Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dating rituals

I have always thought an online dating site for Cambodians would work well. Cambodians have a strange (to a foreigner, anyway) way of getting to know the opposite sex: wrong numbers.

In the 3 years I have lived in Cambodia, I know two young Khmer women who met their husbands this way. The guy calls their phone number, knowing full well it is a "wrong number" (they ask for someone who is not associated with the number). They end up chatting; they guy calls regularly, sometimes a few times a day; they meet up finally and end up married. I also have Khmer friends who met their boyfriends this way.

Sometimes, the caller does not even pretend to be calling a wrong number. He comes right out and say it: "Srey Sa-at ["pretty girl"] blah blah blah..." I know because I have had to deal with such calls myself. I always say in English, "I'm sorry, wrong number" and then hang up. I can't be bothered to waste my precious time on such things. Some callers are persistent and call back (thanks to caller ID you don't have to answer the call a second time). I wonder if Cambodian men really think this would work on a foreigner? Has a female barang ever been picked up this way in this country? Do tell me if you know.

Young people also get to know each other via classifieds in magazines. You advertise what you are looking for and then list your phone number. Interested parties will then call you.

Anyway, these are low-tech versions of online dating, which is why I am convinced there is money in an online dating site.

Another way Cambodian young men and women meet is during festivals. One young man I know met his girlfriend during the water festival, when many young people throng the streets to party. Groups of young men get to know group of young women this way.

This is what it says on wikipedia's entry on Courtship, marriage and Divorce in Cambodia:
"Though adolescent Cambodian children usually play with members of the same sex, boys and girls take part in group games during festivals, offering them the opportunity to begin looking for future mates. Virginity is seen as highly valued in brides, and premarital sex is deplored. A girl who becomes pregnant out of wedlock is seen as bringing shame to her family....

Courtship patterns differ between rural and urban Khmer. Attitudes in the larger cities have been influenced by Western ideas of romantic love that do not apply in the countryside. A man usually marries between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five, a girl between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two. Marriage between close blood relatives is common. After a spouse has been selected, a go-between meets with the parents and broaches the subject of marriage. Then each family will investigates the other to make sure its child is marrying into a good family."
I think it's not easy meeting members of the opposite sex (with the aim of finding a partner, I mean) in any country and different societies develop different dating rituals to get a mate. Surely ranking among the most bizarre are the Kyrgyz. From The New York Times:
"More than half of Kyrgyzstan's married women were snatched from the street by their husbands in a custom known as "ala kachuu," which translates roughly as "grab and run"....

Kyrgyz men say they snatch women because it is easier than courtship and cheaper than paying the standard "bride price," which can be as much as $800 plus a cow....

Brutal as the custom is, it is widely perceived as practical. "Every good marriage begins in tears," a Kyrgyz saying goes
I should point out "ala kachuu" is illegal in Kyrgyzstan but the law is rarely enforced. One woman describes how in desperation, she told her abductors, she was "no longer a girl", a euphemism meaning she was no longer a virgin. The lie worked. Loss of virginity is a deal-breaker in that central Asian country, as it is in Cambodia.

There has been an increase in matchmaking or dating agencies in developed countries. As people spend more and more time at work, they find it increasingly difficult to meet a mate. So they outsource their dating life, to a professional, they hope. And why not? They already outsource cleaning their house, walking their dog, cooking their meals etc.

Singapore, always serious about being the best, even has a government sponsored matchmaking agency, the Social Development Unit (there's a euphemism if I ever heard one). From wikipedia:
"The SDU is a government matchmaking organisation in Singapore. It was established in 1984, aiming to change the cultural/social mindsets that continue to stand in the way of graduates getting married in Singapore society. As of 2006, more than 33,000 SDU members had been married because of the help they received from this organisation. The SDU has been criticized for promoting elitist ideology as it is available only to university graduates. Graduates from other tertiary and vocational institutes are ineligible."
I checked the site and in an effort to sound more romantic, the organisation's website is now called It says, "Ultimately, we hope you would be looking forward to an enriching marriage and a fulfilling family."

It's all part of the Singapore government's plan to get Singaporeans to procreate. In Singapore, it pays to procreate, literally. The government website is even called
The cash payouts are S$4,000 [US$2750] each for the first and second child, and S$6,000 each for the third and fourth child. The Singapore government also contributes a dollar for a dollar matching the amount of savings that parents contribute to their child's savings in the Children Development Account, which is capped at S$6,000 each for the first and second child, and S$12,000 each for the third and fourth child, and S$18,000 each for the fifth and subsequent child.

A number of friends did joined the SDU but all came away disappointed. Their complaints were all the same: the women were beautiful but the men were ummm....They also told me during the buffet lunch, the Singaporean men would make a beeline for the table, ignoring the women, while the women looked on in dismay.

But I do know women in Singapore who found their mate through the Internet...


jojo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
feddabonn said...

fascinating read. came to this blog via a long and winding road, and glad i did.

will continue to read of your cambodian experience!

Diana Saw said...

Thanks feddabonn. When I saw this entry had a new comment, I thought, "oh no, another one selling his online dating service" (that was why the first comment was deleted).

I'm glad you found it interesting. Even after 3 years, Cambodia is a strange [funny peculiar *and* funny haha] place to me...but then so is Singapore where I lived for over 30 years!


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