The book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See introduced me to the term laotong or "old same". It is a term that is reserved for a unique and fated friendship between women. The book, which was set rural China in the mid 1800's, also explores the writings the women did called nu shu. This was a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret. They often wrote on fans that were transported secretly to their laotong.
The book was turned into a movie and was directed by Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club).The movie had a parallel story that was set in modern times. This was different from the book, but I really liked the twist. The relationships explored in the book and movie between Snow Flower and Lily (ancient China) and Sophia and Nina (modern China) reminded me of what friendship truly means and how grateful I am to have a laotong.
There are many, many things from this story that I could write about....from foot binding (I mean...!!!!! What the what???!!!!) to the differences of how women were treated, to the exploration of loss, grief and the universal problem of miscommunication. I think, though I will let Lisa See do the writing for me. This is an excerpt from her author's notes and it captures my impression of laotong quite well:
Snow Flower and The Secret Fan is a story about friendship and what it means to be a woman. Yes our lives are completely different than those lived by the nu shu writers, but inside we are the same. We want people to hear our thoughts, appreciate our creativity and feel empathy for our emotions.
The quote goes on to explain that often other relationships we have as women (with our mothers, as a mother, with other friends, and politically in our world...) can be thorny and complicated. The laotong relationship is different. It is a vow, a contract, a promise, that for all eternity, they are forever sealed as one. It is a relationship where sacrifice looks and feels different from other relationships and those sacrifices build ties that can't be broken.
I am so grateful for my laotong. She is the only one who sees my weaknesses and loves me in spite of them. She is the one that knows that matters of the heart don't change over time.
We are commited to each other through it all.
No matter what.
I love you, my laotong.