Jing-mei fails memory tests, and at the piano.
The first tests Jing-mei fails are memory tests. Some of them are a little silly.
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.
She is also supposed to memorize the Bible, and gets not much of it at all. Jing-mei is dejected, saying, "I hated the tests, the raised hopes and failed expectations." She feels that she is ugly and worthless. It is a terrible thing for a young girl to feel so unimportant, especially when she really hasn’t been given a chance.
Her mother is disappointed, but does not give up. Deciding that her daughter will not be a genius, she decides to move on to talent. After watching the Ed Sullivan Show, she decides that Jing-mei is going to learn to play the piano. Jing-mei is frustrated.
"Why don't you like me the way I am?" I cried. "I'm not a genius! I can't play the piano. And even if I could, I wouldn't go on TV if you paid me a million dollars!"
Her mother gets frustrated. She tells her that she does not need to be a genius, but only learn to play the piano. She mutters under her breath about her daughter’s temper. In fact, Jing-mei never really gets very far with the piano. Mr. Chong, the neighbor her mother is trading cleaning services for piano lessons with, is basically deaf, and he does not know that she is not really learning.
Mothers and daughters rarely see eye to eye, and this is a story about failed communication as well as failed expectations. Jing-mei does not realize that her mother really wants her to succeed at being a prodigy because she wants her to have a better life than she had. She just wants her to learn the value of hard work. It is unfortunately a skill that Jing-mei takes a long time to learn.