SCMP Friday, May 18, 2001

Quick pick-up


Seven minutes. How would you make best use of seven minutes? By having a cigarette break, perhaps. But the average cigarette takes 12 minutes to smoke. Maybe it could be spent applying a five-minute face mask, with one minute for putting it on and another to wash it off. Seven minutes doesn't seem long enough for a turning point in your life, when you might meet the man or woman of your dreams.
Well think again, lonely hearts. Speed Dating has finally arrived in Hong Kong. if you can spare seven minutes from your hectic schedule, you could meet the love of your life.
Sounds unlikely? It has worked elsewhere. Speed Dating began in Los Angeles in January 1999. Started by a Jewish resource organisation called Aish HaToran, the musical chairs-style introductions service originated as a scheme to help Jews meet and marry. Its popularity spread and it soon became hip in Man-hattan too.
It works like this. An equal number of men and women are invited to the venue. Each woman is assigned to a different table. The men get to sit with each woman for seven minutes. When the time is up, a bell rings, signalling the guys to move on to another date. The women stay where they are. At the end, everybody has to put down the name of the person he or she fancies to see if there is a match. The only cost is for drinks consumed and, perhaps, a bruised ego if it all goes horribly wrong.
Club bl.ush in Hollywood Road has borrowed this concept from the United States and recently held the SAR's first Speed Dating session.
''The idea came from one of our shareholders,'' says the club's manager TM Chan. ''Lots of his friends in the US and Europe have been to this Speed Dating and it was very cool.''
Chan says that she organised the first bout in a rush, which could explain why only nine females and eight men turned up, below the targeted 12 for each.
When I was invited to the first of the club's planned regular Wednesday night events, I recalled a fortune-teller's message in January. Hadn't he said that I would develop a stable relationship with a lovely guy in May or June? Speed Dating could be what he meant.
Before heading for the venue, I discussed strategy with my girlfriend, who considers herself an expert in such matters. She advised against wearing a silky skirt and high heels - my favourite items - because they would indicate that I was too eager and give the wrong impression.
Inspecting my wardrobe at length the night before, I decided to wear a pair of blue trousers and a white shirt - cool but casual. Arriving at the club on time, a few men and women were already there, drinking and chatting with each other at the bar, as if they already knew each other. Great - it looked like I'd be the only wallflower.
The manager came and asked my name. She said that some of the would-be dreamboats were late, hence the chatter while we waited for them.
Forty-five minutes ticked by. The promised Romeos still had not shown up. Instead of sitting at the bar having a group date, the manager finally announced that the event would begin.
She took me to one of the tables. ''Sorry you have to wait because we are running out of guys tonight,'' she said.
OK, it did not matter. Let the other women have fun first because the best always comes last, as the saying goes. But the longer I sat there solo, waiting for a man, the more awkward I felt. I was the only girl being left out. What was wrong with me. Was I ugly? Did I look stupid?
The chiming bell saved my confidence from sinking to below sea level. This heralded my first date of the night. Step forward a tall German, with very short brown hair, glasses, white shirt and brown trousers. He worked in the finance field. Nice looking, but not really my type. Suddenly I didn't feel so nervous. Gener-ating topics to talk about came easily - I started with the fact that I had a German friend. We had a good chat about his job and his life in Hong Kong, but nothing particularly exciting.
Seven minutes passed quickly, we could have kept talking but the waitress appeared shaking the bell to begin the next round. The German gave his seat to the next candidate. Another finance guy, but this one came from New York. He was in a navy blue suit, with big eyes and dark hair. We almost repeated the whole dialogue I had with the German. We exchanged information about our jobs and lives, but only on a superficial level. What can you expect from a seven-minute date anyway?
The bell sounded again and a short, chubby, 30-something Canadian lawyer parked himself opposite me. He had been dragged here by a friend. It was the worst seven minutes I have ever had to endure. He was soooo extraordinarily dull. I gave him my routine: what's your name? What do you do? Where do you live? How long have you been in Hong Kong? Why are you here? But his replies were mostly monosyllabic. No wonder he was single, I thought cruelly.
Speed dating is certainly not for those who need time to warm up. First impressions do count here. So what would impress me? Appearance, eye contact, good manners, a sense of humour, a hint of chemistry. It was a tall order, but by the third minute I knew Mr Lawyer had none of these qualities and time suddenly stood still. I tried to eavesdrop on the table behind me to see if they were hitting it off, but I was too far away, so I kept talking - insincere small talk - just to avoid embarrasssing us.
An Irishman came to take over the seat. This one appeared to be a bit more interesting, starting off the conversation. Obviously proud of the travelling he had done, he droned on about how many countries he had been to, but he only succeeded in making me feel bad because I had only visited a few cities. At least I learned how discouraged other people would feel if I showed off myself.
Baby Face came next. A British barman in a blue shirt. He was a bit shy so I tried to trigger a conversation with questions. He managed to tell me that he was 25. After a few minutes he suddenly blurted out that he had lied. ''I am only 19,'' he said. That was that, I couldn't possibly date somebody younger than me. Stifling a yawn that threatened to crack the fixed smile plastered across my face, I endured talking to guys who did not really impress me. Remembering their names was becoming a challenge. So much so - or perhaps it was the shock of the crudeness of the question - that I can't recall which of the would-be Casanovas tried to win my heart with a bluntly put: ''What is your favourite position?'' Hoping to meet someone with a little more to offer than a Kama Sutra summary, I was not impressed.
As the last round of dates began and as my hopes of finding that certain magic began to fade, along came Mr Scintillat-ing. At last here was one who caught my eye. A latecomer, who looked like Fox Mulder from The X Files, my favourite television character. He did not rotate to my table because he was late, but kept turning his head to peep at me, even though he was ''dating'' another girl.
It was flattering, but not surprisingly, his partner complained. ''How can you talk to another girl? You are dating me!''
Chat sessions over, we had to jot down the names of our best date on a little piece of paper. The perfect match could win a bottle of champagne.
I thought I'd performed pretty well. I'd ''dated' seven guys, made small talk and made them laugh. But I hadn't found anyone interesting, so I scribbled down the name of my last ''date'' - it was the only name I could remember.
I could have consoled myself with the prized bubbly but it went to a German guy and a Chinese girl, who, as it turned out, knew each other and had no intention of a romantic liaison.
I did enjoy myself but the club's long-term plan to reduce the time to 60 seconds with more people would be a mistake.
Instead of merely aiming for a hot date, it was good training for communication skills, as I had to impress other people within such a short time without embarrassing either of us. That is no easy feat.
So what happened with the suave Fox Mulder lookalike? Did we get talking, exchange phone numbers? Did he call, you are all wondering. Well, let's just say there is a possibility that the fortune-teller was right . . .