In 2002, Meilin "Mei" Lee is a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl living in Toronto. She helps take care of the family's temple dedicated to their ancestor, Sun Yee, and works to make her strict, overprotective mother Ming proud. Mei hides her personal interests from Ming, such as the fact that she and her best friends Miriam, Priya, and Abby are fans of the boy band 4*Town.
When Ming discovers Mei's crush on the local convenience store clerk, she unintentionally embarrasses Mei in public, including in front of school bully Tyler. Mei has a vivid nightmare involving red pandas; when she wakes up in the morning, Mei has transformed into a large red panda. She hides from her parents and discovers that she only transforms when she is in a state of high emotion, though her hair remains red. Ming initially believes Mei is experiencing her first period, but finds out the truth when she further embarrasses Mei at school, causing Mei to transform and run home.