Unpolished Gem

by

Alice Pung

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Kuan Pung Character Analysis

Alice’s father, Kien’s husband, and Huyen Thai’s son. Kuan escapes the Killing Fields of Cambodia and walks through three countries with his wife, mother, and sister, just to try to have a better life away from the death and suffering of Southeast Asia. He is kind and funny, and deeply in love with his wife. Kuan is fully committed to assimilating to Australia culture when he arrives safely in Victoria after a year in a Thai refugee camp. He takes classes to learn the English language and even works as a translator at the Migrant Hostel. He works several jobs before managing to open his own electronics store, and after years of hard work, he finally owns two Retravision franchises. He builds his business “up from scratch,” and achieves the “Great Australian Dream.” Kuan spends most of his time at work, and even though he is strict, he and Alice share a close and comfortable relationship. He is very different from his own father, An Pung, who values only sons and is bored by daughters. Instead, Kuan rubs Alice’s feet when she is upset and teaches her that Adam, not Eve, is the one who is really responsible for the fall of man.

Kuan Pung Quotes in Unpolished Gem

The Unpolished Gem quotes below are all either spoken by Kuan Pung or refer to Kuan Pung. 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:
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:
Part 4 Quotes

“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:
Get the entire Unpolished Gem LitChart as a printable PDF.
Unpolished Gem PDF

Kuan Pung Character Timeline in Unpolished Gem

The timeline below shows where the character Kuan Pung appears in Unpolished Gem. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
...quick to point out that her story “does not begin on a boat.” Alice’s father, Kuan, is shopping at the market full of “fat pigs and thin people,” and all around... (full context)
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 As Kuan walks through the market, the ground is saturated with watered-down blood from the butchers’ cleaning... (full context)
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...shout and make hand gestures, poking their fingers in the direction of their desired commodity. Kuan notes that “the loudest pokers always win, and the loudest pokers are usually women.” (full context)
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Kuan leaves the Footscray market after purchasing a bag of pigs’ feet and walks through the... (full context)
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Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
As Kuan watches the mothers and their children, he wonders if his new baby will be a... (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 with Kuan’s mother, Huyen Thai, and his sister, Que.... (full context)
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...Kien notices a group of young girls do the same nearby. “Wah!” she cries. As Kuan pushes the button and declares it simple, he tells the women not to “gawk like... (full context)
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...Only the wealthy can afford to drive, and those people do whatever they want. To Kuan and his family, the “little Green Man is an eternal symbol of government existing to... (full context)
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...Alice says, “there are many wahs of wonder.” On their way to declare Australian citizenship, Kuan memorizes the names of the streets— “King Street, William Street, Queen Street, Elizabeth Street”—and when... (full context)
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Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
Later, as Kuan explains to the other immigrants at the hostel that they are meant to sleep under... (full context)
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Later, Huyen Thai asks Kuan what he plans to name his child. She hates people who don’t give their children... (full context)
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Kuan must also give his daughter an English name “that her future legions of white-faced friends... (full context)
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...and plastic sandals are piled in every corner so no one’s feet are ever bare. Kuan reminds his family frequently that they “are wealthy beyond measure.” Even the richest people in... (full context)
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Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
...up her chopsticks before they begin to eat, and Alice’s grandmother frequently tells stories about Kuan and his siblings waiting for her before they ate as well. She claims that if... (full context)
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Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
...Father Government is Kien. Huyen Thai prevents Kien from enjoying the government’s “everlasting abundance,” and Kuan is forever loyal to his mother. Huyen Thai controls all of the Pungs’ money, and... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
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 gave away a son. “Words... (full context)
Part 2
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...pictures are developed and the only shots of Alice are at the easel, Kien and Kuan proudly proclaim, “We have an artist in the family!” (full context)
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When Kuan tells Huyen Thai that he is going to open an electronics store, she thinks he... (full context)
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Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
A shop-to-shop supplier often stops by Kuan’s shop to sell cheap adaptor plugs. Kuan thinks the adaptors are too cheap and is... (full context)
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Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...never considers herself a businesswoman. The representatives from Sony who come to sell televisions to Kuan are businesspeople, but she is a “housewife with a handbag filled with gold wrapped in... (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... (full context)
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Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...about the white oleander in the backyard and thinks about poisoning herself. Later, Kien and Kuan return from the hospital. “You are lucky,” says Kien. Alice is so relieved that Alison... (full context)
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...as well, and she makes hats and stuffed animals. Kien has another baby, Alina, and Kuan buys Alice a sewing machine, which she uses to make clothing for Alina. (full context)
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...Alice realizes that girls come of age easily—they begin to bleed and are “certified women.” Kuan and Kien begin to warn their daughter about rapists. “You never know,” Kien says, “how... (full context)
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Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...wishes she had a boyfriend to talk to or go to the movies with, but Kuan tells her that she is too young for relationships. She must study hard, he says,... (full context)
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
Later, Kien tells Alice about how she first met Kuan. Kien worked in the Pungs’ plastic bag factory back in Cambodia, and she still remembers... (full context)
Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
Five years later, Kien and Kuan met again in Saigon. Kien sensed that Kuan liked her but was too shy to... (full context)
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Kien and Kuan were married in Vietnam, but they didn’t celebrate until after they arrived in Australia. Before... (full context)
Part 3
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Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
...take dreams and ancestors very seriously, and dreams are discussed as a family at meals. Kuan had avoided going back to Cambodia for years now because his dead grandfather told him... (full context)
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Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
...dresses for the drive. Alice and Alexander would grow bored at the building site, but Kuan and Kien stood for hours, pointing at this or that, planning the future. (full context)
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Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
Kuan wants Kien to sell all her gold processing equipment and just stay home with the... (full context)
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Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
Kien wishes that she could work in Kuan’s shop counting the money like Que, but she doesn’t speak English. “I am a useless... (full context)
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
Kuan knows that Kien needs to work again if she is ever to get any better,... (full context)
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Kuan hires Kien as a salesperson. She is given a time-card and put in the toilet-cleaning... (full context)
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...print, sometimes not.” At home, Alice keeps the house clean and makes all the meals. Kuan even drives her to the market to do the shopping. She babysits Alison and Alina,... (full context)
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...wrong amount of money to take to the bank—she was one hundred dollars short—and that Kuan “wants her gone at any cost.” “I can’t work there any longer!” Kien cries. Kuan... (full context)
Part 4
Language and Storytelling Theme Icon
...at the Pungs’ shop after school, she doesn’t see her father. It is unusual for Kuan not to be there—he’s always there—and he always needs help filling out forms or running... (full context)
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...one eye, but she doesn’t know it yet. Once she is discharged from the hospital, Kuan finds a caregiver to look after her at Que’s house. Huyen Thai requires twenty-four-hour care,... (full context)
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Kuan and Kien schedule meetings with the administrator at Alice’s school. He asks what medication the... (full context)
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...of Muslims and another Vietnamese family, and there are even a few immigrants from Russia. Kuan and Kien realize that Alice too is a “Watcher.” She doesn’t fit in with the... (full context)
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...come and go, and she manages to sit upright and answer all the questions. Afterward, Kuan tells Alice, “Go on, go and have fun while you’re young. Go out with boyfriends.”... (full context)
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Alice doesn’t even want to keep working at Kuan’s shop. Everyone is sure to know that she is a failure who can’t get into... (full context)
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Kuan and Kien keep telling Alice to call the exam hot-line to get her scores and... (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 retreats to this... (full context)
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While Alice and Kuan work, Kien brings three-courses lunches down to the shop, and they all eat together in... (full context)
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...sold three microwaves and a fridge today,” she tells her family after work. Alice and Kuan look at her with jealousy. They wish they could sell three microwaves and a fridge... (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.... (full context)
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Back at Kuan’s Retravision shop, the local Chinese population refuses to buy any items made in China. “But... (full context)
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...factory?” Smugly, Kien tells her at least he is making money for her. Kien and Kuan have five years of law school to pay for. As Ah BuKien walks out of... (full context)
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Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...the fall of man was Adam’s fault entirely.” He laughs, but Alice swears it’s true. Kuan has always told her that Eve warned Adam not to eat the apple, but he... (full context)
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Michael tells Alice she should get home before her “tracking device goes off.” Kuan usually calls when it gets late, and it is about six o’clock. “Don’t you feel... (full context)
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Family, Love, and Marriage Theme Icon
...dates, Michael begins to ask Alice about meeting her parents. “Soon,” she tells him. Neither Kuan nor Kien have any idea about Michael. She promises to tell them about him this... (full context)
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...few prawns, and some chicken, and then some venison. “Oh, I love Bambi,” he says. Kuan tells him how “impressed” he is with his chopstick skills. (full context)
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...Pol Pot years when the starved, dead bodies floated up the river during the flood,” Kuan says. He goes on to talk about his job dragging the bodies away from town,... (full context)
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...ask if her daughter has a boyfriend yet, Kien says, “No.” One day, Kien tells Kuan that Alice was seen kissing Michael at Alina’s birthday party. “I gave him a peck... (full context)
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...knows the vacuuming story will work, just “as she knew it would from the beginning.” Kuan is too embarrassed to say a thing to Alice when she gets home. “Some things”... (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... (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. Tonight, they opt for “quality, not quantity” time, and they drive... (full context)
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...she will miss him too. After she drops him off at home, she thinks about Kuan and Kien, young and in love. Kuan wanted to live with Kien “for the rest... (full context)
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When Alice gets home, Kuan and Kien are sitting on the couch together, sharing a mango. “Good to see you... (full context)
Epilogue
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Alice ignores Kien. She can hear her mother telling Kuan that she is laying in the grass “with no shame,” and Alice looks around the... (full context)