Zhang Jieye / For China Daily
There's nothing like honesty in relationships, and China's most popular dating show has it in spades. Belle Taylor is a big fan.
A few minutes after my plane touched down in China, the woman who picked me up from the airport looked at me very seriously and said: "You are very beautiful." "Thank you", I said, bewildered. "I think I'm going to like China." Don't worry, it didn't go to my head, because not long after that I was also told my hair was a mess and my skin terrible. One new friend asked what sort of fashion labels I was interested in, before looking me up and down, patting me on the arm and saying: "I think you like comfortable clothes." My language teacher taught me the grammatical structure for "become" with the sample sentence: "Belle is becoming fat".
It may have been upsetting, but luckily obsessive viewing of China's most popular dating show, If You Are the One, had prepared me for this sort of brutal honesty, which is by no means unique to China, but it's certainly foreign to me.
For the uninitiated, If You Are the One, or Fei Cheng Wu Rao, is one of the most popular dating shows in China and it enjoys a cult following in Australia where it is aired with subtitles.
The reality TV program follows a game-show type format in which a single man faces 24 women standing on lit-up podiums. Each of the women has a light, which they can turn off if they decide they are not interested in the man. They are quick to hit that switch, which makes a noise that's somewhere around the icky mid-point between stomach-dropping rejection and bone-crushing humiliation.
Too short? POW! Too tall? POW! Pursuing a passion career? POW! POW! POW! POW!
If a woman keeps her light on, it means she is interested in the man, and if he is also keen, the couple may win a holiday together, where, hopefully, love will bloom. But scoring a date is not easy.
I spend a lot of the show cheering for the underdog - the blokes.