[EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS ARTICLE IS NOT FOOD RELATED] Matchmaking meetups are the hottest thing in China since the invention of the soup dumplings. Eager parents flood to People’s Park in Shanghai every Saturday and Sunday to find potential spouses for their sons and daughters. With their children’s resume in hand, the parents go against the wishes of their kids to transact with other parents in hopes of finding a match. With so many prospects at People’s Park in Shanghai, can our Foodamentals’ editor successfully impress all those eager Chinese parents and successfully negotiate a potential wife for himself?

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Marriage(or matchmaking) markets are widely popular around China and are found in major metros including Beijing and Shanghai. We first heard of the marriage market at Shanghai’s People’s Park(人民公园) through a multitude of online articles and videos. Here, here and here. According to our Shanghai fixer, the park is fast becoming a major tourist destination and one of the hottest spots to check out this weird(and embarrassing) practice of parental matchmaking. For a quick run down on what I’m talking about, take a look at the Vice video of a matchmaking park taking place in Beijing. The matchmaking action gets started at the 2:00 mark.

Growing up in a Chinese household with Chinese parents, I get it, and I can’t say I’m surprised by any of this.  Millions of worried Chinese parents push their kids to get into a great school, get a steady job, find themselves a great spouse, own a house and drive a BMW – all for the sake of procreating and saving face and all that stuff for the good of the family(or something like that). For females, it gets progressively worse. The Chinese government decided it would be cute to label single women over the age of 27 as “leftover” women, thereby adding more to the pressure cooker. These Chinese parents feel as though they have to get out there to “help” their kids, whether their kids want it or not. Regardless, this matchmaking shit is embarrassing. Even my local tour guide said she would rather commit suicide then see her parents repping her profile in the park.

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Eager parents descend on the park to look for suitable matches for their kids.

Personally, this whole matchmaking thing fascinates me. The whole notion of parental matchmaking is so Chinese and so ridiculous that… its pretty awesome. So awesome that I decided that just going to the park was amateur hour. Hell no, my goal is to be an active participant in the matchmaking process. Yes, I was going to whore myself out in the only way I knew how – with broken Chinese and a piece of paper.  This must be the reason why my parents sent me to twelve years worth of Chinese school. Finally putting it to use.

 

The Prep

First, I need a killer resume. If I’m going to find myself a good local Chinese girl, I gotta make myself pop. So, I enlisted the help of Yayi Chen, the GM of Foodamentals Taiwan and Lara Li to put together what I call, the “money maker” resume. My goal is to stand out more than Obama at the Republicans convention.

DSC01158You probably can’t read a word of this and neither can I. However, putting myself in the trusting hands of my handlers, they assured me that this resume was awesome and I would be beating suitors off with a stick.

In all seriousness, nothing on the resume is real. Everything is fake and we emphasized the only things that are important to Chinese people – material things and name brands.

Headline: American Born Chinese(ABC) Looking for a Wife

姓名 : 林允恒
Some Chinese name

性别 : 男性, 未婚
I’m male, looking for a female wife

生日 : 82年9月20日
Birthdate

生肖 : 狗
Year of the Dog

身高 : 一米七五
175 cm

毕业 : 美国南加州大学
Educated at the University of Southern California in the USA(in hindsight I should’ve put down Stanford, Harvard and Oxford)

月薪 : 68,000 人民币
salary of 68,000 RMB/month (random number)

房产 : 2014.10于旧金山售出, 現于上海租房(人民广場地段)
Moved to Shanghai from San Francisco in October, recently sold my house

财产 : 拥有一台BMW轿车
Owns a BMW

职业 : 电子工程商务
Works in Hi-Tech

条件 : 寻找丰腴女性,会下厨, 会西班牙语, 最好和我一样是个吃货
I’m looking for a fat girl. One who loves to eat, is a foodie and can cook. Spanish speaking ability is a must.

While frankly none of this stuff is actually, you know, true. It doesn’t really matter. The whole resume is chalked full of buzzwords, phrases and things that are in every Chinese parent’s wet dreams. eg. BMW, USA and RMB. We thought long and hard but eventually decided against having my potential wife also be a “ballet dancer” would be completely out of the realm of possibility.  I mean, the chances of finding a Chinese girl who is a foodie, speaks Spanish and dances ballet are slimmer than Lindsey Lohan on a coke binge. The reason for this absurd resume is to attract as many potential suitors as possible and to facilitate active conversations to hear what these parents are looking for. Readers, I’m doing this all for you.

Even before we headed out to the park, I ran into my first roadblock. How the hell am I going to get this printed? Do I ask the nice cute Chinese girls at the front desk to print this out for me? Not if I’m looking to keep my Starwood points I don’t. I don’t recall Shanghai teeming with Kinko’s here on my Google Map. Oh that’s right, Google doesn’t work in China. This isn’t looking good for me is it.

Luckily, we found some hole in the wall PC bang who were kind enough to print this out for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be going back there to play Starcraft.

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Anyways, with the resume in hand, we are off!

 

Off to Find a Wife

If you have never been, People’s Park is intimidating. If New York City is a clusterfuck, then People’s Park is a clusterfuck on steroids. Its like going to a 99 Ranch shopping plaza(doesn’t matter which one) on a Saturday during the lunch hour, but magnified by a thousand. Once in, there are copies of nearly indistinguishable profiles scattered around on the ground or, more popularly, stuck onto opened umbrellas that face passersby. Eager parents setup shop behind these open umbrellas with a paper pad in their hand, ready to sell, sell, sell at every opportunity.  It’s like a huge flea market and no one is buying.

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The definition of a sausage party. All the profiles here are of males(男).

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In China, where you are from and subsequently, where you have legal residence is a huge deal. The government puts caps on domestic “immigration,” a practice that has existed in the late 1950s and is very reminiscent of the Indian caste system. Although the government has decided to phase this archaic practice out, it is still very much alive today. Therefore, amongst the many things you’ll see on these profiles is where the person and their family tree currently have legal residence status.

As a result, where people can legally live becomes a game of college football bowl divisions. Metropolis’ such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou are considered the Division I of Chinese cities. Whereas Xi’an, Chengdu, Nanjing are like the Division IIs and IIIs. Subsequently further down the pipe, the smattering of rural farming cities are like whatever football division M.I.T. plays in. So if you are born and raised in Shanghai, you frickin tell the world you are Shanghainese(上海人) and write it prominently on your profile.

On these profiles, age and height are must haves. As well as what degree you have, from what school and what you currently do for work. Usually if the monthly salary is not listed, then it can be assumed you don’t make that much to begin with. Most listed salaries range between 5,000 RMB to 8,000 RMB per month($830USD to $1,000 USD) with a yearly income of 60,000 RMB($7,500USD). Apparently my resume team didn’t get the memo so they comically mis-calibrated and listed my fictitious salary as 68,000 RMB… per month.

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Probably the only market in China where you can’t bargain. BOGO?

In Chinese culture, you aren’t just marrying the person but also their entire family – a practice that will no doubt scare off most Western suitors. Therefore, every resume has a description of the person(written by the parents) along with a (longer)paragraph talking about how nice/educated/traditional the family is. The key being that nothing on the resume is actually written by the person being married off, but rather, its the parents who are interpreting the best qualities of their kids. It’s like telling people “my kid is cool because I think they are cool.” So its no surprise that these profiles are written for the parents in order to meet other parents.  Which makes this entire process all the more confusing.

Since I didn’t have anyone with me that’s old enough to pass as a parent and a wait-and-see approach takes too much time. Team Foodamentals and I decided to be proactive approach and seek out someone that would be a fantastic match.

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Bingo.

Ironically, a process that is based on nothing but superficials, very few of the profiles actually had any pictures attached to it. Its like buying a car without ever taking it for a test drive. Lucky for us, we just happen to run into this profile.

PROFILE(Girl to the right):

“Shanghai Girl born in 1989 with a height of 162cm(5’4”) and weighs 48kg(106 lbs.) Studied abroad in France and is now currently working in international business sales for a foreign company.

She is kind hearted, clever, easy going, generous, knowledgeable and has great temperament(气质). She is social and she can also cook. Has many interests, independent and cares a lot about her parents. Really enjoys helping others out and is able to stand in other people’s shoes. She is looking for a guy who is 175cm or taller, older than her, and holds either a graduate or an undergraduate degree. He should be kind, good to his parents, responsible enough but also be easy-going and generous.  Must have a stable business(or job) and he better be mature. Best if he is from Shanghai.”

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Fighting back the nerves, I asked Lara to read aloud to me what was written on the piece of paper. As she did so, a middle age with short brown hair emerged from behind the umbrella. At first, the baffled woman wasn’t sure what to make of the situation. A Chinese girl reading aloud the profile (in Chinese) to a Chinese guy standing right next to her? Something doesn’t quite add up here. Finally the woman asks us. “你们哪里的人? (Where are you guys from?)”

I’m Shanghainese, he’s an ABC from the United States,” says Lara, pointing to me.

The woman pauses, takes at good look at me from top to bottom and turns to Lara. “So… whats the relationship between you two?

Friends” we both respond instinctively “He is new to Shanghai and I am just showing him around the city” added Lara.

With a bit more back and forth between us and the woman, she laser focuses onto me and finally cuts to the chase. “So, are you(to me), interested in my daughter?

Yes ma’am. She seems like an outstanding girl” Boom. Its like I just said the magic words. She launches into a a succession of rapid fire questions that was more intense than a round of Jeopardy Daily Double.

How long have you been living in Shanghai?“-  “I just moved here 3 weeks ago.”

Whats the purpose of you coming here to Shanghai?” – “My American company sent me here to live and work.”

What kind of job do you do?” – “High tech and internet.”

Where do you live? Do you own your own house?” – “I live in corporate housing right now in Shanghai and I just recently sold my house back in San Francisco, so no, I don’t currently own a house right now.”

Are you planning to buy a house here in Shanghai? How can we have any assurances that you’ll be in Shanghai for the longterm?” – “No, I don’t have any plans to buy a house. If I need to, I’ll just buy one with the money I have from selling my house back in the United States.”

Where are your parents originally from?” – “My parents are born and raised in Taiwan. They currently live in the United States.”

Do you have Wechat? So you and my daughter and get to know each other before hand?” – “No, I only have the United States version of it and it is not compatible with the Chinese version.” (Total bullshit response but I didn’t want to give out my real WeChat name)

Frankly, things couldn’t have gone any better. There was also a chance that I’d slip up and divulge something that would give this entire facade all away. Lara and I actually rehearsed our banter, back story and potential responses the night before for fear that the locals will brow beat us out of the park. The questions were no joke and unlike the Philadelphia 76ers, these parents bring their A game every single day.

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A small crowd starting to build around me as curious parents/onlookers came up to find out what I was doing in Shanghai.

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In the background, the mother of the girl in the profile holds the only copy of my profile in all of Shanghai.

During this interrogation, I hadn’t notice a crowd starting to build around me. Curious passersby had caught wind of the conversation and are now actively listening in as I answered the questions as fast as I could. They were confused, amazed and generally excited by the fact that someone young would be this forthcoming about finding a prospective match. It wasn’t long before they begin peppering me with questions themselves.

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One of the mothers showing me a picture of her daughter on her cell phone and asking me if I thought her daughter was pretty. The guy in the foreground checks my profile.

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Writing down my (fake)email address and passing it out like it was going out of style.

Lady 1: “Where are you originally from?”
Me: “San Francisco, California. I grew up in the United States and did all my schooling out there.”

Man 1: “Can you speak English?”
Me: (Slight pause from me as I am caught completely off guard by this) “Uh… yes, I can”

Lady 2: “Where are your parents from and where do they live?”
Me: “They are originally from Taiwan and immigrated to the US and still live there. I grew up and lived in the US for the entirety of my life”

Lady 3: “My daughter is born in 1982, is that okay with you?”
Me: “Sure, I don’t see why that would be a problem”

Lady 4: (Standing right next to lady 2) “My daughter is born in 1983, is that okay too?”
Me: “If 1982 is okay, I’m pretty sure 1983 is fine.”

Lady 3: “Here is a photo of my daughter, what do you think?”
Me: “She looks nice.”

Man 2: “Is this really your salary?”
Me: “Yup.”

Man 1: “How important is the girl’s ability to speak Spanish”
Me: “A dealbreaker”

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Curious parents kept giving me slips of paper so that I could put down my email address.

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Sadly, I only had one copy of my profile to give away and the woman, whose daughter’s profile I was originally looking at, snatched it out of my hands and quickly put it into her bag. When asked if I could show my profile to the other parents, she was resistant and guarded that piece of paper like it was a pair of Super Bowl tickets. But that did not stop the other parents from asking me how else they can get in touch with me. WeChat was a definite no, as I had zero interest in giving my real contact away. Ultimately, I offered up my fake email address, one that I had made up the night before in my hotel room. I lost count on how many times I wrote down that email address as slips of paper kept making their way into my hands. With Lara taking pictures from afar, I had a small crowd gathered around me and my own personal paparazzi snapping pictures, this is what  Justin Beiber must feel like each and every day.

From the corner of my eye, I could see more and more parents making their way towards me.  I apologized to the crowd and told them that I had a meeting that I had to run to. I proceeded to pull this wicked headfake on this one lady and pirouetted my way around a couple other parents and made a beeline for the park exit. Not quite sure who did it, but one of the moms slipped me a copy of her work business card and told me that she will have her daughter contact me.  Not holding my breath for that.

 

The Aftermath

Going through all of this, I can’t help but come away with mixed feelings. The original intent was to experience, first hand,  the absurdity and the ridiculousness of this whole parental matchmaking concept – all through a Western lens. But after taking part, there is the realization that this whole thing is no joke. At its essence, its not different than the millions of people swiping right or bagel-ing on a day to day basis. The medium may be different(mobile app vs. parents), but the desired result is the same. While I’m not advocating my parents come out here and do the same(I would totally disown them), the cultural pressure dictates to them that this is what they should be doing. Ultimately, the parents are doing this to help their kids out. It’ll be a while before they finally wake up and stop overstepping their bounds, but hey, that’s not my problem. After this is all said and done, its time to get off to get some soup dumplings at Jia Jia Tangbao!

 

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Big thanks to Lara Li for translating and interpreting everything for me. For anyone who is going to Shanghai, Lara is a super cool, professional, and highly experienced tour guide that we can’t recommend enough. She’s not only one of the best fixers/guides we have ever had the pleasure of working with, but she’s fun to boot. Book her on either Synotrip or on Viator, or feel free to drop her a line at larali627@hotmail.com