Shanghai Marriage Market

Wow! What a busy few weeks we’ve had since getting back to Shanghai. Busy isn’t a word that I like very much anymore; I don’t like to hear how people like to say that they are busy just to sound interesting. So what other words can I use to describe our lives instead? I’m not too sure at the moment.

What I can share is that we are both very well with Christoph working hard to get the factory underway. After getting back from Switzerland and while still suffering from jetlag we had visitors, VZ and VM, come to stay. It was great to see them, spend time together and to show them what we get up to in our home town. Most guests leave Shanghai pleasantly surprised. I like that. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to live here; the good stuff, the bad stuff, the challenges and the small accomplishments. Until you come and stay and see for yourself, Shanghai is another world.

I took VZ and VM to the marriage market which takes place in People’s Square Park everyday but the biggest turn out is on the weekends. I’ll describe it as a kind of online dating but old school. Grandparent and parents display A4 pages of handwritten descriptions of their children. Age, gender, height, education and what they are seeking. You then approach the parent and give them your candidate. If the attributes sound good to both parties, then photographs are shown and possibly phone numbers.

This was on a quiet day but still lots of people.

This was on a quiet day but still lots of people.

What we found interesting was a significant section was devoted to Chinese citizens living and working abroad. Countries that stood out were the States, the UK, Australia, Canada and Japan. I wonder if those people know that their parents or grandparents are husband/wife hunting for them. If you were over 30 and had no time to date, would you mind? What I also noticed was that they do want their children to marry a fellow Chinese citizen.

A friend’s assistant who is a 36 year old female, decided to go there last year to see if she could find a husband. Her credentials are good; she works for an Australian company, is Shanghainese, is smart and healthy. After approaching a few parents, she was berated for the fact that she will never find a husband while earning such a high salary! She was told to quit her job and get a lower-paying one so she would then be more interesting to the potential suitors. Unbelievable! A strong independent woman can never win in such a market.

VM was lucky during our visit. She was approached by a father who liked her height. He didn’t mind that she spoke not a word of Mandarin but said that VM would be very suitable for his son who is also very tall. I politely told him that she’s not currently looking. While I was translating some of the profiles, another man came up to me to ask what in particular I was looking for. Sorry, Alison, I told him that I was looking for a husband for my younger sister (the parents don’t like tourists to snap pictures and to be nosy so I needed a cover story). I was quite intrigued as to how business-like it all was. He asked for age, education and height, and I think he was an agent because he seemed to be representing a few candidates. He also asked if she looked like me and of course I replied that she is much prettier :o)

It’s a whole other world but in the end you just hope that everyone finds what they are looking for.

Quinoa, Avocado, Kale and Poached Eggs

It’s a beautiful sunny spring day in Shanghai. The first since I’ve been back and after moving, have time to attend a pilates class and enjoy my favourite salad lunch at a cafe around the corner. At this very moment, I’m sipping a cup of coffee while lounging in the sun where no one else is dares to sit for fear of turning brown! (hihi) Since Women’s Day on March 8, I’ve noticed quite a few things female-related in Shanghai. The one that sticks out right now is the noticeable shift in the dining/cafe scene.

Shanghainese women are leading the way when it comes to trying western fashion, fads and food. The fashion, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Chanel etc, had already been conquered since many years with fads following closely; I’m hoping athleisure wear will go soon. Now I am noticing the food factor. In Starbucks queues, 90% are young women. In the cafe I am currently sitting in, 98% of customers are young women.

Young women ordering kale salads, poached eggs on avocado toast and green juices; all things I like to order, except that it doesn’t seem like they actually like eating it. Most appear to come for the ‘photo’ factor, or in the west it would the ‘instagrammable’ shot. There is a mini photo-shoot happening at almost every table! It’s quite weird to watch but fascinatingly interesting as no one seems to mind if you stare. The ‘model’ I suppose is quite proud to have an audience.

Business Lunch   

Business Lunch


Unfortunately, because the food is so foreign, most diners leave more than half of the meal uneaten. It is such a waste of resources. Beside me, a table of five ordered a dish and juice for each person and after taking a photo of each item and picking through everything, they quickly left the cafe with everything half eaten on the table. On the other hand, the ladies in the above picture were in fact having a business meeting, so western food was chosen to show their internationality and no photos were taken but they too weren’t really into the kale or poached eggs. Can you imagine this happening at each and every table? It’s crazy... welcome to Shanghai.

Where are you from?

Do you know the feeling of being somewhere and having the impression you don't quite fit in? Well, that was most of my childhood:

Australia in the early 80s was unfortunately a tad xenophobic. (I've been told that those qualities are slowly returning, thanks to certain political parties back in Oz.) Following the Vietnam war, all of a sudden there was a huge influx of Vietnamese refugees trying to find their place in this new society. In our case, my parents decided that all of my siblings and I - Buddhists, be reminded - should be educated at a private Catholic school for better assimilation to our new home.


Then, after sorting myself out and calling myself a proud Australian, I chose to go and work in China where curiosity rules. And once again I didn't fit in. The following dialogue continues to this day:

"Where are you from?"
"But you don't look Australian. You look a little Asian." (Duh, you don't say!)
"I grew up in Australia, but I was born in Vietnam."
"Oh Vietnam. So you're Chinese!"
"No Vietnamese. Australian."
"Vietnam used to belong to China, so you're Chinese!"

These days I just say that I'm Vietnamese and don't even mention the word 'Australia'. Sorry Australia; thank you for my passport, though!

And that is exactly why I love the city we have chosen as our second home: Berlin. Here, not many people ask me where I am from. And to those who do, I can say 'Australia', and they don't look at me all confused.

One out of four residents here is an immigrant, which makes the city very open and tolerant. A large proportion is even Vietnamese, owing to the East German days of inviting guest workers from communist allies to increase labour supply in the GDR.

So here, being Vietnamese and speaking German, finally I fit in without having to explain myself.

Did I mention that I love Berlin?