Speed dating

11:15, February 04, 2010      

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Men and women chat at a Fishbowl speed dating event. Courtesy of Fishbowl

"I once contracted rabies."

It's not the average pick-up line one would hear at a bar or club, but when there's 15 people in the room vying for the same person's attention and you've got just six minutes to make an impression, you go with what you've got.

Fishbowl events speeding dating coordinator Allison Johnson says it was one of the best one-liners she has heard in three years organizing the event.

And she says it worked.

"They both had a good laugh and it broke the ice immediately," she said.

Fishbowl Event's bi-monthly gatherings put 15 men and 15 women in the same room, giving each six minutes to talk to the other before they move on to the next.

After each six-minute conversation, the men and women make a check mark against the category that the other falls into: "datable", "friends and then dating", "just friends", or "not a match".

So why are expats and Chinese men and women drawn to what seems like such a sweat-inducing, nerve-shaking event?

Thirty-four-year-old American psychologist Devon Stafford, who has attended Fishbowl speed-dating events more than once, says it's all about options.

"Bars are too seedy and this way you get to meet everyone in the room," she said.

Stafford says finding an interesting date, as a single female expat in Beijing, is one of the most daunting tasks she faces. There is huge competition, she says that men seem to have far more options than women.

Turning to speed dating levels the playing field and provides a common ground for all participants.

"We want to provide an atmosphere for everyone to come and meet each other. With some luck, they can also find someone they want to date," said 30-year-old Johnson, co-founder of Fishbowl Events.

So what is the ideal scenario?

"Balance" says 29-year-old Poland native, Ola Zdzarska, another founder.

The pair has grown adept at striking the perfect balance having organized speed dating events since 2007.

They have since explored different realms of networking - including dating events such as 'Hook and Cook' where pairs prepare meals while getting to know each other - and speed networking for artists, which gives people in the art community a platform to share artistic expression.

Each of the Fishbowl speed dating events begins with Zdarska and Johnson handpicking the session's 15 couples.

"We try to match age and personality while mixing up things such as the professions of each participant," said Zdzarska.

The ratio of expats to Chinese among women is about 50-50, she says. Among men, Most are expats. "That way, you can meet a mix of everyone you'd want to date, whether they're expat or Chinese, man or woman," said Zdzarska.

A Western girlfriend is exactly what 29-year-old Hubei native, Chique Wang, is looking for when he attends the speed dating events. In public, he is far too bashful to approach expat girls, he says.

"It's difficult to find a Western girl who wants to date a Chinese man," Chique said. "But at the speed dating I can at least talk to them."

Chique has attended three speed-dating events and has not yet found himself a date but he is not letting his lack of success so far deter him from his goal.

"I need to try harder," he said.

While the event is littered with ups and downs, sometimes the encounters can just be embarrassing. Stafford recalls one speed dating session where, after the first minute of conversation, she realized she was talking to a coworker.

"I found out I worked with this person and did not know it. I have a large company," she said. "We both felt kind of stupid."

Fishbowl events will host a Charity Valentine's Day speed dating event at Face Bar on Feb 7, at 7 pm.

Cover for the event is 150 yuan and participants can register at www.fishbowlevents.com.

Source: China Daily
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