“I’d like to find my son a foreign wife”

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

One day in March 2013 my fiancé and I go to the hospital to see a Chinese doctor. We sit down to tell her my ailments and while she feels my pulse my fiancé starts chatting with her.

Y: “Are you from Henan? The way you speak sounds like Henan-dialect.”
Doctor: “I am. I have left Henan for Shenzhen in the 1980s. Besides Shenzhen, I have also lived in Hong Kong.”
After a short while, she goes on: “How did you find your lovely wife? Did you meet abroad?”
Y: “The question should rather be: How did my lovely wife find me?
Doctor: “Did you meet working at a foreign company here in China?”
Y: “Actually we met working at a Chinese company here in China.”
Doctor: “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.”
Y: “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.”
Doctor: “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?”
Y: “We don’t know any western single females here in Shenzhen, but we can ask around and see what we can do.”
Doctor: “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, which in its original meaning really isn’t a very friendly expression. But seeing that she doesn’t mean to be offensive, I don’t take it personally.

Y: “You know, gweilo isn’t really a nice word for describing westerners.”
Doctor: “It isn’t? Do you mean because of the word ghost (gwei)?”
Y: “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 can be translated as foreign devil.”
Doctor: “I see.”

Y: “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.”
Doctor: “Actually, I do also have a daughter. She’s 13.”
Y: “Oh. That’s really young. He’s double her age.”

When the doctor is done with prescribing me medicine, 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 do some matchmaking?

This is part one of the conversation with the doctor. Stay tuned for part two: “You can’t like her too much.”

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13 thoughts on ““I’d like to find my son a foreign wife”

  1. gweilo could have some bad connotations, but its not always the case, esp. when someone is making a joke about a funny foreigner. it just indicated its interesting and not very common among chinese ppl


    • As far as I understand it was definitely negatively connotated in its original meaning, but some people don’t seem to be aware of it nowadays and use it with more of a neutral connotation. Maybe the doctor also just wanted to show that she had been living in Hongkong for a few years by using this word. I’m wondering what Cantonese-speaking people think of it.


  2. I think second to food, matchmaking is the most popular topic Chinese people talk about. With my relatives or with strangers, the first thing they ask is if I’ve eaten and then they ask if I have a boyfriend. They either had someone they wanted to match me with or they ask me if I can find someone for them.


    • When our coworkers didn’t know that my fiancé and I were already together, they would also often ask him if they should set him up with someone. It really seems to be a common thing to do. He thought of it as annoying though. How do you usually react to people suggesting they introduce you to someone?


  3. We also got this question several times, is a hard question from my view.
    When someone asks “Do you have some foreign friend for my son / wife? I want him /her to be with a foreigner”. when I hear that there is a clear picture that comes to my mind: A market where you trade meat and vegetables…
    I can’t control it but the fact that someone “wants” a “foreign” partner for his son or daughter is too demanding for me and that image comes as soon as I hear it.
    I can’t get used to it… !


    • I guess they only do wish the best for their kids, but as a grown up guy in his 30s I assume that he might have different plans from his mum altogether. It certainly feels strange to be asked a question like that for somebody coming from a culture where introducing people like this is not common. My fiancé said that she actually wasn’t talking about any foreigner, but was implying that I would be a great match for her son (I don’t think so, haha).


  4. My mom is asian and my dad is white… and people honestly say some very weird things about mixed kids. Both in the west and in asia. In Japan the world for mixed used to a synonym of lovechild (implied illegitimacy). But I am so glad for you and your happiness. Despite being half, having its challenges. I think it has been very interesting.


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  8. I’d really love to find my son a gweilo-wife.”

    Are you sure she said that? Gweilo means “ghost man”, I doubt her son wants to marry a white man wife…. it would be a husband then…

    should have been gwei poh.


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