A growing number of Chinese men are looking to forge friendships with foreign women, and buck the cultural trend of "marrying up", as Zhang Yuchen reports.
Even though she has lived in Beijing for several years, Chinese men are still a closed book to Cathie Watson. The 27-year-old from the UK says she is unable to read the signs - or more accurately, the lack of signs - given off by Chinese men. "Quiet", "hard to reach out to" and "shy" are the words that emerge when Watson tries to describe them.
"I have rarely met a Chinese man who greeted me proactively or initiated a discussion," said the English teacher at a school in Beijing. "They don't seem to be fun to hang out with."
Conversely, a few Chinese guys do go to the opposite extreme. Watson said total strangers have approached to ask for her phone number. "They hadn't even spoken with me, so how come they can they just ask for my phone number?"
Although Watson's impressions of Chinese men suggest a lack of engagement, an increasing number of them are becoming interested in meeting non-Chinese women for long-term relationships.
Studies show that it's rare for Asian men to marry Western women. Usually, the process of "marrying up" involves women from less-developed countries marrying Western men, according to Ming Li, a senior marriage counselor in Shanghai. Against that backdrop, Asian men marrying women from outside their own ethnic grouping are in a distinct minority.
However, Hu Yiqiang is hoping to buck the trend. He has set his heart on finding a non-Chinese wife or partner, mainly because he is frustrated at the demands made by Chinese women - a big house, a luxury car and a good job are the usual requirements cited by Chinese dates, Hu said, but that's not what he wants.
When he posted ads on the website of a famous Beijing lifestyle magazine, his sole intention was to find a wife from overseas. "I like girls who are: Kind, show filial piety and are self-motivated. They are the best," Hu wrote in his ad. " I'm willing to go shopping with her; or rather, I'm willing to accompany her to do whatever she wants or plans to do."
The 31-year-old Hubei province native works as street vendor, but he also owns an online shop that sells Chinese-themed travel souvenirs. With only a middle high school graduation diploma, he was unable to enter higher education, and so he moved to Beijing to work and began teaching himself English.
Hu met his first foreign girlfriend, a Norwegian, on the campus of Beijing Second Foreign Language University. "She asked me to move to Norway with her, but I was afraid of the chilly weather there," he said. "I was too young to grasp the chance." Later a Japanese friend rejected his advances because of his low level of formal education.
Despite having been turned down by almost all the Chinese women he's dated a couple of times, Hu, who has adopted the English name David, remains optimistic about his chances in the marital lottery.
Wang Kunpeng, a Beijinger who works as in the service department of a large multinational logistics company, has a clear idea of how hard it is for Chinese men to find wives from overseas.
"I see I'm not the only one looking for a different relationship," said Wang, whose English name is Martin. "Looking for a foreign wife is really not easy, and for a Chinese guy, it's almost the most difficult thing to achieve."
Wang's desire to marry a woman from overseas is partly motivated by competition with his sister, who married a man from Japan, and he has experienced many obstacles from home and abroad. Because they hold fast to traditional notions, Wang's Chinese friends and colleagues have shown little support for his plan, and he has also noticed a distinct lack of enthusiasm from his foreign friends.
Still, he sees himself as being different from everyday Chinese men. "I began to listen to symphonies about half a year ago, to immerse myself in their beauty. I now realize that the inner world I live in differs from my mom's, which is something I'm not really accustomed to," he said.
During the weekend, he studies Japanese in preparation for the future because his company is branching out in the US, France and Japan.
A student from the US once told him that he should love himself, and then he will be able to love others. "That alone is hard for any Chinese person," Wang said.
But when ruminating about life with a potential foreign spouse, he seems to have no clue of what may occur, and appears not to have considered how he would manage a cross-cultural relationship or the inevitable challenges that would be thrown up by their different family backgrounds.
Despite Wang's apparently casual attitude, making a relationship endure is hard work, according to one expert. "People who can manage a long-term relationship in multiple languages and cultures must have a special combination of intelligence, diligence, and patience. I have great respect for them," said Roy Huggins, a professional counselor in Portland, Oregon.