Kuan Pung Quotes in Unpolished Gem
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!
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.
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.
“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.
“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?
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.
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.
“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.