China Elevator Stories

“I’d Like To Find My Son A Foreign Wife”

A TCM practitioner in Shenzhen asks us to find her son a foreign wife.


Ruth Silbermayr
Ruth Silbermayr


It is March 2013. My fiancé accompanies me to a TCM practitioner in a hospital in Shenzhen. We enter her room and sit down. She asks for my ailments and while she feels my pulse, my fiancé starts chatting with her.

He asks her: “Are you from Henan? The way you speak sounds like Henan-dialect.”
The practitioner answers: “I am. I left Henan for Shenzhen in the 1980s. Besides Shenzhen, I have also lived in Hong Kong.”

She goes on: “How did you find your lovely wife? Did you meet abroad?”
He replies: “The question should be: How did my lovely wife find me?”
“Did you meet working at a foreign company here in China?”
My fiancé says: “Actually we met working at a Chinese company here in China.”
“That’s great. I’d also like to find my son a foreign wife. He’s already quite old – 33 – and still hasn’t brought home a suitable wife.”

“33 is still young. Look at me – my mother recently said it took me more than 30 years to find my real love. Not that I started looking for a suitable match the second I came out of my mother’s belly. Love can’t be forced – some might find it at 20; some at 40.”
The practitioner agrees: “You’re right. I’m still worried about my son. Western women make for great wives. How about you help me look for suitable matches?”
“We don’t know any western single females here in Shenzhen, but we can ask around and see what we can do.”
The practitioner is satisfied with his answer and replies: “Great. Can you give me your phone number? This way I can contact you. I’d really love to find my son a gweilo-wife.”

I choke upon hearing her use the word gweilo (鬼佬), which in its original meaning of “foreign devil” isn’t a very friendly expression. But seeing that she doesn’t seem to mean to be offensive, I don’t take it personally.

My fiancé explains: “You know, gweilo isn’t really a nice word for describing westerners.”
She replies: “It isn’t? Do you mean because of the word ghost (gwei 鬼)?”

“Its original meaning is an insult. This Cantonese word was commonly used in a pejorative sense to describe the foreigners who invaded China during the Opium Wars. It means foreign devil.”
The practitioner says: “I see.”

“It would be much easier for us to find someone if your son was a girl. I know a British guy who lives in Shenzhen.”
“Actually, I do also have a daughter. She’s 13.”
“Oh. That’s really young. He’s double her age.”

When the practitioner is done with prescribing me TCM herbs, she gives my fiancé her WeChat number, so we can contact her if we find a suitable match for her son.

Has anyone ever asked you to be their matchmaker?

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