For years, mail-order brides have been providing punchlines for jokes about engineers, computer scientists, and other men with poor social skills. Recently, though, I discovered that there is a place in Vietnam where a bad punchline has become a veritable industry.
A couple of square kilometers of land stuck in the middle of Vietnam's Mekong Delta, Tan Loc island's traditional claim to fame has always been its beautiful colonial-era houses. Over the past few years, however, it has gained even greater repute as a place where lonely Taiwanese and South Korean men can find brides.
For a finder's fee of approximately $6,000, matchmakers will set up "fashion shows," in which the village's young women compete to be chosen by wealthy men from other countries. Over the past decade, approximately 1,500 women have left Tan Loc for marriages.
From a Western viewpoint, Tan Loc's marriage industry is pretty horrifying; after all, this involves a young man, wielding considerable power and a well-loaded checkbook, traveling to a backwoods area with the ultimate goal of returning with a bride. The young woman is left without community or familiar resources, entirely at the mercy of her new husband. While matchmaking is still common in Asia, this isn't comparable to the standard situation, in which the parents of two potential spouses meet to discuss the relative merits of their children and the potential for a happy union. It is, essentially, a financial transaction.
On the other hand, it's notable that Tan Loc's young women vie for the honor of marrying a total stranger and leaving their homes forever. For them, marriage represents the chance of making money and finding security in one of Asia's booming economic centers. Moreover, as the results of China's years of single-child policies play out, it seems likely that the market for women from Tan Loc will probably explode. As the demands of work leave less and less time for courtship, are arranged and purchased marriages the wave of the future?
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He still has nightmares about the kind of marriage that his parents might have arranged for him, given the chance.
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