Viet woman saves up for a year to fly to Singapore in hope of finding a husband
22-year-old Viet bride wants a fairy-tale ending to her search for S'pore husband
Seated on a worn sofa, Miss Tran Thi Kim Giau fiddles with her smartphone.
Her make-up is thickly piled on, perhaps a tad too much for the 22-year-old from a farming family in the Tay Ninh province in Vietnam.
But she wants to look her best for any prospective groom who calls at the fluorescent-lit office on the second storey of Orchard Plaza.
"I want to find a Singapore husband. They are dependable," the beauticiantells The New Paper on Sunday in Mandarin.
In the past, Miss Tran wouldn't have needed to travel all the way to Singapore to find a husband.
Ten years ago, Singaporean men looking for brides would flock to Vietnam on tours organised by dozens of Singapore-based matchmaking agencies. But business has dried up in recent years. (See report)
Prospective brides like Miss Tran now have to pay for their own passage to Singapore to meet their match.
They do it because they believe that Singaporean men can give them a much better life than those from their country.
Miss Tran was only 10 when her elder sister married a Singaporean man.
"They have been married for 12 years and are still very loving," she says, adding that she has visited them at least four times over the years.
"I want to have the same life."
GIVEN UP ON VIETNAMESE MEN
Miss Tran says she has given up on Vietnamese men, claiming that men from her home country "tend to be lazy, do not have job security and tend to beat their wives".
Obviously, her views are coloured by her sister's "match made in heaven".
Her sister was 18 when she married her Singaporean husband, who was then in his late 20s.
And Miss Tran knows her time here is limited. She has been in Singapore for a month and has 60 days left to find a good man.
She paid about $160 for her airfare here - money she saved for about a year. But she feels luckier than the other hopeful girls because she has her sister's home to stay at. The three other girls at the agency are putting up at the spartan office.
When TNPS visited the office, there were toiletries on the table, and towels and clothes hanging by the side.
The girls also had their luggage with them.
They, too, are hoping to meet their Prince Charming in Singapore, but the odds may be stacked against them.
None of the other women speak English or Mandarin, making communication difficult with potential husbands here who are unlikely to speak Vietnamese.
Time is also not on their side - with a social visit pass, they can stay in Singapore for only 30 days.
Miss Tran is luckier. She has 60 days more than them because she has a relative here.
Last month, a 51-year-old man expressed interest in her and wanted to get to know her better but Miss Tran rejected his advances, citing that he is "too old".
She is holding out for someone younger.
But she is worried that it won't happen. And if it doesn't, she will return home only to come back again - once she has saved enough money.
After crackdown, the women travel for grooms
Just over a decade ago, the matchmaking of Singaporean men with Vietnamese women was a booming industry.
In its heyday, there were almost 30 marriage brokers offering similar services.
The first few agencies advertising young, submissive and virgin brides - mostly women from poor, rural areas in southern Vietnam - appeared around 2000.
Singaporean men with little luck with local women were keen, especially those in their 40s and 50s who were unable to shed their single status.
They would go on tours to Vietnam to pick their wives. They had hundreds of women paraded before them - all within a week.
That is, until the Vietnamese authorities cracked down on marriage brokers in 2012.
Since then, the matchmaking industry for Vietnamese brides and Singaporean men quickly dwindled.
Only a handful of players are left today. Many are also lowering the price of their services just to keep bachelors walking through the door.
Mr Loi Eng Tuang, 57, who runs Ideal Marriage Centre at Golden Mile Tower, says there is definitely a noticeable impact after the ban.
"This significantly reduced the number of Vietnamese women coming over to Singapore for marriage," he says.
He points out that Golden Mile Tower, a hub of sorts for matchmakers, used to have 10 agencies operating there.
"Today, mine is the only one left," he says. "I have not been taking any groups over to Vietnam for matchmaking unless it is a favour for a friend."
Bigger players, such as Mr Mark Lin of Vietnam Brides International Matchmaker, admit that business is just a fraction of what it used to be 15 to 20 years ago.
Mr Lin, who has been in the business the longest here, used to charge $16,000 for a six-day matchmaking tour to Ho Chi Minh City in 2004.
Now, he no longer organises these trips and has lowered his fee to $8,000.
Instead, the women fly to Singapore as tourists and sit in his Orchard Plaza shop, waiting for the right groom to change their lives.
"I used to pay for their airfare, living and food expenses. Today, they fly in themselves, I just provide food and accommodation," he says.
Even then, matches are few and far between.
Previously, Mr Lin would see about eight matches end up in marriage each month.
Now, he says he is lucky if he manages to send that number of couples down the aisle in a year.
For them, it was love at first flight
It is a pity if marriage brokers here close down, says one happy groom.
If it weren't for these agencies, he would not have met and married his Vietnamese wife, says engineer Wong Chun Long, 32.
Mr Wong had wanted to start a family because "at 31, 32, I'm of age". He wanted someone who shares his dream of raising a family.
"She must also get along with my aged parents, who are very traditional," he tells The New Paper on Sunday.
Mr Wong dated Singaporean women when he was younger but none of his local girlfriends had wanted children.
"They were highly career-minded and wanted to make sure they got to a certain level before they consider having children. By then, I'd be too old," he says.
He then set his sights on women from China but having dated a couple, he felt they were not right for him.
"I wanted the simple life but they wanted more," he says.
Then last year, Mr Wong turned to marriage brokers.
"I approached Mr Loi Eng Tuang of Idealbride.sg for help and he showed me photos of women from Vietnam. It was from there that I picked my wife," he recalls.
Madam Pan Thi Thanh Thuy is four years younger than Mr Wong and has a sister who is married to a Singaporean and living here.
"I paid for her to fly in and it was love at first sight. Within a month, we were married," he says.
Her ability to speak Mandarin was a bonus for Mr Wong.
The couple are expecting their first child next monthand although they have a flat in Bedok ready, Mr Wong says he is still trying to convince his wife to live with his parents "so they will be able to help us look after the baby when it comes".