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Sunday July 25, 2010

From Vietnam with love

With the rising number of women in Malaysia choosing to marry late or not at all, some Malaysian men are turning to our northern neighbour for life partners.

THERE is nothing like the sensuous feel of a Vietnamese woman.”

Click on other international matchmaking websites and you will find descriptions like “Vietnamese women are slim and gentle,” “They smell very nice” and “They never divorce.”

While many will see it as a degrading objectification of women, there are some who will dismiss them as nothing more than marketing slogans.

In the last decade, taking a Vietnamese bride has become a popular trend in the more developed Asian countries like Taiwan, Korea and Singapore. And this trend appears to be catching on in Malaysia, with more and more local bachelors finding Vietnamese girls a ready option when it comes to marriage.

And contrary to common perception, those who are seeking brides from the former French colony increasingly include professionals such as engineers, architects and senior managers.

The common reasons cited are family pressure when they have come to a suitable age for marriage and local girls finding them not sufficiently attractive and/or smart, or too old. And the shyness of some bachelors has prevented them from winning the heart of local girls.

Mirror, mirror on the wall: Vietnamese girls Nguyen Thi Que Tam, 24, combing the hair of Nguyen Kim Ly, 39, while Nguyen Hong Gan, 25, looks on at the Cupid Marriage Counselling Centre. — MUSTAFA AHMAD/The Star

As Cupid Marriage Counselling Centre owner Kh’ng Kek Kon points out, the number has been on the rise because local girls also have high expectations of their life partners. At the same time, she adds, the unmarried men who seek her help are normally choosy, requesting for young and pretty wives.

That is why for most of them, their only option is to look for a foreign wife, says Kh’ng, whose centre is based in Penang.

Vietnamese girls are becoming more popular than Indonesian or Chinese girls because it is possible for the bachelors to meet them in person in Malaysia before making their choice.

Those who want Indonesian or Chinese partners would have to go and meet them in their countries.

The fee to marry a Vietnamese or Indo­nesian girl starts from RM10,000 while for a Chinese girl, the starting fee is RM30,000.

There are a few professionals who come with their parents in search of a wife, says Kh’ng.

“Their families are forcing them to get married but they are either too disappointed after several failed relationships or too shy to go after a girl,’’ she says.

A rising demand

Although it cannot be determined if this trend is occurring in other parts of the country, Sunday Star found that many Malaysian males are partial to Vietnamese women.

An advertising executive who only wants to be known as Adrian admits that for him, it is almost a fetish.

“I have this exotic idea of Vietnamese girls in their traditional costume, long flowing black hair, riding in cyclos who speak in a soft voice, giggle at all your jokes and will give you a massage after a long day at work. Maybe I watched too many American GI movies growing up. My dad was a big Vietnam war fan,” says the 35-year-old.

For chemical engineer Kamal, 29, it is a “preference” that developed when he was a teenager.

“When I was 14, my family lived in Sydney while my father completed his postgraduate studies, and my neighbour hired a young Vietnamese babysitter to look after her young sons. The babysitter was beautiful and friendly, and I developed a crush on her.

“Later, when I went to study in the United States, I went out with a Vietnamese-American girl, so that is why Vietnamese girls have a special place in my heart,” he says.

He, however, denies that Vietnamese women are better than other Asian women. “It is just a personal preference.”

IT professional Daren Yong, 26, is another who admits to having a “thing” for Vietnamese girls.

Seeking divine help: Vietnamese girls are now actively seeking foreign husbands.

“I have nothing against Malaysian girls but I’ve met many Vietnamese girls through work and they – the ones I’ve met – are not only smart and beautiful but also very entrepreneurial; they work hard. That is attractive to me,” he says.

Yong nonetheless feels that his peers have more opportunities to meet and socialise with women of different nationalities.

“The world is getting smaller, so our taste is more diverse now. But it really depends on the person,” says Yong, who is currently based in Bangkok.

Like Yong, 20-something writer Lim feels many people his age want to marry foreign women, not just from Vietnam.

“It is a common thing because the world is borderless now and we are more exposed to other cultures through the media, Internet and travel.

“However, many of us would stop at resorting to matchmaking agencies. It is a bit like mail-order bride and I think that is pathetic. Anyway, most of us still want educated and professional wives, especially in Malaysia, since it is difficult for families to survive without a double income,” he says.

E-mail order bride

Lim believes that the trend of marrying foreign wives through matchmaking agencies has been growing for a while now.

“When I was a child in Johor in the 1990s, three of my next-door neighbours had foreign wives. One was Sumatran, another Vietnamese and the other was Thai. Two of my neighbours were professionals while one was a rich businessman and I remembered my mother saying that they had gone to an agency for their wives,” says Lim, who now works in Kuala Lumpur.

The talk in the neighbourhood was that they could not find Malaysian women to marry them, he recalls.

He adds that while he was constantly woken up by some “loud fighting” in the first few years of their marriages, he noticed that they kept happy homes as time went by.

It is difficult to gauge whether there has been a real spike of Vietnamese wives in Malaysia.

It is estimated that there are at least 100,000 foreign spouses in the country today. However, according to the Home Ministry, from 2001 to 2008, only 8,622 entry permits were issued to foreign spouses of Malaysians.

The largest groups of applicants were from Thailand (2,439), Indonesia (1,955), India (1,785), Singapore (864) and the Philippines (578). Vietnamese applicants were included in the “Others” category, which added up to 1,019.

Many are unaccounted for or in the process of applying for Permanent Residence status or Citizenship.

A total of 3,524 were awarded citizenship in the same period mentioned, out of which 253 were in the “Others” category but it is unspecified how many were Vietnamese.

Yet, a mere click on the Internet shows that it is easy to be hooked up with a Vietnamese bride of your choice.

Gone are the days when one will have to fly to Vietnam to select a prospective wife; now one can just click and choose. Gone too is the practice of flying groups of Vietnamese girls over to Malaysia for the selection of prospective grooms.

A few years ago, MCA Public Services and Complaints Bureau head Datuk Michael Chong slammed the practice of a few matchmaking agencies that paraded young and attractive Vietnamese girls at coffee shops and agents’ homes in some small towns for the prospective grooms to pick and choose, and seal the deal there and then.

He said the agents charged a huge amount to provide local men with girls of their choice. These agents used runners, distributed leaflets and operated from offices filled with Vietnamese girls’ photos and profiles.

According to Chong, this occurred mainly in small towns and rural areas such as Triang and Jerantut in Pahang, with “price tags” for the girls ranging from RM20,000 to RM30,000.

The girls were paid for on the spot and taken away by the men as their wives, and “the prettier and sexier the girl, the higher the price she fetched”, he says.

When contacted recently, Chong says these agents have simplified the process by going straight to the buyer, who is contacted mainly via e-mail. There is no need for runners any more, he says.

A local matchmaking agency manager who declines to be named concurs, adding that things are easier now with technology.

“When the selection is made, we fly the girl over and they can have a trial meeting at the agency or a hotel room, and if both agree, they can be married off. Fees range from RM16,000 to RM30,000, depending on what the deal includes; some of our clients want us to do the paper work as well,” he says.

He insists that this is a legal operation as the girls sign up for the service willingly, many with their parents’ support.

Some reports claim that Vietnamese brides are popular because many are perceived as still “pure and innocent”.

“The demand for virgins is high,” says an agent who wants to remain anonymous.

When asked about the legalities of such operations, Chong says the line between human trafficking and legal matchmaking is fine, especially now since it is the Vietnamese girls who are actively seeking foreign husbands.

“They pay matchmaking agents to find them foreign husbands hoping for a better life. But I don’t condone it, especially since many prospective husbands are old men who want young, virgin wives.

“Most of the time, these girls are plucked from the villages and are really innocent, so when they are in a foreign land, they don’t know what to do if things do not work out,” he says.

There are also reports of the girls or their families taking loans and selling whatever property they have to pay the agent’s fees, and thus are desperate to snag a husband to help pay off their debts.

Chong adds he has even heard of cases of some Vietnamese brides being only 18 years old and below.

“I have no proof, though,” he admits.

Kh’ng prefers to think of her centre as providing a service for both Vietnamese women and Malaysian men.

She says she puts up the Vietnamese girls that she brings over to Malaysia at her house for one week as she monitors their behaviour.

“I need to make sure they have a good attitude as they are going to be someone’s wife. Sometimes when I find them very hard to handle, I’ll just send them back,” she says.

On customers’ concern of runaway Vietnamese brides, she adds that she could not guarantee it would not happen to her girls.

“Sometimes things are beyond our control but I’ll always ask the girls to be honest with me after meeting their potential husbands.

“I told them they have a choice and not to force themselves into the marriage and run away in the end.

“Of course, I will not simply match them with any man. There were cases where I rejected the customers because I felt they would not make good husbands.

“It’s like choosing a life partner for your own daughter. We can never be careless when it comes to matchmaking as it concerns one’s lifelong happiness,” she says.

Related Stories:
The quest for love
Professionals and businessmen turn to matchmaking agencies for brides
Foreign brides have to undergo medical tests
Busy Malaysian bachelors seek foreign wives via agencies

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