Singapore men put love on hold on financial worry

SINGAPORE Thu Oct 16, 2008 9:07am EDT

1 of 2. Vietnamese bride Nguyen Thi Hue, 19, laughs while speaking on the phone at a matchmaking agency in Singapore October 15, 2008. Business in matchmaking agencies in Singapore is faltering as the economy slows and the financial crisis hits consumer sentiment, making it harder for men to pay for their brides.

Credit: Reuters/Vivek Prakash

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - "No money no honey" seems to be ringing true for Singapore's bridal agencies, which are seeing slowing business as the financial crisis and a looming recession hit love in the country.

Matchmaking agencies in the Southeast Asian country said the financial meltdown has forced some men to think twice about spending thousands of dollars to get a wife.

"About 10 percent of my customers say 'The economy is slowing down, I have no money,'" said Mark Lin, who runs the Vietnam Brides International Matchmaker in Singapore.

"In the past, girls used to get married in one to two weeks. Now it takes one to two months," he said, in a tiny office along Singapore's main shopping belt where five Vietnamese women chatted under walls covered with pictures of smiling newly weds.

Three to four customers pull out of their marriages each month now, forfeiting deposits paid to agencies, up from one to two clients before, Lin said.

The crisis, which sparked banking turmoil from the United States to Iceland, has traversed beyond financial markets into the real economy as falling home prices and fears of losing jobs force consumers to tighten their belts.

"Business has been very badly hit by the crisis. In the past, I would get around 20 calls a day. Now there are hardly any calls," said Hannah, who works at Truelove International Matchmaker in Singapore. She declined to give her last name.

"Some say the financial pressures from a marriage are just too great," she said, in a country that was booming last year but is expected to see a recession in the third quarter.

Couples in Singapore typically spend thousands of dollars when they tie the knot as newly weds host family and friends at a lavish dinner to mark the occasion.

Matchmaking is not uncommon in the country, which has a population of 4.8 million and a low birth rate, as older men turn to professionals to find a wife.

Some agencies help link up singles, while others -- like Lin's -- help customers find a prospective wife from abroad.

For S$8,000 ($5,450), a man can pick a wife from among the women in Lin's shop, send her to the doctor, and get his marriage registered -- all in 12 hours, but only if the woman fancies him too.

If he does not fancy the women in the shop, he can pay another S$2,000 to fly to Ho Chi Minh City and meet 50-100 women in a hotel, but Lin warns customers this is illegal.

"My customers are usually over 35. That is when they get disappointed with Singapore women, whom they say have too high expectations," he said.

The women can stay in Singapore for only two months on visitor's passes if they are not married to a local, Lin said.

But as business slows to a crawl amid a sagging economy, some women have to go home without a husband.

"I hope to get married," said 19-year-old Nguyen Thi Hue, who returns to Vietnam on Thursday after two months in Singapore. "I want a husband who can dote on me and love me."

(Editing by Neil Chatterjee)

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