The story as I originally heard it from Zhou Lei, my Chinese teacher every Sunday afternoon at Temple B'nai Chaim, goes like this: a girl named Yan Yu is adopted into a white family and taken to a small town in Maine. Shortly after she leaves China, her birth mother, along with her brother, are killed in a factory fire. Yan Yu's birth father -- a man named Chao -- grieves, but he is not to be reconciled. He decides to search for his daughter.
In his village, Chao finds the right people, says the correct words, presents the appropriate gifts. He's told by an official at the orphanage where Yan Yu had once lived, that his daughter is in a place called "Crooked Bay," and gives her Western name: Molly Kutner. It takes years, and practically every yuan he can gather, but Chao is finally able to immigrate to the U.S. and gets a job as a waiter in a place called The Golden Panda, Crooked Bay's only Chinese-style restaurant.
And here's where he gets lucky. The adoptive parents of Yan Yu, in their honorable efforts to preserve the girl's heritage, take her to The Golden Panda every Friday night. Chao can hardly believe it the night he hears the adoptive mother call the girl "Molly," and sees the name "Barry Kutner" embossed across the credit card. And although the girl is seven or eight years old now, her true father recognizes her immediately.
But Chao cannot admit to the girl that he is her father. That he was -- willingly or not -- involved in her abandonment. To do this would be the greatest loss of face any parent could ever suffer. Instead he must content himself to serve her. To say, "Yes, Miss," and "My pleasure, Miss," and "Right away, Miss." He will do this until the day she leaves Crooked Bay for college. Then, depending upon whom you believe, Chao either returns to China, or dies of a broken heart right there. Right in the kitchen of The Golden Panda.