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.

This article was first published on Sept 20, 2015.
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