SPRAYED myself liberally with of a man, The Body Shop deodorant, on a Thursday evening, all prepared to sweat it out trying the latest trend to hit the Malaysian dating scene: speed dating.
According to its organiser in Malaysia, 1919 Bistro & Wine Bar, Speed Date is a super fun new way to meet up with people. “It’s a great way to meet lots of new people while avoiding the agonising four-hour blind date gone blindly wrong,” states a press release from the nightspot that was launched on Dec 1 in Kuala Lumpur.
Speed Date works like this. You meet eight or more people in five-minute “dates” – or get-to-know-you sessions – over the course of the evening. After each date, you mark Yes or No on a scorecard before moving on to the next person. If you and another person both mark a Yes for each other, 1919 Bistro & Wine Bar will notify the both of you via e-mail the following day so that you can go on a proper first date.
'So, what's your sign, baby...' The speed dating hosts at 1919 Bistro & Wine Bar don't recommend using cheesy pick-up lines. The intention is to pique the other person's interest enough so he/she wants to go on a proper date with you.
Speed dating was started two years ago by an American rabbi, Yaakov Deyo, to help single Jewish people meet each other. The idea went mainstream and is now sweeping Britain and the United States.
It was even featured on HBO’s Sex and the City in an episode where Miranda, the lawyer, discovered she could instantly hook men by telling them that she’s an air stewardess. In October, Oxford University Press included speed dating in a book on English in the first years of the 21st century entitled the Language Report and written by Susie Dent.
And on Dec 4, Speed Date took hold in Malaysia at 1919 Bistro & Wine Bar, which is located in an 84-year-old white-painted colonial building in Jalan Pudu Lama. For an introductory price of RM35 per person, a dater gets one cocktail, an assortment of tapas, coffee or tea, and dessert.
At around 8.30pm on Dec 11, I registered and a nametag with PHILIP written on it was stuck to my shirt. I headed straight for the bar and redeemed my cocktail coupon (needed the Dutch courage!). Then I sat on the bar stool, awaiting instructions from Randy, the organiser. “Relax, enjoy and have fun,” he said. “Don’t ask standard questions such as, ‘Where are you from?’ ‘How old are you?’ or ‘What do you do?’ but ask fun questions such as, ‘If you were stuck on a desert island, name three people that you want to be with?’ ‘If we were a match where would you take me for a perfect date?’ or ‘If we have an argument, would you let me win?’”
That night there were eight women – aged 25 to 35 – and seven men – between 25 and 40. The women were seated at individual tables and didn’t move while the men were told which table to go to and then were told to move to the next seat when a gong was sounded after five minutes.
My first “date” was Miss D. “Hello! I am Philip. Why are you participating in this?” I asked. “I am bored and stressed,” she said. Bored, I understood but ? stressed? Isn’t having only five minutes to appeal to or alienate a human being stressful? ”You look different from the others,” Miss D said. Is it, I wondered, because my barber uses shears on me rather than scissors? “What do you mean?” I asked. “Because you are wearing casual clothes whereas the rest are wearing formal,” she elaborated.
Before the speed date began, I had checked out the competition. All the men – including a Scandinavian – were wearing long-sleeved shirts and slacks as if they had just come from work or were going to a wedding reception. Whereas I wore a batik-inspired shirt, Levi’s, and brown suede Blundstone boots.
“One more minute,” said Randy, warning we had 60 seconds before the gong would be struck to indicate the end of the five-minute date. Miss D and I hurriedly discussed life and the gong went off. Too soon, I thought. I marked her down as a “yes”. Hopefully, she too would do the same and we could continue our conversation.
I moved to the adjacent table where Miss E was seated. After introducing myself, I asked, “What do you think of the Noritta Samsudin murder case?” “What?” she said bemusedly. Oops, one of those people who don’t read the newspapers, I thought. And I proceeded to enlighten her about Malaysia’s latest news story at the time (a 22-year-old accountant who had been raped and murdered in the beginning of December). Miss E was someone who wasn’t interested in what I work with daily – a definite “no” on my scorecard.
“I am tired,” said Miss F when I said “hello!” The Internet banking executive did indeed look tired – she had those sleepy Garfield eyes. She was speed dating because she had read on the Internet that it was popular in London. Fraud in the banking system has always fascinated me so I quizzed her about the subject. After five minutes, I circled “yes” on my scorecard for Miss F as she had the kind of petite body that I am partial to and she sounded smart.
A dare from a friend was Miss G’s reason for speed dating. During the course of our conversation, the lawyer – who had arrived with her lawyer friend, Miss H – revealed that she had just recovered from the flu but then got an allergy. Immediately, though the width of a table separated us, I moved back an inch and made a mental note to score her as a “no”.
I was prepared to strike out Miss H the moment I saw her. The lawyer looked like a woman who was participating with a view to marriage. I’m not a mind reader but that was the impression I had of this woman whose hair was styled prim and proper and who looked very serious. So I sabotaged myself. “What do you do?” she asked. “At the moment, I am lepak-ing,” I quickly replied. Her eyes narrowed with disapproval and I knew that she had judged me as Mr Wrong. I had no part in her scheme for the future. Since I had 290 excruciating seconds to go, I talked about my 19-year-old sister who was studying law.
I probably sabotaged myself with most of the women in answering one of the most popular questions: What is your job? Like Miranda in Sex and the City, I lied, but unlike her I did not glamorise my career. I just didn’t want to make the women too wary by saying I was a journalist, so I said I was in between jobs.
While I was telling Miss H about the joy of being jobless, I spied Channel [V] VJ Paula Malai Ali – looking very married, unfortunately – heading towards the restroom. Now that’s one woman I wouldn’t mind speed dating?.
It was a real turn-on for me to find out that Miss J’s hobby was reading. There is a soft spot in my heart for women who have read novels by Graham Greene, Orhan Pamuk or Nick Hornby. “What books do you read?” I hopefully asked, afraid that the marketing executive would say self-help or marketing books. “Marketing books,” she said. “Do you read literature?” I said, giving her a second chance. “No, but I read magazines,” she said. “What kind of magazines?” I asked, hoping she’d answer The New Yorker, as she would be a perfect match if she did. “Time and Asiaweek,” she said. There and then, I passed on the woman since Asiaweek had ceased publication at the end of 2001.
With Miss A, I asked whether she was now comfortable speed dating as she had had five other men before me. She nodded and giggled. Then I queried her about the other men and she told me that one of them knew what he wanted out of speed dating. “Please explain,” I said. “Well, he knew what he wanted as the first three questions he asked me were ‘Do you smoke? ‘Do you drink?’ and ‘Where do you live?’ she said. “So what does that mean?” I asked. “It means that he is looking for someone to marry,” she said, “and that freaked me out.” Okay, this is my kind of woman – pretty witty and pretty, too. I gave Miss A a hearty yes.
For my next date, Miss B, I had a sudden urge to freak her out. “Can I freak you out with three questions?” I asked her after introducing myself. The lawyer, in her most cautious courtroom manner said “yes”. The questions, however, did not have the same effect on her as on Miss A. Probably because I pre-warned her or maybe she was being the cool lawyer. We discussed being judgemental. She was a non-judgemental person, probably because of her law training whereas I was very judgemental because it was fun. After the five minutes, I judged her to be a “no”.
My final date was with Miss C. She, I bet, would make a good wife. How do I know? Just my instinct, probably triggered by her sweet smile. While talking to the restaurant manager, I mentally debated whether she was a yes or a no. In the end, she was a no as I thought my earlier three yesses were enough for the night.
Speed dating over, most of the daters congregated at the bar for their dessert. I observed four pairs of male and female daters chatting and the impression I had was this group of people was genuine in desiring a companion, if not for life than at least for the evening.
The following day at noon, I entered my e-mail account eagerly but there was no message from 1919 Bistro & Wine Bar. There wasn’t one at 12.10pm, 12.20pm, 12.30pm, 12.40pm or 12.50pm, though I received half a dozen offers to download the sex tape of Paris Hilton, heiress to the Hilton hotel fortune. After 4pm, I gave up checking as I had better things to do, like jumping off a single-storey building?.
Then, 22 hours later when I checked my e-mail, I received this: “Hello Philip, CONGRATULATIONS from 1919 Bistro & Wine Bar! Thanks for taking part in our SPEED DATE special event on Dec 11. You said YES to THREE other Speed Daters and this is your MATCH! Speed Dater No.4.”
It was Miss D, the bored and stressed one who had thought I was different. That returned my bruised self-esteem to cheeky mode. Now I can’t wait for my slooow date with her.
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"