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Taiwan Men Seek Foreign Brides

China, Vietnam and other Asian nations are supplying brides who aren't career-oriented like the women at home.

June 15, 2003|Annie Huang | Associated Press Writer

WANLI, Taiwan — Security guard Huang Chin-tsai did something that his father or grandfather never would have dreamed of: travel to a village in faraway Vietnam and pay to marry a woman he didn't know.

Like most people on this island, the Huang family once would never have considered a non-Chinese bride. Foreigners were uncultured, didn't have the proper bloodlines, couldn't speak Chinese and didn't know how to cook the right food.

But social and economic changes have prompted Huang, 44, and thousands of Taiwanese men to do just that. They are finding wives throughout Asia, and the trend is helping awaken Taiwan's insular society to other cultures.

About 250,000 foreign brides live among 23 million Taiwanese. About 140,000 of the women are from mainland China, but about 43,000 are Vietnamese and 11,000 are Indonesian. The rest came from Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia and other countries.

About two years ago, Huang used a matchmaking agency to find his wife, Vu Thi Minh, a 30-year-old Vietnamese with a gentle smile. They met when he went to her village about a four-hour drive from Ho Chih Minh City.

After a simple wedding, he brought her back to Wanli, a sleepy fishing village near Taiwan's capital, Taipei.

Like many Taiwanese villages, the collection of comfortable two-story brick houses in Wanli has become a settlement for foreign brides. The women are said to care for their husbands and children in the old ways that are rarer among Taiwanese women, who have become more career-oriented as the island's affluence bloomed.

"You don't want to marry a woman who wants to control you and always complains about the little money you make," Huang said of Taiwanese women.

Turning to his wife as she served stewed pig knuckles, he added: "She is content and seldom argues."

Minh, who cracks an occasional joke in earthy Taiwanese slang, can pass for a local woman with her black hair and yellow skin. She voices satisfaction with her husband, who makes $870 a month as a guard at a resort hotel. His salary is below average for Taiwan but enough to sustain the couple and their 6-month-old daughter.

Until her siblings grew up and went off to work in cities, her family of eight lived in a one-room wooden hut in a dusty village swarming with flies.

Now she lives in a three-bedroom house with washing machine and other amenities.

A social worker, Hsu Chun-hui, said that despite an initial lack of understanding or affection, most mixed couples are doing well and are happy.

"They take what they want in the marriage of convenience," said Hsu, who works for Eden Social Welfare Foundation.

The exceptions generally involve cases in which Taiwanese men lie about their economic well-being or hide poor health, Hsu said.

To wed a foreign bride, a man usually pays matchmaking agencies about $10,000, which includes a commission, traveling expenses and a small amount for the bride's parents.

Several years ago, men who looked elsewhere for brides were mostly older. Today, though, many younger Taiwanese frustrated with the complications of dating in a modern society are looking abroad for wives.

Luong My Nga, a Vietnamese neighbor of the Huangs, said her husband, a 34-year-old chef, did not marry her because he couldn't find a wife in Taiwan.

"He is a handsome man and has a good income," the 23-year-old woman said, her dark eyes sparkling with pride. "He worked long hours and had no time for courtship, so he married me."

Nga's mother-in-law nodded in agreement, holding her year-old grandson tight in her arms.

Society is starting to adjust to the influx of foreign women. The government offers language classes, job training and counseling, and has set up telephone hot lines to take grievances. A Taipei hospital recently printed a Vietnamese-language handbook for pregnant women.

Officials are also starting to grapple with unhappy marriages that include physical and emotional abuse.

Liu Yun-pin, a police officer in eastern Taitung county, said he deals with several abuse complaints a day from foreign wives.

"The family disputes are mainly about economic problems," he said. "Some husbands not only want their wives to do household work, but farm and other labor work. Some of the wives escape to work in factories."

Multiculturalism also is being addressed in schools, where bilingual textbooks are being provided for the children of mixed couples. .

Taiwanese women have not complained about diminishing marriage opportunities because of the influx of foreign women.

Kuo Pei-chin, a social worker for the Taitung county government, said younger Taiwanese women are better educated and economically independent, and many would rather stay single than marry men inferior to them.

"There are a lot of calls for curbing the import of foreign workers, but few people see the foreign brides as a threat -- at least not yet," she said.

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