked and worked, and when she wasn’t working she was cleaning, and when she wasn’t cleaning or working she was sick. You could always tell who was a lady by what they complained about, the length of their nails and whether they put milk or butter into their coffee.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Kien Pung
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Coming of Age was explained to me in books, and in the books Judy Blume characters waited with delirious anticipation for their period. I didn’t see what the big deal was when it happened to me. So what? It just meant I could make babies if I felt the urge, and of course that was the last thing on my mind. So I wrote the date in my diary, and dreary life continued on as usual. Coming of Age for boys was infinitely more interesting, I thought, when I watched Stand by Me and Dead Poets Society. Boys formed friendships by discovering cadavers. They walked on railway tracks, started secret clubs, cried over their own cowardice and occasionally shot themselves in the head when pushed too far. It didn’t matter if girls were cowards, there was no opportunity or reason for us to test our bravery. All that mattered was that we could make a good pot of rice, had a pretty face and were fertile.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker)
Page Number: 95-6
Explanation and Analysis:

To raise a girl, I realized, you’d need gallons of Social Conditioner with added Spirit Deflator. Rub onto every limb until limp, put the child into a chair and wait until she sets. When appendages harden, you know you have a perfect young woman—so still and silent and sedate that you could wrap your precious one up in cotton wool and put her in a cabinet. Ah, look at the darling geisha behind glass.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker)
Page Number: 105-5
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3 Quotes

As the house was being built, my father took his only day off work to drive us to its foundations. This was our weekly Sunday trip, to watch the temple being constructed and to worship the fruits of our labour.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Kuan Pung
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Nothing could look too peasanty. No dark wooden furniture, but rather white and peach and pale green. Family came to visit, not to celebrate but to do the tour so that they could get home-furnishing ideas for their own houses, so that they too would look modern and not too peasanty.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker)
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

I sat slumped in the back seat of the car. It was true, I couldn’t. It wasn’t that I couldn’t understand the English, it was that I didn’t have the Chinese terms in me to be able to explain. I was running out of words.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Kien Pung
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4 Quotes

“Good. There are some cultures that still do this, aren’t there?” Then she turned to me. “For example, the Chinese. They believe in and worship many Gods. Don’t you, Alice?” And I did not think of my grandmother and her many gods, the chants, the plastic blue meditation mat, the swirls and whorls of the pattern on it - ten thousand shades of blue like a frenzied ocean, the smell of incense in my pores. The red-faced sword-wielding God whom we kept outside. The good-for-business God whom we called Grandfather. The Goddess of Mercy with her China-white face, her royal porcelain contentedness sitting serenely on a lotus surrounded by bald little babies, pouring water out of a vase. And the dust falling on them in the new house, because we no longer had Granny to maintain the shrine, and we no longer needed to light incense to hide the smell of baby pee rising from the carpets.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker)
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

“Why don’t you get on stage too?” my parents asked me. As if I could just jump on stage with people I had never spoken three words to all year and insert myself gracefully into their picture. And suddenly the reality must have sunk in for my parents, for all the parents on our table, that their children were not more popular, that we did not talk to the beautiful people. It must have hit them hard—that we were still sticking by each other, sticking with each other, and not getting out, not fitting in. They had thought of this new life in simple cause-and-effect terms: that if they worked their backs off to send their children to the grammar school, then we would automatically mingle with the brightest and fairest of the state.

Related Characters: Kien Pung (speaker), Kuan Pung (speaker), Alice Pung / Agheare
Page Number: 186-7
Explanation and Analysis:

My grandmother was meant to be a part of me forever, so that I would always know that there was a life before me, and a life after me. My grandmother and her stories. What would I do without them? She asserted my existence before I knew I had one—before I was conscious I had a life beyond the present—and she told me my childhood. “Agheare, when you were small you could recite long Teochew songs and poems.” “Agheare, when you were small you could speak in Cantonese.” It seemed as if I could do anything when I was small. We slept in the same bed, and it was always warm. Now there would be no one left to remind me of my roots, no one to tell me to be proud to be part of a thousand-year-old culture, no one to tell me that I was gold not yellow.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Huyen Thai
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5 Quotes

At Footscray Retravision, there was a propensity for some mainland Chinese to refuse to buy items made in China. Whenever they said haughtily, “O, zhonggno zuo de wo buyao”—I don’t want anything made in China—I couldn’t help myself. I would ask with salesgirl innocence, “But sir, aren’t you made in China?” Of course, I always had to feign that little giggle that sounded like two brightly coloured balloons rubbing rapidly up against each other. Unlike my younger sisters, who grew up in tastefully bland pastel dresses, I had spent my childhood with a grandmother who packaged me into padded Mao suits and made me aware that I had to defend myself against all the other blandly dressed banana-children—children who were yellow on the outside but believed they could be completely white inside. My grandmother had warned me that those children grew up to become sour, crumple-faced lemons. I now believed her.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Huyen Thai
Related Symbols: The Mao Suit
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

I thought, if I were a young man I would be scared of my parents too. Perhaps not my father so much, because he was able to sit down and reason things out. But my mother—there was no way she would be able to understand an alien, let alone an alien her own daughter had chosen. My mother saw the differences as insurmountable—she was only comfortable with the familiar, yet she still believed that Princess Diana was the most dazzling creature ever to grace the earth, and that white women were more beautiful than we could ever be.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Michael
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

Then, four weeks later, I decided that one of the little ones had to go. It was time. I imagined they were quivering in their cotton-wool padded prison, I was so excited. But when the drawer was opened—horror of all horrors, worse than finding my fortunes furtively stolen—ants spilled out and the bunny had melted and the goo that gushed from the eggs had wrecked my box. I didn’t care about the ants that would crawl up my arms, I pulled the whole drawer out of the cupboard and dug my hands in deep. While Alexander and Andrew watched, I started pulling out each egg one by one—or what was left of them—trying in desperation to find one that was not insect-infested, trying to sort through the foil and frustration, not wanting to believe that these squished tragedies were once my pride and joy, the things I had looked forward to most in the world for more than four weeks.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Huyen Thai, Alexander Pung
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:
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Alice Pung / Agheare Character Timeline in Unpolished Gem

The timeline below shows where the character Alice Pung / Agheare appears in Unpolished Gem. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
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Alice Pung begins her story at a marketplace in Footscray, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, and... (full context)
Part 1
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Alice’s story jumps back to the previous month, when Kuan and Kien first arrive in Australia... (full context)
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Alice notes that much in Australia is “taken-for-granted.” The people do not hide, there are no... (full context)
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...breakfast table, and water flows from a tap. As the Pungs first arrive in Australia Alice says, “there are many wahs of wonder.” On their way to declare Australian citizenship, Kuan... (full context)
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...she is handed her baby, she is “the most crumple-faced walnut she has ever seen.” Alice is the first Chinese baby the hospital workers have ever seen, and they all marvel... (full context)
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...as the white Daisy?” she wonders. Kuan decides that his daughter’s Chinese name will be Agheare (translation Good News) because she has been born into Paradise. (full context)
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...land of Australia is also a “Wonder Land,” so Kuan decides to name his daughter Alice. “Ay, this girl is going to have a good life indeed!” declares Huyen Thai. (full context)
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A few years later, the Pungs move into their first home in Braybrook. Alice says, “there is no such thing as tacky cheap knick-knacks” “for Wah-sers like us.” Their... (full context)
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...new life is her mother-in-law, Huyen Thai, who is “an unfortunate permanent fixture.” Kien tells Alice that pretty things must not always be expensive, but expensive things “must be kept hidden... (full context)
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When Alice comes home from kindergarten with crafts made from macaroni noodles and construction paper, Kien, Huyen... (full context)
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From the outside, “you cannot tell that this is a Chinese house,” Alice says. There is no telltale “I Ching mirror” or cumquat trees for luck. The Pungs... (full context)
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When Kien’s sisters, Ly and Sim, arrive from Cambodia, Alice comes “face to face” with what she calls “true cutting-edge Chinese chic.” The women are... (full context)
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...men, always referring to “someone’s son or someone’s male relative.” They don’t use first names, Alice notes, because the men “do not exist in isolation of their family.” No one does,... (full context)
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Once, Alice recalls, Ly’s friend had forgotten the number of Ly’s apartment and knocked on a stranger’s... (full context)
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In the meantime, as Alice grows up, Kien teaches her to respect her elders and instills in her a sense... (full context)
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...Buddha to bless “Father Government,” who treats them “better than our sons do.” She asks Alice to write a thank-you letter to the government for taking care of them. To Huyen... (full context)
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Later, Huyen Thai and Alice stand in line outside the bank to collect Huyen Thai’s “old people’s gold.” The others... (full context)
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...buys a fish and a red plastic bucket and then boards a bus. She tells Alice that they are going to let the fish go because Buddha has blessed them. After... (full context)
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...purchase groceries. As Kien shops the next day, she worries about what kind of woman Alice will grow up to be. Huyen Thai constantly spends time with the child, and even... (full context)
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Kien grows upset with Alice for talking with Huyen Thai behind her back. “You are so evil,” Kien tells Alice,... (full context)
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That night, Alice stays awake listening for sounds of Kien and Alexander’s departure. Thankfully, the next morning she... (full context)
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Huyen Thai tells Alice that Kien doesn’t love her children because she works in the garage making jewelry instead... (full context)
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Kien is constantly unhappy, and when Alice asks her why she is so sad, she tells Alice she will understand only once... (full context)
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In the meantime, the word-spreading continues. Huyen Thai tells Alice that Kien was not Kuan’s first fiancée, and Kien tells Alice that Huyen Thai once... (full context)
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Huyen Thai tells Alice stories about Cambodia, where she was regarded as a woman who “possessed healing powers.” Her... (full context)
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...as to go to the home of the first wife, but she came back “empty-handed.” Alice finds her grandmother’s story difficult to believe. How could she let her own child be... (full context)
Part 2
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“Woe!” cries Huyen Thai. “Why do you smell like piss?” she asks Alice. Alice tells her she smells like urine because she has peed her pants. Alice’s grandmother... (full context)
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That day had been kindergarten picture day at school and Alice was, as usual, wearing a padded Mao suit. Despite the warm spring weather, Huyen Thai... (full context)
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That night, in the queen-size bed they share, Huyen Thai asks Alice why she doesn’t tell the teacher she needs to use the bathroom. “Do you know... (full context)
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Huyen Thai tells Alice that when her own children were young, they had only one mattress. She slept on... (full context)
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School picture day is not the last time Alice “fills her pants,” and it happens again in the second grade. Alice’s class is learning... (full context)
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At school, the other children ask Alice why she is wearing pajamas, and when they line up for the parade, the teacher... (full context)
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Sometime later, Alice goes to visit Chia Ngo Hung, Kien’s mother, whom Alice calls “Outside Ma,” and the... (full context)
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The next day, Kien applies lice treatment to Alice’s head that “smells like cat-piss.” It must be left on for twelve hours, and Alice... (full context)
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...decides that it will be easier if Huyen Thai comes to live with her, and Alice’s grandmother soon moves out of their house. Without Huyen Thai, Alice begins to look “disheveled,”... (full context)
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The Pungs’ house turns dark and boring, and nobody comes to visit. During that year, Alice learns “to be alone” and realizes how unsocial her family is. She hardly ever goes... (full context)
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When Huyen Thai stops by a few weeks later to gather more of her things, Alice asks her about the hair in the Buddha shrine. “Ah,” Huyen Thai says. “This hair... (full context)
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Back in Cambodia, Alice says, Huyen Thai’s first two babies, both girls, died when they were just young. After... (full context)
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For as long as Alice can remember, Huyen Thai has always warned her not to run with pens or pencils... (full context)
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At nine years old, Alice spends most of her time caring for her baby sister, Alison. Kien continues to work... (full context)
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 One day, as Alice is taking care of Alison, the baby rolls off the bed and onto the floor.... (full context)
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When Kuan comes into the room, he “tut-tuts” his tongue at Alice. “Can’t even be responsible for anything, not even looking after your sister for a little... (full context)
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With her parents and sister gone to the hospital, Alice figures that she is doomed anyway. She considers suicide, but she hates blood and is... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Alice begins to sew to try to take her mind off her guilt for failing to... (full context)
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Other members of the family and friends begin dropping their own children off for Alice to watch as well, and she is soon drowning in childcare and housework. She complains... (full context)
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Alice drinks cups and cups coffee sweetened with condensed milk to keep herself energized and motivated.... (full context)
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A couple of years later, one of Alice’s aunts asks her if Kien had a celebration when Alice’s “time came.” Alice is confused,... (full context)
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At fifteen, Alice wishes she had a boyfriend to talk to or go to the movies with, but... (full context)
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One day, a boy calls Alice on the phone and her mother hears his voice on the other end. Kien says... (full context)
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Alice stays locked in her room for two weeks, and her parents assume that her silence... (full context)
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Huyen Thai tells Alice to “love sensibly,” but Alice fails to see how passion can be experienced sensibly. When... (full context)
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Shortly after Huyen Thai fled China, Alice says, she met An Pung. They were both teachers at the same school, and even... (full context)
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Later, Kien tells Alice about how she first met Kuan. Kien worked in the Pungs’ plastic bag factory back... (full context)
Part 3
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Alice thinks about how Huyen Thai had saved all her money from the plastic bag factory... (full context)
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While the Pungs were building their new house, Alice continues, they would drive each weekend to the construction site to assess the progress. “This... (full context)
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“Kim” is both Vietnamese and Chinese for gold, Alice says, so the jewelry stores in Footscray are collectively called the Kims. One day after... (full context)
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 Alice notes that Kien is “not a talker,” but “a shouter.” She is especially loud in... (full context)
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Kien tells Alice that when she was a child, all the Chinese schools were shut down. Kien has... (full context)
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Since she is running out of words, Alice doesn’t talk much, and even at school she is quiet. “One wrong word could mean... (full context)
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A classmate at school tells Alice that “migrants don’t assimilate. They all come here and stick together, and don’t bother to... (full context)
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Kien asks everyone to start speaking to her in English, so Alice talks to her mother in slow, broken words and phrases. She asks how she is... (full context)
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...“Who gives a crap about the man with tin can over his head? Stupid idiot.” Alice helps her read one of Alina’s children’s books, and they read it three times. Alice... (full context)
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Alice continues to sink further into quiet isolation, and the more she studies, the less she... (full context)
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...the English!” she screams. But she is still determined to learn, and she constantly asks Alice how to say this or that, until Kien’s “questions became more difficult to answer than... (full context)
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One day during a holiday from school, Kien takes Alice with her to visit one of the aunts. The women trade their stories of suffering... (full context)
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“At least you have a daughter,” Alice’s aunt tells Kien. “Yes,” says Kien, “but she’s gone with the ghosts already. She’s going... (full context)
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Later, when she burns the taro cakes while cooking dinner, Alice feels like she can do nothing right. She asks Kien to teach her to cook,... (full context)
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Sometime later, the Pungs hang a new chandelier in their sitting room. Alice flips the switch to watch the light dance around the crystals, and Kien screams, “Turn... (full context)
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Kien tells Alice that it is time to go pick up Alina and Alison from school. But it... (full context)
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...hands has blackened and begun to crack from the chemicals. Like “a coal miner’s hands,” Alice thinks. (full context)
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...that she should come to work at his store despite her poor English. Kuan asks Alice to look after the house while Kien goes back to work, and she is “exuberant.”... (full context)
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...over, and tapes scraps of paper all over the house with new words on them. Alice watches as her mother “persists.” (full context)
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...She grows frustrated and hits random keys, claiming, “Sometimes receipts print, sometimes not.” At home, Alice keeps the house clean and makes all the meals. Kuan even drives her to the... (full context)
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The next week, when Alice returns home from a walk with her sisters, she is surprised to see Kien’s car... (full context)
Part 4
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Later, when Alice arrives at the Pungs’ shop after school, she doesn’t see her father. It is unusual... (full context)
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Alice goes to the hospital later that evening, and everything there is white and blue. The... (full context)
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That week in school, Alice begins to study William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Her teacher has written the word “paganism” on... (full context)
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Alice is mortified. “Er, my grandmother worships many gods. Buddha, Goddess of Mercy, Lord of Business,... (full context)
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One morning, Alice wakes “with a false skin on her face.” Her new skin is made of rubber,... (full context)
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Alice is seventeen now. Her grades have earned her entrance into a good school, and a... (full context)
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Kuan and Kien schedule meetings with the administrator at Alice’s school. He asks what medication the doctors have ordered her to take. Alice has “little... (full context)
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Kien buys Alice a new white dress for her graduation dinner, and Alice feels like she is dressing... (full context)
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At the dinner, Alice and her family sit at the only “ethnically-enhanced table.” There is a family of Muslims... (full context)
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Alice’s final exams are coming up, but she can’t concentrate long enough to even think about... (full context)
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Alice feels “great contempt” for any boy who is interested in her. After all, those boys... (full context)
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Huyen Thai catches a cold and dies a short time later. Alice thinks that her “grandmother is not meant to die. She is meant to be with... (full context)
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Alice’s exams come and go, and she manages to sit upright and answer all the questions.... (full context)
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Alice doesn’t even want to keep working at Kuan’s shop. Everyone is sure to know that... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Alice stays in her room, crying. She can’t concentrate enough to even read a book. One... (full context)
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Alice organizes the cutlery draw. “It doesn’t mean anything,” she tells herself. “Nothing means anything. Why... (full context)
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Kuan and Kien keep telling Alice to call the exam hot-line to get her scores and “put an end to her... (full context)
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That summer before college, Alice works in Kuan’s shop. She is comfortable among the toasters and televisions, and she “always... (full context)
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While Alice and Kuan work, Kien brings three-courses lunches down to the shop, and they all eat... (full context)
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Alice’s Aunt Sim, who also works at the store, is pregnant and unable to work, so... (full context)
Part 5
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Later, Kien tells Kuan that Ah BuKien, a family friend, “wants to discuss Agheare for her son.” Kuan laughs. “That crazy antiquated relic thinks she’s still living in Confucian... (full context)
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Once, Alice remembers, Ah BuKien gave the Pungs a tour of her house and took great care... (full context)
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Alice has never met Ah BuKien’s son. He is always busy with tutors and studying. Still,... (full context)
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...shop, the local Chinese population refuses to buy any items made in China. “But sir,” Alice asks an older gentleman, “aren’t you made in China?” Huyen Thai had always taught Alice... (full context)
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...comes into the shop. She doesn’t seem interested in buying anything, and she casually asks Alice the results of her final grades. Alice suddenly understands she isn’t looking to buy a... (full context)
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Alice suspects that Kien wants her to marry Ah BuKien’s son, and she feels like the... (full context)
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...years of law school to pay for. As Ah BuKien walks out of the shop, Alice knows she won’t be back. (full context)
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In the meantime, Alice is walking with a young white boy named Michael. He is kind and funny, and... (full context)
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Michael asks Alice if she would like to have dinner with him. Alice thinks he might like her,... (full context)
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At dinner, Alice fights with her inner “Voice of Reason.” She tells herself that she is “turning into... (full context)
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In the meantime, Alice’s cousin, Melanie, marries a white man, and most of their family calls him “the Round... (full context)
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...Cambodia for their honeymoon, “they will be swamped by kowtowers from all sides, heh heh!” Alice says that her family believes that they “were rescued by white people even when the... (full context)
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Alice says that her family are “hypocrites.” They love the white people for accepting them here... (full context)
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“So…umm, how about it?” Michael asks. Alice sits silently. Alice thinks to herself that he needs a “bowl haircut” and a “shirt-and-tie... (full context)
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 After their initial dinner, Alice’s relationship with Michael gets “easier.” She decides to “loosen her small and tightly coiled life”... (full context)
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...on a random train and got off at a place you have never been before?” Alice asks Michael later. He hasn’t, and neither has she; Alice has never been out of... (full context)
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Alice tells Michael that it doesn’t look like he even has an Adam’s apple. “Yes, I... (full context)
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Michael tells Alice she should get home before her “tracking device goes off.” Kuan usually calls when it... (full context)
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After several dates, Michael begins to ask Alice about meeting her parents. “Soon,” she tells him. Neither Kuan nor Kien have any idea... (full context)
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Alice thinks about Kien. In her face there is a “simplicity” that stands out, and she... (full context)
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...vegetarian. “No meat at all?” Kien asks. “Buddhist? Taoist?” She thinks it is ridiculous when Alice tells her he “feels sorry for the animals.” Michael immediately takes a few prawns, and... (full context)
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...people who have conversations with Kuan about Cambodia don’t know “whether to laugh or cry,” Alice says. (full context)
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...Michael gives Kien a lovely, “understated” arrangement of flowers. “Tanks you velly march,” Kien says. Alice can tell that Michael is trying to figure out if Kien likes him, but even... (full context)
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Later at home, Alice listens to Kien’s “list of objections to potential husbands.” She thinks Aussies “sleep around” and... (full context)
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Kien tells Alice that Michael probably “splits everything in half.” Alice lies and says he doesn’t. The truth... (full context)
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Alice thinks about Michael’s female friends. She has met a few, and they always hug and... (full context)
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Kien continues to give Alice a hard time about Michael, and when they walk downtown by the jewelry shops and... (full context)
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One night, Alice pulls up to Michael’s college at 10:30 P.M. “Ummm…look what time it is,” he says... (full context)
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Alice says her parents are worried that Michael will “deflower her,” but that is unlikely, and... (full context)
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Earlier that night, Alice had taken Michael upstairs after Kien had gone out. Not to sleep with him—just “to... (full context)
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“What were you doing upstairs with the boy?” Kien had asked. Alice told her that they were vacuuming. Michael begged Alice to just tell her parents the... (full context)
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Now, as Alice leaves Michael at school, she knows the vacuuming story will work, just “as she knew... (full context)
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In the meantime, Michael tries hard to be accepted by Kuan and Kien, and when Alice does her chores at home, he offers to help. She declines and tells him to... (full context)
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Each night Alice drives Michael home, and if it is past 10:30 P.M., Kuan usually goes with them.... (full context)
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Alice is sure that Michael will not understand why she doesn’t want to have sex. It... (full context)
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In the following days, Alice helps Michael pack and get ready to return to Perth for college. Alice takes him... (full context)
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Alice and Michael laugh and then sit in the silence. “Well,” Michael finally says, “I’m going... (full context)
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When Alice gets home, Kuan and Kien are sitting on the couch together, sharing a mango. “Good... (full context)
Epilogue
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“What are you doing, Alice?” Alina asks as Alice lays on the grass looking up at the sky. Alina lays... (full context)
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Alice ignores Kien. She can hear her mother telling Kuan that she is laying in the... (full context)
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...grave marker. “It’s so deep!” Alison says as she throws rice into the open grave. Alice notices that one of the cousins has brought Easter bunny chocolates wrapped in shiny gold... (full context)
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Alice remembers back to when she was a kid and Huyen Thai still lived with them.... (full context)
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Alice began to cry, and both Kien and Huyen Thai tried to console her. Huyen Thai... (full context)