In "A Pair of Tickets" by Amy Tan, how is Tan's use of authentic Chinese language significant in the story?
In reading "A Pair of Tickets," it could be argued that the authentic use of the Chinese language lends itself to the authenticity of the story.
However, I believe that it is more than this; because Amy Tan’s story focuses so closely on the theme of West meets East in the person of Jing-mei and her family, these small words used throughout the story provide subtle links between the foreign world of China and the heritage within Jing-mei that lies covered over waiting to be recognized and "set free," and Jing-mei's life in the United States.
As Jing-mei comes to see herself as Chinese (though she has rejected this for many years), the steps she takes toward this "awakening" of self are small and placed carefully, slowly through the story, mirroring the little connections these Chinese words ultimately make for Jing-mei. The words are always presented in Chinese and then translated into English, thereby making a small connection between all things Chinese and Jing-mei's American upbringing.
The words that Tan uses refer to specific connections between the families of the West and East, and only to the families. When Jing-mei ("June May") arrives at the airport, her father Canning sees his aunt and says, "Aiyi! Aiyi" meaning "Auntie Auntie!"
Aiyi refers to Canning as "Syau Yen" (or "Little Wild Goose"), a childhood name. The names of relatives are translated to show their significance and their cultural identity: the twins are named Chwun Yu ("Spring Rain") and Chwun Hwa ("Spring Flower"). While these names are unfamiliar to Jing-mei, they offer the beauty of the language, and the purposeful intent to name a baby with significance and pride. The meanings of these names naturally become a part of each Chinese "native," while Jing-mei has never realized that names serve as a connection within a family, or that her own name has significance. Even as an American woman, the beauty of the Chinese within her name remains potent and moving.
Jing-mei has meaning: “Jing” means ‘the pure essence of something, without impurities,’ and “mei" means “younger sister." Her identity is created at her birth by her mother, who believed that her name will someday connect her to her older half-sisters, the twins...she will be their essence: also a connection between the West and the East.
This is not a tie that Jing-mei had ever been aware of before, though her mother had for many years—and her mother’s purpose was clear in her own heart from the moment of Jing-mei's birth: Jing-mei would one day return to China and connect with her sisters.
In her dreams, Jing-mei uses the Chinese when first meeting the twins, saying to them: "Jyejye, Jyejye," which means "Sister Sister." When they do meet, the sisters say to Jing-mei, "Meimei jandale," or "Little sister has grown up."
The Chinese phrases and names are little pieces of one culture, flowing into another, specifically connecting Jing-mei of the West to something of herself that her mother had predicted would one day come to her: a sense and acceptance of the East—specifically her Chinese heritage.
This does, in fact, happen as Jing-mei's mother had hoped, and the use of the Chinese language helps to pull on the strings that draw these families closer together, allowing Jing-mei one other way to connect to her family and her heritage.
The words not only serve to reflect connections within the divided families of East and West, but actually show Jing-mei another way that these families have crossed oceans to be joined as one.