In what ways does the narrator feel both at home and foreign in China, in Amy Tan's "A Pair of Tickets?"

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jing-Mei, the narrator of Amy Tan's short story, "A Pair of Tickets," from her collection entitled, The Joy Luck Club, travels to China where she feels at home and, at the same time, alien to her surroundings and experiences.

From the time Jing-Mei was a child, she insisted there was no Chinese in her at all beneath the skin, although she is the daughter of two Chinese immigrants. When she returns to China with her father, traveling on the train, though she has never been there before, she feels a sense of coming home:

For the first time I can ever remember, my father has tears in his eyes, and all he is seeing out the train window is a sectioned field of yellow, green, and brown, a narrow canal flanking the tracks, low rising hills, and three people in blue jackets riding an ox-driven cart on this early October morning. And I can't help myself. I also have misty eyes, as if I had seen this a long, long time ago, and had almost forgotten.

Jing-Mei feels alien when she arrives in Guangzhou: her passport picture shows a westernized young woman with make-up and chic hair, but in the heat, her face and hair are plain. Though she may look Chinese, her passport announces that she is an American.

When Jing-Mei meets her father's great-aunt, Aiyi, and her children and grandchildren, the difference in language also makes Jing-Mei feel like an outsider. Her father and his aunt speak Mandarin, while Aiyi's family speaks Cantonese. Jing-Mei can understand Mandarin, but cannot really speak either language, and her relatives do not speak English.

Aiyi and my father speak the Mandarin dialect from their childhood, but the rest of the family speaks only the Cantonese of their village. I understand only Mandarin but can't speak it that well. So Aiyi and my father gossip unrestrained in Mandarin...And they stop only occasionally to talk to the rest of us, sometimes in Cantonese, sometimes in English.

Jing-Mei worries about meeting her half-sisters, daughters that her dead mother had to leave behind in China while trying to escape, almost dying herself. Jing-Mei is afraid she was not a good enough daughter, did not appreciate her mother. She fears the reception she will receive when they meet. However, her fear is unfounded. The girls look much like her mother, in an instant, and Jing-Mei feels immediately at home with them. Her mother's spirit seems to move among the three of them, and they joyfully welcome each other, surrounding Jing-Mei with a sense of homecoming and belonging.

And now I see [my mother] again, two of her, waving and in one hand there is a photo, the Polaroid I sent them. As soon as I get beyond the gate, we run toward each other, all three of us embracing, all hesitations and expectations forgotten.

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jing Mei feels both at home and foreign in China for a number of reasons.

First, she feels foreign because she towers over the typical Chinese citizen. The text tells us that Jing Mei stands at five-foot-six and that her gaze meets at eye-level with other tourists. Jing Mei's height makes her feel self-conscious and foreign.

To add to her discomfort, Jing Mei speaks little Mandarin. This puts her at a disadvantage in China, where the majority of the people speak the language. Jing Mei is embarrassed when she must resort to asking another American tourist for help in getting a taxi. Unfortunately for Jing Mei, the tourist answers in unrecognizable Dutch or Swedish. When she finally meets her relatives, the language barrier further increases her sense of alienation. 

Aiyi (Jing Mei's great-aunt) chats in Mandarin with Jing Mei's father, while the rest of the family speaks Cantonese, another dialect Jing Mei has problems communicating in. Jing Mei also experiences some difficulty when she tries to converse with Lili, Aiyi's great-granddaughter. The only Cantonese words she can think of are terms for bodily functions, swear words, and various unconnected phrases. The language barrier makes Jing Mei feel like a foreigner, despite her Chinese descent. Above all, Jing Mei's discomfort is derived from the fact that she has no meaningful memories of China and feels little connection to her parents' relatives. 

Jing Mei's only consolation is that she understands a fair amount of Mandarin, despite her inability to speak it well.

When she finally meets her two half-sisters, however, Jing Mei begins to feel a sense of belonging. Because of her mother, she shares the same Chinese heritage with her sisters. Jing Mei finally comes to realize that her mother loved all of her daughters. This new understanding makes Jing Mei feel more at home in China. 

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question