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The fast way to fall in love
Updated: 2004-09-16 09:41

Jin Haili reports on the sport of speed dating following its introduction to Shanghai earlier this year.

Some 28 single young men and women chat in pairs across the table in a downtown cafe in Shanghai.
Some 28 single young men and women chat in pairs across the table in a downtown cafe in Shanghai. [eastday.com]
At a downtown cafe in Shanghai on a recent Saturday afternoon, 28 neatly-dressed single young men and women were chatting in pairs across the table -- another young woman is counting down the time with a bell in her hand.

``Time! Gentlemen. Please move to the next table for another eight minutes,'' shouts supervisor Li Keke, account manager of the www.color8th.com, the organizer of the speed dating. Convenience seems to be the order of the day, even when it comes to falling in love. Young people are no longer waiting to meet one person, only to find they're not right -- so they speed date instead.

The Website launched its first eight-minute speed dating gathering last month, with 30 participants. Everyone selected for the event has been chosen according to age, education and career. It's simple -- people are paired up and in eight minutes they have to share a conversation which may lead to another date. Participants are required not to ask each other for contact information.

If you find someone you want to see again, you write down their names on the dating card and hand it to the organizer. Two weeks after the first speed dating gathering, the Website received more than 200 new registrations.

The majority of the applicants are local white-collar employees with a university degree, aged between 22 to 35. ``It's a fast and comfortable way to meet people. It helps enlarge my social contacts,'' says 27-year-old Huang Xiao, a salesman.

``I don't care if I can't find a girlfriend there. I just want to try my luck, and if she is there, then that will be a big bonus.'' Huang's attitude is shared by many. According to the Website, nearly 70 percent of applicants list ``making friends'' a top priority. For some, speed dating is simply efficient and avoids an embarrassing disaster date.

It's cheap, too, with the cost around 50 yuan (US$6) for participating a gathering. ``The marriage rate in Shanghai has declined in the past decade, but it doesn't necessarily mean that young people are against marriage,'' says sociologist Gu Jun from Shanghai University. ``However, the Internet has isolated some people from normal social interaction. Speed dating is one solution to meeting people effectively.'' Gu says the speed dating scene in Shanghai is still very new and the organizer plays a key role in its success. Speed dating is said to have originated from an ancient Jewish custom.

Single young men and women getting together regularly, accompanied by their parents. In 1999, speed dating began to gain popularity along the western coastline of America and later spread to New York City and then to Canada and England. The speed dating scene only started up in China earlier this year. Major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenyang, Liaoning Province, have already embraced it. Shanghai native Wei Bing, 30, who participated in a recent speed dating gathering, stretches after the non-stop hello-and-goodbye finally draws to end.

``It's not as easy as I had expected. I have to think of a different topic to make it easier to start, it's really a big brainwork,'' Wei says. Jasmine Ye from the Shanghai PR Beginning Consulting Co Ltd says her company's first speed dating event was on Valentines Day this year.

``We are also planning to promote speed dating for people in the same business circle,'' Ye says.

The color8th Website is currently negotiating with an overseas company to launch the event in Japan and South Korea with the hope of exploring an gathering involving different countries. But both organizers say that they are not yet making money through the event itself. Long-term membership is the most profitable. ``If the client is satisfied with our work (the speed dating), they are very likely to become interested in our other events and subsequently register for a membership to get a good package,'' Li says. ``Speed dating doesn't mean much for the profit line but it's still good for business.''

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