China Elevator Stories

“Do You Have Brothers And Sisters?”

I chat with a young massage therapist in Shenzhen.


Ruth Silbermayr
Ruth Silbermayr


One evening after work in May 2013, my fiancé decides to get a haircut. I accompany him to the hairdresser.

When we enter the shop, an employee turns to my fiancé and unsure of which language to use, she asks hesitantly: “Do you speak Chinese?”
He answers: “I am Chinese.”
She replies: “Oh, sorry, I thought you were Japanese.”

After the employees figure out that we both speak Chinese and we tell them what we want, he stays on the first floor to get a haircut and I follow an employee upstairs to get a massage. As is common in China, the hair salon does not only offer haircuts but also massages and beauty treatments.

I chat with the massage therapist.
She asks me: “How old are you, sis*?”
“I’m 25, how about you?”
“I’m 17.”
“Wow, that’s really young.”

After talking for a while about this and that, she asks: “Are you alone here or did your parents come to China with you?”
I tell her: “I came here on my own. My parents, my brothers, and sisters live in my home country.”
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
“We’re 8 kids.”
“Wow, that’s a lot!”
I say: “It is. Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“I have an older brother and a younger one.”

I reply: “That’s a lot for a Chinese person of your generation. Did your parents have to pay a fine for breaching the one-child policy?”
“They didn’t. Where I come from, having 3 kids is actually pretty common. Also, we didn’t grow up in the same place. My brother lived with my mother for the first 8 months and was then given to my grandmother. But my grandmother became ill, so after 2 years, my aunt took care of him. When my mother got me, she took care of me for 2 years, and later my grandmother took care of me for 1 year. After that, I was given back to my mother to look after me.”

Were you ever surprised when Chinese people told you they had siblings?

Follow me on: