Mostly I see my mother sitting one table away, and I feel as lonely as I imagine her to be. I think of the enormous distance that separates us and makes us unable to share the most important matters of our life. How did this happen?

Pearl thinks this to herself in the first chapter, while she is at Bao-Bao's engagement party. This quote illustrates the distance that there is between Pearl and her mother, much of it having to do with the fact that Winnie's heart is linked to China and Pearl's to America. This cultural distance is never expressed straight out in one sentence, but it is implied through recollected stories that are told and remembered throughout the novel which illustrate the cultural gap between mother and daughter. And yet, the two do share one thing: loneliness. Pearl says she feels "as lonely as I imagine her to be." This sentence forges a connection between mother and daughter that will be explored in the novel, and it illustrates that even what separates can bring them together, because even when they are furthest apart, they are together in their loneliness. Also, it illustrates that even if Pearl does not understand her mother, she feels love for her because this statement is not one of pity but one of empathy.

Just as later on Winnie will take the hurt from her daughter's heart and put it into her own, Pearl is doing that with her mother's pain here, which is a pain she knows very little about, only that it exists. It is important that this is said in the first chapter because it lays a roadmap for the necessary work that will be done in Winnie's other story. It will bridge the distance.