Awaiting a Pig, But Is It Gold or Fire?

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Hoang Dinh Nam / AFP / Getty

Lunar new year decorations including pigs are seen on display for sale at a shop in downtown Hanoi.

At some point this fall, I'm scheduled to produce a golden piglet. According to the Chinese zodiac, which is used across East Asia, this is a marvelous development. People born in 2007, the year of the pig, are supposed to be generous, hard-working and loyal. Golden animals — each zodiac sign is further subdivided by five elements: gold, water, wood, earth and fire — have a propensity to make lots of money. Given that golden piggies only come around every 60 years, it's no surprise that 2007 is producing a bumper crop of babies across East Asia.

Few places are as obsessed with the Chinese zodiac as is Vietnam, which was ruled by its northern neighbor for a millennium. Sure, the country's communist leaders may have once disparaged both astrology and money worship, but this is a new Vietnam in which stock market proficiency is arguably more important than an ability to quote Karl Marx. Once people in the nation's capital, Hanoi, found out that my growing midsection was the result of a piglet — as opposed to an overdose of spring rolls — they wouldn't leave me alone. Strangers would reach out and pat my belly for good luck. One lady poring over the financial pages of the local paper asked my opinion of the Vietnamese stock market, convinced that my bump could somehow divine the following day's big winners on the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange. Overall, the overwhelming consensus was that my husband and I — both tigers, a sign not especially known for its financial acumen — could retire early. In no time at all, our future piggy bank would be supporting us.

For someone not used to strangers rubbing my tummy, the attention was a little overwhelming. I explained that in the West, the reputation of pigs is not quite as stellar as it is in East Asia. Westerners, I said, tend to stereotype pigs as either lazy layabouts or Animal Farm dictators. For me, a child born as, say, a dragon sounds much cooler. In fact, the only positive connotation pigs bring to my mind are the glories — not insignificant, to be sure — of crispy bacon.

But no one in Hanoi accepted my porcine ambivalence. Indeed, as in China, the golden pig frenzy has been so fierce that obstetric wards are booked solid this year. (In Shanghai, Chinese media report that twice as many babies will be born in 2007 compared with 2006.) Some Vietnamese couples even pushed their wedding dates forward, so they could pop out a piglet in time. I don't think a single person believed me when I maintained that the pork factor was not the reason my husband and I chose to procreate in 2007.

Of course, there is a downside to hog heaven. With so many golden pigs eventually vying for the same jobs or university places, chances are that the 2007 baby boom will face more competition than kids born in, say, the year of the sheep, which is considered far less auspicious.

There's another issue that's far more alarming to all the Vietnamese lining up to give birth this year. Some geomancers contend that 2007 isn't a golden pig year at all, but a fire pig one, instead. Given my bacon fetish, that sounds rather tasty to me, but according to the astrologers, fire pigs can have trouble controlling their passions, can be egocentric, chaotic and even quite destructive at times in their drive for freedom and beauty. Just my luck.