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Suyuan tried to get her daughter, Jing-mei, to excel in all kinds of things before finally settling on trying be a piano sensation. The first attempt at being brilliant and famous was to be a a Chinese Shirley Temple. The attempt failed miserably when the beautician failed to give Jing-mei the right kind of hairstyle.
Instead of getting big fat curls, I emerged with an uneven mass of crinkly black fuzz. My mother dragged me off to the bathroom and tried to wet down my hair.
After that the attempt was to be a geography prodigy. Jing-mei was tested on her knowledge of states, countries, and capitals. No luck there either. From there, Suyuan tested Jing-mei for math excellence, card counting, weather predictions, and even Bible memorization.
The tests got harder - multiplying numbers in my head, finding the queen of hearts in a deck of cards, trying to stand on my head without using my hands, predicting the daily temperatures in Los Angeles, New York, and London. One night I had to look at a page from the Bible for three minutes and then report everything I could remember.
Eventually, Jing-mei grew to hate the tests, because all that she ever saw was disappointment in her mother's face. As a coping mechanism, Jing-mei started to intentionally perform poorly. Her hope was that Suyuan would give up. That didn't work, because the next part of the text narrates the piano sequence mentioned in your question.
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