Jin starts his story off with a story his mother tells him. Here's how that story goes (and, by the way, Yang wants you to know that Jin's mom's story is translated from Mandarin Chinese):
There was once a (Chinese) mother and her son. Because they lived near the marketplace, the son liked to pretend he was a merchant, haggling over prices.
The mom didn't like that, so they moved to a house near a cemetery. If you're thinking "bad move," you're right because the boy would play by burning incense and praying to his ancestors.
So they moved again, this time to a house across the street from a university. They stayed because—you guessed it—the son "played" by spending all his time studying.
Jin's mom tells him this story while they're moving to their new house in the suburbs.
Cue backstory. Jin tells us how his parents met. They both arrived in America at the same airport one week apart, but they never actually met each other until a year and a half later, in the library at San Francisco State University, as grad students.
Anyway, you know how this story ends: both become respectable professionals (his dad, an engineer; his mom, a librarian), marry, and move to San Francisco Chinatown, where they live for nine years.
Jin's got a bunch of friends just like him: Chinese, with a thing for Saturday morning cartoons and robot toys.
There's also this old Chinese lady who's an herbalist. She asks him what he wants to be when he grows up and he says a Transformer, which totally just puzzles the old lady since she has no clue what a Transformer is.
But that doesn't matter. Jin matters and she tells him that he can be whatever he wants… as long as he's willing to give up his soul. Yep—this little old lady ain't exactly sweet.
Flash-forward to Jin's first day at his new elementary school. Hint: it doesn't go great. Kids make fun of him for being Chinese, his teacher can't pronounce his name properly, and a kid named Timmy says in class that Chinese people eat dogs.
Then there's Suzy Nakamura, the only other Asian person in the class… and school. Everyone makes up a rumor about how Jin and Suzy are arranged to be married on her 13th birthday though, so these two completely avoid each other.
Jin's a loner at school, especially during lunch. Unless, of course, you count the guys who make fun of him.
There is this one kid, a blonde white boy, who tries to defend him, but not much comes of it.
Then there's this other kid called Peter Grabinsky, Jin's first friend.
Peter's both a bully and a misfit, so their friendship isn't exactly stellar; plus Peter leaves the school and doesn't return.
Then Wei-Chen arrives. He's this earnest kid from Taiwan (not China) who tries to become Jin's friend.
Jin, however, just isn't into Wei-Chen. In fact, Wei-Chen just makes Jin want to beat him up.
Why? Wei-Chen looks (and sounds) like your stereotypical Chinese geek. High-water waist pants, glasses, Pee-Wee Herman hair, bad fashion sense, and terrible English.
But Wei-Chen's got a toy robot that changes into a monkey. And that makes all the difference. Jin finally has a friend.