Brave Orchid, age 68, goes to the San Francisco airport to pick up Moon Orchid, a sister she hasn't seen in thirty years. She has been waiting at the airport for nine hours, concentrating on wishing the flight well.
Brave Orchid's niece, Moon Orchid's daughter, is waiting with her. Brave Orchid's two children are off looking at gift shops and such.
Brave Orchid has brought bags of food for everyone, but only the niece sits and eats with her.
She notices lots of young men at the airport to fly to Vietnam to fight. She remembers that her son is fighting in Vietnam, too. She now splits her well-wishes to include the ship he's on. Brave Orchid's kids tell her that her son is in the Philippines, but she doesn't believe them. She wanted him to escape to Canada.
Brave Orchid's son and daughter run up, announcing that the flight's come in early.
Brave Orchid runs up to the arrivals area, and waits and waits. She waits for four hours.
She thinks back to the immigration process back in the Ellis Island days. Things have changed.
Suddenly Brave Orchid thinks she sees her sister, but it's only someone who looks like Moon Orchid did thirty years ago. Then she sees another Moon Orchid, but she's greeted by a young man.
Moon Orchid's daughter spots her mom finally. Brave Orchid is shocked at how old this woman is. This woman, her sister?
As she goes through security, or the Suitcase Inspector Ghost, Moon Orchid does not look at the windows where her family waits. Instead, she looks at the tissue pulled out of her suitcase. Brave Orchid is all in a frenzy that her sister has yet to notice her.
Moon Orchid's daughter continues to call "Mama!" Finally, Moon Orchid looks up and runs over before she is called back by the security officer.
Moon Orchid looks up to see her sister. The two have "faces like mirrors" (4.34).
The two sisters meet and one-up each other on how old the other looks.
The two sisters and their three children drive home. The sisters marvel at one another all the way home.
When they arrive Moon Orchid meets her brother-in-law for the first time. They exchange greetings in English.
Moon Orchid presents gifts for everyone: shoes for her nieces and nephews from Lovely Orchid (the youngest aunt, who runs a shoe factory), jeweled earrings for her nieces, and black paper cutouts of both Communists and Fa Mu Lan.
Brave Orchid doesn't like how excited the kids are about the paper cutouts; it's rude to play with gifts in front of the giver. She offers everyone rock candy so that the beginning of their time is sweet.
Brave Orchid does this thing she often does, which is open the front door and open the back door while mumbling stuff. Her kids ask her what's up but she never tells them. They stop asking.
Brave Orchid is irked by the fact that her sister is putting stuff all over the room. Adults should know how to put things away, thinks Brave Orchid.
Moon Orchid presents her sister with a warm silk green dress. Brave Orchid insists that she give the dress to one of the kids.
Moon Orchid notices the picture of their parent up on the wall. She also notices a picture of Brave Orchid and her husband. Brave Orchid has put it up because she fears her kids won't have the good sense to pay tribute on their own. Moon Orchid pokes around the room, asking about things, like why Brave Orchid's husband has locked some of the cabinets.
Brave Orchid and her sister cook a huge dinner for everyone. Brave Orchid doesn't let anyone talk during dinner, but seems to let the kids talk in English.
Brave Orchid seems to want to talk with her sister about something important. Moon Orchid and her daughter insist that she's too tired and the talk should wait until morning.
Moon Orchid's husband is in America but he does not know that Moon Orchid has arrived. Brave Orchid has been trying for years to bring her sister to America, but Moon Orchid's own husband never brought it up. Brave Orchid found a Chinese American husband for Moon Orchid's daughter, finally allowing Moon Orchid to be brought over.
Moon Orchid is uncomfortable with the prospect of seeing her husband again. Her husband has taken a second wife and they have three children. Moon Orchid doesn't want to bother him. Brave Orchid insists that she has a right to, as his first wife.
Moon Orchid's daughter has never seen her father, and she would like to.
Brave Orchid urges her sister to go to her husband's house and say "I am the first wife, and [your second wife] is our servant" (4.104). She also encourages her to get a job in a hotel or restaurant. She realizes that Moon Orchid has lived a pampered life in Hong Kong from her husband's sent money. But Brave Orchid is a self-starter, a go-getter, and she urges her sister to be one, too.
After a lot of this pressure from her sister, Moon Orchid agrees to confronting her husband. Moon Orchid's daughter sits by her mom's side through all this, happy to be reunited. The husband Brave Orchid set her up with is kind of a jerk. Moon Orchid has yet to meet her grandchildren. Brave Orchid shows Moon Orchid the display case of all of her kids' awards. Brave Orchid can hardly believe that her kids were brilliant enough to have won them.
Though still in third person, the narrative goes more into Moon Orchid's perspective for a little bit. She finds it hard to keep track of all of Brave Orchid's kids. They all seem rather unfriendly to her, though she is an aunt they have never seen. However, she thinks that the kids aren't demure enough; it's rude how they look her straight in the eyes and always accept compliments.
Brave Orchid takes Moon Orchid to the laundry by way of Chinatown. Moon Orchid thinks that China town is what all of America is like. Brave Orchid continues to be shocked by her sister's foolishness.
Brave Orchid assigns Moon Orchid the job of ironing, but it's not long before she's yellowing a shirt and giggling about it. Brave Orchid, exasperated, sends her sister on a walk. Moon Orchid is afraid to walk without her sister, though. So, Brave Orchid gives her the easy task of winding the awning down.
Brave Orchid takes her sister to a restaurant in Chinatown and introduces some lady friends to her. When the ladies restart a game of mahjong, Brave Orchid and her sister leave.
Eventually, Moon Orchid's role at the laundry is to fold handkerchiefs. She only works in the afternoons, when there is clean laundry to fold and the fans are blasting to keep the temperature bearable.
Moon Orchid starts doing this thing in the evenings – she follows her nieces and nephews around, narrating what they're doing as they're doing it. It drives the "children" (they're adults) crazy.
Moon Orchid keeps putting off finding her husband. Brave Orchid keeps bringing it up. Moon Orchid says she's happy being with Brave Orchid's family.
Moon Orchid's daughter says she needs to return to her family in Los Angeles. Brave Orchid insists that they'll make a trip out of it, bringing Moon Orchid to her husband along the way.
The whole 500-mile drive down, Brave Orchid nags Moon Orchid about how the hubby meeting is going to go down. Brave Orchid insists that Moon Orchid make her presence aggressive and bold. She says her sister should sit in the most important chair in the house and "take off [her] shoes because [she belongs]" (4.226).
Moon Orchid is scared and worries that the United States doesn't allow for two wives. She wants Brave Orchid to go with her to talk to her husband.
Brave Orchid suggests a bunch of possibilities for a dramatic entrance. For example, Moon Orchid could dress up in a wig and "disguise [herself] as a beautiful lady" (4.241). For some reason, this freaks out her sister more than it comforts her.
We learn that Brave Orchid convinced her niece (Moon Orchid's daughter, in the car with them) to write her father five years ago, suggesting that they meet up. He did not want to see her.
The family drops off Moon Orchid's daughter at her home in Los Angeles. Brave Orchid doesn't let her sister get out of the car to see her grandchildren.
Moon Orchid, Brave Orchid and Brave Orchid's son (the driver) arrive outside of a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles.
Brave Orchid gets out of the car and scopes out the building. She realizes that this is the office building of Moon Orchid's husband. We learn that Brave Orchid's dad had two wives.
Brave Orchid goes into the waiting room. Moon Orchid's husband is a doctor. Brave Orchid talks with the receptionist, who turns out to be the second wife. Her Chinese language skills are bad. Brave Orchid pretends to have the flu; the receptionist tells her that her husband is booked solid for a month. We learn that Moon Orchid's husband is a brain surgeon.
Brave Orchid realizes that her sister's husband must be really clever since he's able to practice in the United States, whereas she could not. She also figures that he's pretty well-off. This of course means that money didn't keep him from sending for Moon Orchid. He could have sent for Moon Orchid to come to the United States at any time, but chose not to.
Brave Orchid returns to the car and tells Moon Orchid that she needs to look really hot in order to compete with her husband's young cute wife.
Moon Orchid insists that she cannot go up to confront her husband. Brave Orchid makes her son run up to the doctor and pretend that one of the women has hurt her leg. Her son begrudgingly obliges.
When the doctor rushes down, we're told he looks and smells "like an American" (4.293). Of course, he soon realizes that no one has broken her leg. Brave Orchid does all of the divulging and confronting as Moon Orchid sits crumpled and silent.
The doctor tells Moon Orchid that she wasn't "supposed to come here" and that she "can't belong" (4.303). He insists that he has a new life with his wife, an American life that Moon Orchid doesn't fit into.
The nurse (the second wife) has arrived to check if everything's OK. The doctor and the nurse speak to one another in English.
Brave Orchid is outraged that the doctor would leave them in this manner and insists that he take them to lunch. He does.
Brave Orchid and her son drive Moon Orchid to her daughter's house in L.A. We learn she will never see her husband again.
Moon Orchid doesn't write Brave Orchid a letter for months. This is a big deal since she used to write every other week from China. Brave Orchid calls her sister to see what's up, but Moon Orchid quickly gets off the phone, paranoid that people are spying on her.
Moon Orchid's daughter writes Brave Orchid. She tells her that her mom has become afraid, really afraid, conspiracy theory-style. She's convinced that "Mexican ghosts" are out for her life and spying on her every move.
Brave Orchid sends for her sister, who arrives via Greyhound bus. The way she holds herself is different. She dresses in baggy clothes for disguise. Brave Orchid holds her sister's hand on the walk home.
Brave Orchid tries to convince her sister that no one is after her. She makes her sister herbal medicines and food. She sleeps next to Moon Orchid so she can rest with a sense of security.
Moon Orchid continues to follow her nieces and nephews around, narrating their every move. She doesn't go outside. She turns off all of the lights inside, as though an air raid is going on.
Moon Orchid won't let the kids leave the house, afraid that they will never return.
They close their bedroom doors on their bizarre aunt. Moon Orchid's paranoia mounts, and even Brave Orchid can't handle it. She calls her niece, who has Moon Orchid put in an insane asylum. Brave Orchid's house returns to normal.
Brave Orchid goes to visit her sister twice. Moon Orchid seems happy in the asylum, happy with the rest of the patients as her daughters. She claims that they understand one another.
Brave Orchid seems to think that Moon Orchid's state is a result of her husband's infidelity. She makes her kids promise to keep their father from taking on another woman. Brave Orchid doesn't think she'd take an affair any better than her sister.
Kingston writes that Brave Orchid's daughters (meaning her sisters and she) vowed to never "let men be unfaithful to them" and to "major in science or mathematics" (4.367). Well, that last one definitely worked out.