Pigs from Home, Hop Dac
Hop Dac captures the life-style differences between the younger and older generations among Vietnamese migrants. She depicts the older generation, who live in a past and “old world” that is close to nature and their first-hand experience of the brutality of existence. Whilst many of the customs linger, Hop suggests that the younger generation are now removed from this awareness that often comes with considerable pain and agony.
Living on a farm in Geraldton, Western Australia, Hop describes the lifestyle of a typical Vietnamese family as “self-sustaining”. They grow their own vegetables, have their own animals, and cultivate herbs for medicinal purposes. Hop describes how the various brothers would wheel a barrow full of half-rotten tomatoes and slops up a hill and “up-end the contents of the wheelbarrow” into the animal enclosure. The ducks and the chickens feast harmlessly; however she is always anxious and fearful of the pigs especially as they indulge in their “feeding frenzy”.
On one particularly “extraordinary” occasion, she thought that the animals must have been especially under-fed, because they were over-excited. The sow ran towards the unsuspecting duck and “before the duck knew what was happening the pig had bitten its arse off.” (54) The duck has been dismembered and Hop describes an eery scene in which it “wanders off” trailing its “guts”. Hop uses figurative terms such as the simile to describe the animals: the duck was stunned: and looked like “it had heard an explosion”; the pig is “like an ocean” ; don’t ever turn your back on it”.
The old and the new
As a symbol of the “old world”, the grandmother has a practical and rather gruesome attitude to the duck. In watching her grandmother’s response, Hop concludes: “right there, was the divide between the old world and the new”. (55). The grandmother kills the duck, de-feathers it and makes “congee”.
As part of the “new” world, Hop finds it quite repugnant that the grandmother appears to have little sensitivity towards the fate of the duck. AS “old world” people, the grandmother relies upon animals and therefore sees them as a product of survival.
This attitude is also shown in the typical feasts enjoyed by her parents. During one festival, they kill, gut and shave a pig and then use it for their celebrations of the Tet festival.
On one occasion, Hop and her brother have to help kill a pig at night. She constructs a sense of dramatic expectation by setting the scene during an “eery” night. It is noisy and windy. The corrugated iron sheets on the shed are flapping and make “metallic screeching noises”.
In a disturbing tone, HOP refers to her consternation as she describes the men killing the pig which was “sleeping innocently below the chickens”.
With considerable drama, she relays how Cookie “plunged the carving knife into its throat”. She captures the sense of brutality that is part of man’s lived existence. “It let out a scream I will never forget”.
Hop suggests that people in this “new world”, conveniently shut out the brutality that lies behind modern cuisine.
The carcass of the last pig that was killed by a snake becomes a symbol of the parents’ change of lifestyle. They get their pigs from a pig farmer.
Throughout, Hop also uses personification to bring the animals alive. For example, “the ducks gawked at us solemnly” while they buried the pig. Previously, the ducks had come “waggling up, yakking away, and gleefully bury their heads”. Giving them human-like qualities makes it easier for her readers to sympathise with the animals and to share her sense of horror at the killings.
However, there are still enduring cultural customs attached to Vietnamese cooking that reminds her of “home”. She compares the mother’s custom of draining the pigs blood and once congealed, uses the “hardened blood” in her noodle soups.
Likewise, whenever Hop enjoys spicy noodle soup called bon ho hue , which she eats with pig’s blood, she thinks of home. It is a nostalgic memory of the old world customs, living on the farm at home in Geraldton.
Return to Growing Up Asian, Stories