The Matchmaker’s Promise

Photo by gill_penney/Flickr, CC BY 2.0.
Photo by gill_penney/Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Lilly considered herself to be lucky compared to others. She grew up in Guangzhou, China as the third eldest of eight children. Like most children, she went to school and lived in a tight knit community. After school she would come home to help around the house, finish her homework and take care of her younger siblings. Everyone in the house learned the importance of being present at dinner. Lilly appreciated her family, as they all worked together wherever and however they could.

When Lilly was sixteen, she worked her first job at the local supermarket. She stood for hours stocking shelves and managing the cashier station. The longer arm of the small white clock, hanging behind the cashier, ticked it’s slow and rhythmic tune. Although it was a demanding job and the hours were long, Lilly was happy to work because she knew that it was all for her family.

One day after work, Lilly met up with her older sister Cindy. She smiled as she walked toward her sister. “Hi older sister, did you eat yet?” Even under the dim streetlight Lilly could tell that her sister was also tired, so she took the white plastic bags of groceries out of her hands.

“Not yet.” Cindy sighed, “Did you know another one of my friends is going to America?”


“She said she could find a better job there.”

“Did the matchmaker find her a good man?”

“I don’t know, she did not say.”

The two continued on their way home, both sisters filled with the idea about life in America. Lilly dreamed about the opportunities that were possible overseas. She heard stories from her aunts and uncles about their friends whom were able to work hard and eventually own their own businesses. The two sisters had already thought about this idea for years. After considering living in America, they finally built up the courage to ask their father for permission.

At the dinner table, Lilly asked her father in a quiet voice, “Dad, Cindy and I have been thinking about moving to America,” after catching her breath she continued, “We can get a better job and live a better life.”

Their father stayed quiet until he rose from the table and said, “I need time to think about it.”

After dinner, Cindy and Lilly cleared the dishes from the table. Cindy whispered to her sister, “What do you think he will say?”

To which Lilly replied, “I am not sure but we need to be ready if he says yes.”

They both cleaned quietly, the sounds of running water and clattering of dishes served as a background to their uncertain and nervous thoughts. Later that night, their father scolded them, berating them with questions about how they could possibly consider leaving the family. “Do you not want to stay with us? You don’t even know anything about America. Just because your classmate is leaving her family, you want to leave too?”

Lilly began to fight back the tears that started forming in her eyes. She thought to herself, how could she have not considered it from the family’s perspective? Cindy noticed her sister sniffling and wiped the tears, which had begun to stream down her face.

“He’s wrong. Don’t listen to what he says, Lilly.”

“Older sister, he’s right though. We would be leaving the family behind.”

“Father makes enough money to take care of the family. You’re always thinking about everyone else, you need to think about what you want too.”

The following morning Lilly returned to work, still hurt from her father’s words. Her dream of moving to America to have an easier life, of reuniting with her old friends, and the hope of opportunity slowly faded away. It was silly of her to want to move to America, everything she needed was here in China, she thought.

When Lilly came home that night, she saw her father’s friend sitting at the dinner table. This was a usual occurrence, as her father believed in maintaining a close relationship with relatives and friends.

She greeted him and said, “Hello uncle, how was your day?”

“Hello, I am sad but happy at the same time.”

“What is wrong?”

“My son moved to America and life at home has been different ever since.”

“I am sorry to hear that. Is he okay?”

“He is doing very well for himself and living a happy life. It has been a long time since I last saw him. I was never able to tell him goodbye.”

“I am sure you will see him soon. Don’t say goodbye.”

After Lilly’s father heard stories from many of his most trusted friends about how their friends and families moved overseas and were able to have less stressful lives, he thought about the happiness of his daughters. If other people could make it successfully in America, then his own children should be able to so as well, he thought to himself.

After a long process of reconsideration, their father agreed to help his daughters meet the matchmaker. Lilly and Cindy were overwhelmed with joy at their father’s reconsideration. The two sisters arrived at the matchmaker’s office and the lady looked them up and down, scribbling endless amounts of notes. The sound of her jade bracelet tapping the surface of the table as she wrote made Lilly nervous. Although sweat formed across her brow, Lilly looked forward to the future and thought to herself that she was ready for a new life.

Through the matchmaker, Lilly met Alan. The first time she saw him in his gray suit and black rimmed glasses, she thought that he resembled a typical Chinese American man. In perfect English, Alan rose from his seat and greeted Lilly, “Hello”.

Lilly looked at her feet in order to avoid his gaze and returned the greeting. They spent their first time together at a local restaurant. The smell of fresh white rice, carefully prepared chicken and pork wrapped in small flower buns floated through the air. His Chinese was hard to understand but she was able to pick up enough words to understand the whole phrase.

Lilly was curious about the man in front of her and she asked him, “Why did you come to China to find a wife?”

He thought carefully and answered, “I knew that there were matchmakers in China who would help me make the process of marriage easier.”

The couple continued the evening by sharing stories about what their lives were like growing up in their respective countries. Alan was impressed by Lilly’s caring nature. He liked that she was very hard working because she wanted to help take care of her family.

“I also used to work when I was able to so that I did not have to ask my parents for money.”

Both Alan and Lilly saw similar traits in each other. Lilly also liked how Alan cared for his own family. The rest of the evening was filled with conversation and getting to know each other further.

After three weeks, Lilly was packing her bags and leaving for America with her fiancé. Although she and Alan had spent a short amount of time together, she felt that she was ready to start her new life there, but at the same time it was hard for her to leave her family behind. As she began to pack her clothes, she started thinking about the next time she would be able to see them again. A knock on the door came from behind her and Cindy stepped into the room.

“Are you ready?”

“Of course I’m ready. I have been ready for a long time.”

“I will see you over in America soon.”

The two exchanged a quick hug, and Cindy helped carry her sister’s luggage to the car waiting outside. Her father drove the both of them to the airport in his silver minivan. He was quiet for most for the ride, deep in thought about the events unfolding before him.

With a small gulp he asked his daughter, “Did you eat before you left the house?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Did you make sure to bring all the documents?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Don’t get lost and be careful.”

“Dad, I will be fine.”

Her father tried to hide his concern while Cindy was filled with tears of happiness and hoped that Lilly was able to have a good life over in America. At the airport, Lilly gave her father a hug. As they both pulled away, and for the first time, she saw tears welling in his eyes. She turned towards Cindy and although both of them carried smiles on their face, there were tears as well.

“I wish you could come with me.”

“I’ll see you over there soon. Don’t worry.”

“You should be the one going to America.”

“There you go again thinking about everyone else. I am happy and proud that you are first to go.”

“Thank you big sister. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

It wasn’t until Lilly reached the security checkpoint at the airport that she felt the reality of leaving her family behind and venturing off to America. She was ready for the new life she had been dreaming about.

On board the plane, Alan helped Lilly put her luggage in the overhead compartment and they took their seats. She sat next to the window and looked out, thinking about how exciting life in America would be. She told herself that she would make sure to meet up with all her friends who had moved to America before her. The uncertainty of what lay ahead began to invade Lilly’s thoughts. A storm raged in her mind, asking her if she was ready to live so far away from home. Throughout the entire flight, in order to cope with her anxiety, she reminded herself that she had worked hard her entire life and that she was prepared for any difficulty or hardship that would present itself.

Lilly nervously glanced at her fiancé for reassurance. He seemed to have noticed her discomfort and in response, returned a warm smile, gently squeezing her hand. The storm inside her head began to calm as she slowly closed her eyes and fell asleep in order to help pass the 16-hour flight.

Before Lilly knew it, the plane landed in America and she was standing in line behind others emigrating from China. All around her she heard people shouting in Chinese.She saw worried families keeping to themselves and mothers scrambling in their bags to find their documents while carrying a crying baby in their arms. Lilly felt nervous but she was able to keep her composure and stood in line next to Alan.

When it was her turn to speak to the immigration officer, she slowly and carefully handed her papers over to a man in a blue uniform. He glanced through her papers and back at her multiple times. Lilly’s stomach began to ache as she worried that she would be denied entry and the entire ordeal was for nothing. Her worried thoughts subsided as the man in the uniform handed back her documents and as she passed he said, “Welcome to the United States.”

Written By
More from Steven Chow

The Matchmaker’s Promise

Lilly considered herself to be lucky compared to others. She grew up...
Read More