A Sense of Connection: LaoTong

Cover of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan:...
Cover of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel

Almost two weeks ago I went with my friend Cindy to see the movie “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.”  We are both Lisa See fans and read this book in preparation of seeing the movie this summer… and then thought we’d be renting it (ala “Jane Eyre”) but it came to Rochester with an Independent Movie Series!  Yay!

We both agreed that it was a beautiful movie, even with the modern storyline which wasn’t part of the book.  The book tells the story of two girls who are matched to be LaoTongs, or Old Sames, at a young age.  Wikipedia and Lisa See (the author) describe LaoTongs in this way:

Lao Tong or Old Sames was a more rare and formal relationship between women and was exclusive and life-long. Women of suitable birthdays, ages, backgrounds and birth-signs would be paired this way in a bond of exclusive sisterhood that would last a lifetime and would survive marriage, child-birth and widow-hood. A Lao Tong relationship would be rarely renounced or broken. (Wikipedia)

“A laotong match is as significant as a good marriage,” Lily’s aunt explained. “A laotong relationship is made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. A marriage is not made by choice and has only one purpose – to have sons.” “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” is the story of such a friendship. (Lisa See)

I haven’t been paired with an Old Same since birth, but I do have friendships with amazing women that have survived (ha!) marriages and children and distance.  I also see great value in creating meaningful relationships and maintaining connections with them.  After I read “The Girls from Ames” I set out to create a group of women that meets monthly to create a real-life network of amazing women, to learn from each other and support each other.  We are in our second year and our time together is something I look forward to each month!

The Chinese women sworn to be Old Sames used a secret women’s language – nushu – to communicate with each other.  We use Facebook, email, or phone calls to maintain connection with those who live a distance away, or we use walks, dinners, or girls’ night out to maintain and grow connections with those we can have more frequent contact with. No need to send servants between villages and households with secret language written on fans, but we can write letters to be delivered by the US Postal Service.

With the release of the DVD on 11/1, many book clubs are having LaoTong Nights – groups of women getting together to watch the movie and discuss their female friendships and the things they do (or can do) to maintain connections.  Below is the information they are encouraging people to think about and discuss as they think about their friendships and watch “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.”

What would you add to the list below?  Have you ever planned a way to reconnect with someone you lost touch with?

Lily and Snow Flower had an intense friendship that lasted a lifetime.  Nushu helped them communicate and remain close, even in distance.  Everyone has that old friend they have known for a long time, yet find it hard to keep in touch.  Both get busy with their separate lives and don’t take the time to catch up with one another.  In honor of Snow Flower and the Secret Fancoming to Blu-ray and DVD November 1st, here’s a guide for keeping in touch with your besties, through whatever life may put between you.

Write Letters

There’s nothing like a handwritten letter to let someone know that you care and are thinking about them. Make a point of writing to your long-distance friend at least once a month, and giving them updates on what’s going on in your life, and asking what’s new in their life. If you’re so inclined, you can include photos or other small tokens of your friendship with your letters. This simple, heartfelt update will go a long way in making your friendship last.

Take a Trip Together

If it’s within both of your budgets, you and your bestie should take a trip together! Meet up in different places each year – places that are either meaningful to you both, or places that you two have always wanted to visit together. Have a weekend in Las Vegas, a week at the theme parks in Orlando, a glamorous trip to Hollywood, or a long, restful weekend in New England. Making new memories (or reliving old ones) will help keep your friendship vibrant.


One of the greatest inventions for modern day friendships is Skype. Making a weekly or biweekly “Skype date” can give you a chance to both talk to and see your long-distance friend on a regular basis. Best of all, Skype is free to use, even if you’re video-chatting someone internationally! Skype is great because, in addition to getting to hear your friend’s voice, you can also actually show them what’s new with you, or do something new together!

Start an Online Photo Album

There are so many different ways to share photos online these days, and you and your friend should take advantage of that! You can make a private album that only the two of you can access (you can do this on Facebook, PhotoBucket, etc.), and then you can both upload and comment on each other’s photos and keep up with what’s going on in each other’s lives.

Send Each Other Gifts

If you’re ever out shopping and see a little something that reminds you of your friend, or something you think your friend would love, why not send it to them? With USPS’ Flat Rate Boxes, you can send as much as you want to your long-distance friend for a small fee. Why not make a care package, filled with things you know they like (like homemade treats, or products specific to your area that they can’t get where they live)? If you exchange small gifts every few months, it will remind your friend that you’re thinking about them, and help you two stay friends forever.