Last Updated December 9, 2022.
In her daughter’s guest bedroom, Ying-ying St. Clair thinks about how she loves her daughter but also about how her Chinese thinking is so different from her daughter’s ideas. Her daughter’s house and even this guest room make no sense to Ying-ying, and she can tell that her daughter’s life is falling apart.
As a young girl, Ying-ying was stubborn and wild, pretty and prideful. She was a somewhat naughty child who did not realize the level of her family’s wealth. When Ying-ying was sixteen, her youngest aunt married, and she met the man who would become her husband. He was a crude, laughing man, and although she was wild, she was also innocent. He attracted her and repulsed her at the same time, yet she knew she would marry him even as he claimed her as his own.
Ying-ying grew to love her new husband and longed to please him. She felt that she was now a stranger to herself, doing everything for him, and she soon became pregnant. Then she found out from her aunt that her husband had left her for another girl. Ying-ying had an abortion and decided that she would be a “tiger lady,” for she was born in the year of the Tiger.
Ying-ying went to live in the country with her cousin’s family for ten years. She was surrounded by poverty. Then she decided to go to the city. She bought new clothing, cut her hair in a stylish fashion, and became a shopgirl. Not long after, Ying-ying met Mr. St. Clair, whom she called “Saint.” He courted her for four years, giving her little trinkets that he thought would please her, unaware of her family’s great wealth.
When Ying-ying heard that her husband had died, she agreed to marry Saint. The couple moved to America, and Ying-ying now felt that she had no spirit. She had tried to accept Western ways and raise her daughter accordingly. Yet there was something of the tiger left in Ying-ying, enough for her to help her daughter find her own internal tiger.