Hire a man.
That's what some Singapore women do during the Chinese New Year period to avoid the inevitable question: When are you going to settle down?
One of these women is a regional sales director who wanted to be known only as Miss Ng.
She requested that we do not use her full name as she does not want to risk her relatives uncovering the truth.
The petite 44-year-old, who described herself as "average looking", told The New Paper: "I can afford it. It's easier to hire a man than to tackle the nosy parkers."
It is also an easier way of managing her aged parents' constant fussing over their only daughter.
"I think it's natural for parents to worry over their children's marital status, and my parents happen to belong to the traditional type who think that a woman's job is to marry and have kids," she said with a wry smile.
"So being successful in your career and being self-sufficient mean nothing to them, unfortunately."
Just a few hours before our interview last week, Miss Ng met her new "boyfriend" for a short introduction. She had booked him for the first three days of the Chinese New Year and paid the male social-escort agency $2,500 for each session of four hours of dating, along with $300 for the introduction session, spending a total of $7,800.
"I've got myself a new boyfriend this year, and I needed to share 'notes' on basic details such as how we met and how long we have been dating," said Miss Ng, who is hiring her second boyfriend in four years.
Her experience in hiring a boyfriend taught her that it is important to establish rapport with the escort.
The male social escort she booked for the previous three years has quit.
She said: "I miss him so much this year. We had actually hit it off quite well. I think my parents, especially my mum, liked that boyfriend of mine, even though he is four years younger."
But there had been a rocky start, Miss Ng recalled with a chuckle, that nearly "had my game exposed".
"I had told my parents that he was a colleague from a particular department, but he slipped up and mentioned another one instead," she said.
"We also forgot to discuss his family background, so I said he has a younger sister, but he said he has an elder sister.
"In English, sister means just that, but in Chinese, 'jie jie' (older sister) and 'mei mei' (younger sister) are different."
They got away with it by using the English-Chinese translation as an excuse for the misunderstanding, saying they had just started dating.
Miss Ng said she first hit on the idea of hiring an escort from "reading some online reports on boyfriends for hire" in 2010.
"It's very popular in China and when I called a few escort agencies here, I found that they offered such services - not only for the Chinese New Year, but also occasions such as Christmas and Valentine's Day."
Miss Ng is not the only one here who resorts to hiring a boyfriend for the festive season.
Social-escort agency owners told The New Paper that they have seen a spike in demand - 20 to 25 per cent - for this period over the past few years.
"We started doing business with women seeking alternative companionship to fill the void during Christmas and Valentine's Day," said Mr Ernest Ting of MS Promotions.
"But in recent years, there has been an increase in bookings for Chinese New Year."
This article by The New Paper was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.
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