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Lindo’s daughter, Waverly, is anxious about blending in on her trip to China; she is both worried about fitting in too well, but also mad at her mom for saying that everyone will pick her out as a foreigner instantly.
Apparently it’s now fashionable to be Chinese, whereas when Waverly was a little girl she did everything she could to avoid seeming Chinese.
Lindo rebukes herself for thinking that she could give her children "American circumstances and Chinese character." She now realizes that the two are mutually exclusive options.
Waverly learned American circumstances – that you don’t have to accept the circumstances other people give you, and that you can have more than what you are born to. But Waverly never gained a Chinese character – respect, tact, knowledge of her own self-worth.
Then the narrative shifts to a beauty parlor, where Waverly wants Lindo’s hair to be cut in order to look decent for the wedding (Waverly and Rich’s).
Mr. Rory, the stylist, and Waverly talk around Lindo, acting like Lindo can’t understand English, is deaf, and can’t pick her own hairstyle.
To Lindo’s pleasure and Waverly’s disgust, Mr. Rory mentions that Waverly and Lindo look very similar.
Lindo and Waverly look in the mirror together. Lindo says that she can see Waverly’s character and future in her face.
In her mind, Lindo also says that their faces are so similar, and they have the same character strengths and flaws. Because their faces are so alike, Waverly will have a similar life fortune to her mother’s.
We enter into a flashback of when Lindo was ten-years-old.
Lindo’s mother looks at Lindo’s face to deduce her character. She goes over all of Lindo’s facial characteristics: Lindo has good, thick ears, which means her life will be full of blessings; a straight nose, which is a good sign; a broad forehead, so she’ll be clever; etc.
Lindo’s face shows one flaw, her low hairline shows that she will have some troubles in her youth.
Lindo’s mother determines that Lindo will be "a good wife, mother, and daughter-in-law."
Lindo and her mother have similar faces, and out of her adoration of her mother, Lindo wants to look even more like her.
Lindo’s flashback ends.
Lindo realizes that her face has changed, and her mother never saw the changes. Lindo’s nose has become crooked (thanks to American public transportation), and the look in her eyes has changed to be more American. Basically, Lindo has lost her Chinese face.
Lindo enters into a flashback about her preparation for immigrating to America and eventual arrival. Keep in mind that this flashback is all a narration to Waverly.
Lindo pays an American-raised Chinese girl for advice on being in America.
She gets advised to hide her true reasons for going to the U.S. and pretend to be a student of theology.
She’s also advised to find an American citizen for a husband. And if Lindo can’t find an American citizen to marry, then she should have a baby in the U.S., even though she can’t let on to the American authorities that this is her plan.
The girl also gives Lindo some addresses of people she should meet in San Francisco, "people with big connections."
When she arrives in America, the officials don’t hassle her.
She decides to go to one of the addresses of the "people with big connections."
When she gets to this address, a grumpy lady gives her some more addresses – which eventually helps Lindo find a crappy apartment and an awful job – and expects a big tip.
Lindo ends up working at a fortune cookie factory, folding the cookie dough into the right shape.
Lindo burns her fingers repeatedly on the hot cookie dough, but she also meets An-mei.
An-mei jokingly points out that they are very powerful women; they determine people’s fortunes. Lindo doesn’t get the joke, so An-mei explains that they are putting tacky sayings into cookies, and American people think that the cookies hold Chinese sayings that tell them their fortune.
An-mei brings Lindo to church and sets her up with a man named Tin Jong.
Although they speak separate dialects (Tin speaks Cantonese and Lindo speaks Mandarin), Lindo decides to try him out. After all, this isn’t China so she can decide for herself if she wants to marry him.
Lindo and Tin can’t communicate with each other, but they attend English classes together.
Lindo, with An-mei’s help, sets out to assist Tin in realizing that he wants to marry her. Hey, a little manipulation never hurt anyone.
At the cookie factory, An-mei and Lindo go through the fortunes, looking for one that will nudge Tin in the right direction.
Lindo finds the perfect fortune: "A house is not a home when a spouse is not at home." Then she folds a cookie around it.
The next day, after English class, Lindo acts like she is surprised to find a cookie in her purse. She gives it to Tin and innocently ask him what the fortune says. But Tin doesn’t know what the word "spouse" means, so he’s planning on looking it up in the dictionary that night.
The next day he asks Lindo, in English, "Will you spouse me?" They joke about his poor use of the word "spouse," but obviously her answer is "yes" since she engineered the whole proposal.
Nine months after the wedding, Lindo gives birth to a son, Winston (who dies 16 years later in a car accident). In another two years, they have a second son, Vincent. Both children are named to bring luck and wealth ("wins ton" and "win cent").
When Lindo gives birth to Waverly and child looks so much like her, Lindo realizes she is dissatisfied with her own circumstances and wants this little girl to have a better life. She names her Waverly after the street they live on, so the little girl will know she belongs, and always carry a piece of her mother with her after she leaves home.
No longer in the flashback, we return to the beauty parlor scene.
Waverly and Lindo look into the mirror side by side. Lindo’s hair looks great.
She looks at Waverly, as if for the first time, and realizes that Waverly’s nose is crooked. Waverly says her nose was always like that, she has her mom’s nose (but remember Lindo’s nose became crooked when she busted it in a crowded San Francisco bus).
The mother and daughter talk about their crooked noses, which Waverly thinks makes them look devious, which she translates to her mom as "two-faced."
Lindo thinks about having a double face – one American and one Chinese – and notes that when she went back to China the previous year, everyone knew that she wasn’t 100% Chinese.