Paralyzed Vietnamese woman finds love from China

By Ngoc Ngan   September 24, 2023 | 12:26 am PT
Tears filled Le Pham Hoai Thu Thuy’s eyes as her Chinese husband Zhou Zhenqiao pushed her wheelchair to the stage at the couple’s wedding.

In front of their parents, relatives, and friends, Zhou held Thuy’s hands and said his vow in Vietnamese, which he spent many nights learning by heart: "I will take care of you and love you forever."

Thuy, 25, of the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong, and Zhou, 32, an electrician from China’s northeastern Liaoning province, were then officially husband-and-wife.

To the Vietnamese woman, her happy ending with Zhou was "like a dream."

Thuy and Zhou held their wedding ceremony in August, 2023 in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong. photo courtesy of Thuy and Zhou

Thuy and Zhou at their wedding ceremony last month in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong. Photo courtesy of Thuy and Zhou

Thuy got into a traffic accident in late 2017. Her life was saved after three major operations and four months in a HCMC hospital, but she was paralyzed. Thuy dropped her dream of going to university and thought all doors to a better life were now closed to her. She battled for a year with deep depression.

Then, after learning to use her smartphone with the help of a pen in her mouth, she started an online business. Many of her customers were Chinese, so he found herself curious and motivated to teach herself the language.

Aiming to improve her language ability, Thuy downloaded an application that allowed her to find and talk to Chinese people. She met Zhou on the platform. The two soon found it comfortable talking with each other and exchanged conversations more frequently.

Zhou sent Thuy photos taken at the supermarket he often dropped by, and photos from his workplace. He told the Vietnamese woman about life in the city he was living in, and about his pet dog.

Contrary to Zhou’s openness, Thuy did not share too much about her life.

"I simply wanted to have someone to talk to and improve my language skills," she said. "I didn’t expect anything further."

Still, Thuy and Zhou’s conversation soon evolved into video calls.

After two months, Zhou confessed to Thuy that he had feelings for her.

"Do you want to be my girlfriend?" He texted her in June, 2021.

Thuy found her heart pounding, but she almost immediately reminded herself of her disability and how she should not expect anything. She did not reply to Zhou’s question, and over the next few days she changed the subject anytime Zhou mentioned his confession.

But she knew that was not the right reaction and Thuy finally decided to tell Zhou the truth about her situation: she was paralyzed and needed her parents to help her through almost all of everyday life’s activities.

Thuy was then deeply moved when Zhou told her he didn’t have a problem with that.

"Fate arranged for us to find each other among over 7 billion people in the world," he told her. "I don’t want to miss this chance."

The two then officially became a couple. They originally planned to meet each other in person in 2019, but their plan was delayed by the pandemic.

Thuy and Zhou rarely quarreled ever since they started dating, despite the distance, cultural barriers and language differences. There was only one time during the lockdown years Thuy got upset with Zhou and stopped talking to him for several days. Zhou was able to comfort her by looking up Thuy’s mother on Facebook and convincing her to help him.

Zhou applied for a visa to Vietnam as soon as flights connecting China and Vietnam were back in operation early this year.

He finally arrived in HCMC in April, 2023, with Thuy and her parents welcoming him at Tan Son Nhat International Airport.

Thuy’s 63-year-old father Le Van Tinh confessed that he had his doubts before meeting Zhou. He said he could not imagine a foreign man traveling thousands of kilometers to the Central Highlands region of Vietnam to meet his paralyzed daughter.

Zhou spent his 12 days in Vietnam by Thuy’s side, turning down offers to visit tourist attractions from his girlfriend’s family members. He took her to the coffee fields, cooked Liaoning-style noodles for her, and sat with her in front of her house talking for hours.

The Chinese man burst into tears on the day he returned to China. He encouraged Thuy to follow physical therapy programs, and promised her that he would come back to marry her. In fact, he called his parents over the phone and told them about his plans to marry the Vietnamese woman while waiting at the airport for his flight back to China.

Zhou’s parents wanted to talk to Thuy first, so they added her on social media platforms. The elder couple were then convinced of her genuineness and politeness. They eventually told their only son: "Marry the person you truly love."

Zhou’s parents then scheduled a video call with Thuy’s parents to discuss their children’s marriage. It was then that Tinh let go of his fear of Zhou breaking up with Thuy after seeing her in person, which he had tried, but failed, to hide.

During the call, Zhou asked his and Thuy’s parents if he could relocate to Dak Nong after the couple’s marriage. He said he found life in the Central Highlands province comfortable, and both families agreed with his plan. A plan for the wedding ceremony was also decided upon during the same call.

Thuy and Zhou in September, 2023 in Dak Nong. photo courtesy of Thuy and Zhou

Thuy and Zhou in September, 2023 in Dak Nong. photo courtesy of Thuy and Zhou

On his second trip to Vietnam, Zhou pushed his bride-to-be’s wheelchair to the local government office to complete their marriage registration process.

He also kneeled in front of Thuy’s parents on their wedding day to show his gratitude towards the ones who brought his wife up, an act traditionally followed in his hometown of Liaoning. And he took Thuy’s hands from her mother’s, marking their official new phase in life.

Zhou now has a fixed daily schedule: he wakes up at 6 a.m. every day, prepares meals for Thuy, then holds her with his arms to the bathroom so that she can brush her teeth and wash her hair. The couple then go to their footwear store to start a new working day.

"My son-in-law now does things I used to do," said Thuy’s mother Pham Hoang Trang.

The elder woman said she did not dare expect anything until Zhou said that he would take the responsibilities of taking care of Thuy.

Zhou takes Thuy to the front door of their house to enjoy fresh air when the weather is nice, and he brings her to their bedroom so that Thuy can watch movies until she falls asleep on rainy days. He said that was his definition of happiness.

"The best thing I can wish for in this life is to stay by my beloved’s side," he said.

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