These days, there are so many ways to find a potential mate. There’s the good ol’ fashioned random encounter — a chance, flirty conversation in a bar; an accidental bump of your cart into another’s at the grocery store (hello Social Safeway); or, hallelujah, sharing a pew with an attractive fellow worshiper at church. Many more options exist online from Match.com to OkCupid to the latest, Tinder. But, have you ever heard of Shanghai’s Marriage Market? It takes matchmaking to a whole new level, one that would surely infuriate singles of any nationality, given that it’s the parents and grandparents doing the setting-up.
Every Saturday and Sunday, from noon to five, matchmakers set up shop in People’s Square, a park that’s a short stroll away from major tourist attractions. The matchmakers sit on their fold-able chairs behind their fold-able tables. Parents or grandparents stop by to flip through books full of profiles of potential partners for their kids or grandkids.
Other matchmakers make creative use of the perfectly planted shrubs and trees to display their goods: laminated computer print-outs or handwritten flyers listing vital statistics, including gender, place of birth, year of birth, height, degree, occupation, mobile number. Some include small photos but most don’t. All specify what they’re looking for in a mate: an appropriate age, a specified height, a minimum degree level.
Oddly, none of the ads mention anything about personality types, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams. Which makes me think two things: either romantic notions aren’t important matchmaking criteria or they are so important they can’t easily be summarized on a single sheet of paper. I’m leaning towards the former. It seems that Chinese parents are more concerned with their kids’ (and their mates’) financial security. Most of the ads include monthly salary amounts and some even indicate their living situation. Presumably, the singles who own their own apartments are more appealing to parents on the prowl in an expensive, heavily populated city like Shanghai. As are laowais, or so we figured when people started approaching us to ask if we were single. My response was to flash my ring and keep walking; Iggy’s was to point to me and tell them that, yes, I was single and looking. Oh, he is a funny one. But even if I was single, I wouldn’t be considered a catch. I’d just be another leftover woman, one almost too old to be advertised at the Shanghai Marriage Market.