Ying-ying begins by saying that she was so quiet for so long, keeping her true nature hidden, that her daughter no longer hears her.
She wants to tell her daughter that both of them are lost, so lost that no one knows them.
But as Ying-ying remembers a time that she ran and shouted, telling the Moon Lady a secret wish, we get a flashback.
In the flashback, it’s 1918 and Ying-ying is an inquisitive four-year-old. She wakes up to many preparations for the Moon Festival—she's dressed in pretty clothes and her hair is done nicely despite her fidgeting.
Ying-ying’s amah (nanny) tells her what the Moon Festival is all about: it’s the day when you can see the Moon Lady and she will fulfill your "secret wish." But your wish must remain unspoken, because if you speak it, then it’s a "selfish desire."
Relatives from all over arrive to celebrate the Moon Festival.
They have rented a boat on Tai Lake, and Ying-ying’s nanny promises that the little girl will meet the Moon Lady.
Throughout the morning, Ying-ying is very impatient to get to the boat. Obviously. She’s four, for heaven’s sake.
She gets scolded for running around chasing a dragonfly because that’s what boys do. Ying-ying should be acting like a girl, waiting quietly for the dragonfly to come up to her.
Finally the family is brought to the lake by a team of rickshaws.
Ying-ying has fun exploring the boat.
She watches boys use a bird to catch fish.
She watches an old woman gut and clean the fish.
Ying-ying’s new clothes are completely soiled. Her nanny finds her, scolds her, and removes all her clothes.
Ying-ying continues standing in the back of the boat, waiting for her mother to come scold her.
No one comes, and when the fireworks go off, Ying-ying falls into the lake. No one notices.
She is caught by a fishing boat, and the nice fishermen joke about her being a fish.
They ask her to point to her family’s boat, and Ying-ying picks a boat, only to discover that the little girl on that boat is safe.
The people in the fishing boat try to determine Ying-ying’s identity. Briefly they wonder if she’s a beggar, but they decide that she’s from a wealthy family because her skin is pale and her feet are soft.
Ying-ying feels lost forever without her family.
Her rescuers drop her off on shore, assuming that her family will look for her there. But, what do they think they’re doing, leaving a four-year-old alone?
On shore, Ying-ying forgets her troubles when she watches a play about the Moon Lady.
She is utterly entranced by the tragic tale of separation; the Mood Lady’s husband lives on the sun while the Moon Lady is banished from the earth to the moon for stealing a magic peach.
Ying-ying sobs at the end of the play, drawing a connection between her own loss and the Moon Lady’s loss of the world and her husband.
Ying-ying runs to tell the Moon Lady her secret wish (exactly what she’s not supposed to do), but as she runs closer and closer, the beautiful Moon Lady starts to look odd.
As Ying-ying declares her wish, she realizes that the Moon Lady is a man.
End of flashback.
In the present day, Ying-ying says she eventually forgot both her secret wish and her return to her family.
However, as she ages, she remembers more of the beginning of her life and how she lost herself.
Her secret wish to the Moon Lady was that she be found.