Jing-mei opens by talking about her "life’s importance," a jade pendant that her mother gave her on Chinese New Year. She has no idea what the pedant means. She wishes she could ask her mom, but Suyuan is dead.
As a piece of jewelry, Jing-mei thinks the pendant isn’t attractive, but she’s been wearing it every day recently, wanting to find out what her mother intended it to mean.
Jing-mei notices other Chinese people wearing the same kind of pendant. She asks one guy about his. His mom gave it to him, but he basically has no understanding of what his means either.
We flash back to Chinese New Year, when Jing-mei’s mom was alive.
Jing-mei helps her mom prepare the holiday meal. They go to Chinatown and shop for crabs.
Suyuan complains about the tenants in the building she owns, how they take multiple showers a day and run up the water bill, how they always have too many bags of garbage so she has to pay extra, etc.
She also complains that her tenants think she poisoned this cat that was a pest, always glaring at her through the kitchen window. Jing-mei’s pretty sure her mom did poison the cat.
While shopping, Jing-mei has to select the most alive-looking crabs, but they end up being forced to take one missing a leg, which is bad luck. Thankfully, there will only be ten people eating dinner, and the crab missing the leg makes eleven, so it’s extra.
Back at home, her mom starts preparing the crabs. Jing-mei can’t handle watching them be boiled because once she made a pet out of a crab as a child, only to have her mom cook it.
Suyuan invites Lindo and Tin Jong for dinner, which means the whole Jong family is invited, including Lindo’s son, Vincent, and his girlfriend Lisa, Waverly, Rich, and Shoshana. Jing-mei’s old piano teacher, Mr. Chong, is also invited. Eleven people in all for dinner – someone will have to take the legless crab.
When the crabs are served, the Jong family takes all the best crabs. Jing-mei’s father and Mr. Chong get the best out of what’s left, leaving Jing-mei and her mother with really bad crabs.
Jing-mei takes the worst crab (the one missing a leg), but her mother stops her and gives her the better of the two crabs.
There’s quite a bit of bickering over dinner.
Lindo criticizes the way Rich eats crab. Waverly, Rich, Vincent, and Lisa all think that Lindo is gross for eating the crab’s brain.
Tin Jong makes jokes about how he told his daughter not to marry poor, she should marry Rich. Ha ha.
Then Vincent asks when Waverly is getting married already. And she directs the same question right back at him, making Lisa uncomfortable (guess Vincent hasn’t popped the question yet).
Waverly compliments Jing-mei’s haircut, but criticizes her choice of a stylist, David, who is gay. To Waverly, this means David probably has AIDS and has given the disease to Jing-mei through her hair. (Wow, that’s a lot of assumptions to make.)
To make it worse, Waverly recommends her own hair stylist, but says he might be too expensive for her.
Now Jing-mei is mad and decides to make a jab back. Jing-mei did some freelance work for the firm Waverly works at and hasn’t yet been paid. So she says that she could afford the haircut if Waverly’s firm could get it together to pay their bills.
Then Waverly says that the firm hasn’t paid because they think Jing-mei’s work is "unacceptable." Then she mocks Jing-mei’s work in front of everyone. Which the whole group seems to think is a great joke.
Suyuan even admits that Jing-mei isn’t as sophisticated as Waverly.
Jing-mei is totally mortified. She starts to clean off the table and do the dishes. She realizes that she’s just herself, nothing more, nothing less.
Jing-mei notices that her mom didn’t even touch the crab that was missing a leg. Suyuan says she didn’t eat it because it died before it was even cooked, so it was bad.
Jing-mei wants to know why her mom even cooked it then. Her mom responds that she knew no one but Jing-mei would ever pick it, because everyone else selects things that are top quality. Jing-mei can’t tell if this is a criticism or a compliment.
At this moment, Suyuan takes off her necklace and gives it to Jing-mei. She says that when Jing-mei wears it, she will know her mother’s meaning. She tells her daughter that the pendant is Jing-mei’s "life importance."
Jing-mei thinks her mom gave her the necklace to make her feel better after Waverly humiliated her. Suyuan insists that Waverly is like a crab, always waking sideways and crooked.
The flashback ends.
Jing-mei is in the kitchen of her parents’ house, cooking dinner for her widowed father.
She notices that the annoying cat has returned – her mom didn’t poison it after all. The cat annoys her too, and just like her mom, Jing-mei starts pounding on the kitchen window to try to scare the cat away.