Why doesn't Suyuan use the dishes Jing-mei gave her?

Suyuan does not use the dishes Suyuan gave her because she is "saving" them, but in fact, she values her old dishes as an expression of self-denial and sacrifice.

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The simple answer as to why Suyuan doesn't use the dishes Jing-mei gave her is that she is saving them. Jing-mei is helping her mother wash dishes after a meal and notices that she is still using her old chipped plates. When Jing-mei asks why her mother is not using...

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The simple answer as to why Suyuan doesn't use the dishes Jing-mei gave her is that she is saving them. Jing-mei is helping her mother wash dishes after a meal and notices that she is still using her old chipped plates. When Jing-mei asks why her mother is not using the new dishes that she bought her, her mother says, "Sometime I think something is so good, I want to save it. Then I forget I save it."

The real reason, however, has to do with the value of old things and a dislike for superficial "newness." Just before this conversation, Jing-mei notices that her mother has not eaten the crab on her plate, and when she asks about it, her mother explains that the crab was dead when it was cooked, so it was no good. But she cooked it anyway, she explains, because it might have been good.

When Jing-mei asks what she would have done if one of the guests had picked the bad crab, Suyuan says that "nobody else" would have taken it—"Everybody else want best quality. You thinking different." In other words, the dead crab was a kind of test. Picking the dead crab is akin to acknowledging that sacrifice, and going without is better than selfishly seeking the best.

So, one way to understand why she doesn't use the new dishes is that, while she is proud to own them, to use them would be an act of selfish boasting.

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