Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On the great Ukrainian bride hunt part 7

By Kristoffer A. Garin

The banquet hall at the Rus holds about two dozen tables, and at each of them three, four, or more women sat and drank champagne and waited for one of us to introduce ourselves. “You have got to move,” we had been instructed. “If you don't move, you can't get the numbers.” And so the men circulated relentlessly, in keeping with the gospel of Dan the Man—writing down their favorites' contact information on individual pieces of paper rather than on notepads so that the women could not see how many others were already on the list. As I wandered around the room, the men kept trying to pull me toward tables where they were speaking with five or six women. “This is Kris,” one said. “He has a very good heart.” Another introduced me as “one of his best friends.”

Ninety minutes in, the music grew louder and the D.J. began to stage dance contests, party games. In the first game, he and his assistant chose several long-legged, miniskirted ladies from the crowd to navigate a slalom of empty champagne glasses set up on the dance floor. Three finalists tried it blindfolded; the lucky winner received a cash prize amounting to more than two weeks' pay for those in the room with jobs. “Oh my God,” one of the interpreters exclaimed, stunned. “She just got $100!” The men barely seemed to notice, but a ripple of anticipation spread through the overwhelmingly female crowd. So far out of line with the realities of Ukrainian life, the prize effectively underscored the extent to which these men held the key to another world. But the rest of the evening's prizes—for the sexiest dancer, for the lady whose man did the best job using tinsel to decorate her like a Christmas tree—seemed to consist of chocolate bars, movie tickets, and the like. The point had been made, so there was presumably no point in going overboard.

By the time the social ended at 10:00 P.M., many of the men were positively radiant—the attention had transformed them, if only temporarily. The happy ones were positively brimming. A few left then and there on “dates” to local nightclubs, three or more girls in tow. The rest of us headed for the bar to compare notes. The taser-loving lawyer I'd spoken to at the airport showed off his Polaroids: “The twenty-five-year-old, I'm seeing tomorrow,” he narrated. “She was beautiful. Beautiful! And very intelligent.” Even as he spoke, the young woman in question passed by on her way out. Very pretty, and impossibly small alongside his bulk, she smiled at him and said good night, clearly not speaking more than a word or two of English. “See you Sunday,” he replied, waggling his sausage of a finger and speaking in a weird, coquettish singsong. “You'd better be here or you'll be in trouble. I'll have the handcuffs; if you're not here, the handcuffs will be out.”

Historically, IMBs have declined to provide any information about their male clients to the women with whom they seek to match them; and, in fact, this one-sidedness has been a selling point. A New York based advocacy group called Equality Now demonstrated it in stark terms in 1999, when they sent a blanket email inquiry to dozens of IMBs, purporting to be from a physician who had assaulted two ex-wives; his email asked whether this history would be an issue. Out of sixty-six responses, only three IMBs turned him down, and only two others expressed serious reservations about taking him on as a client; a few actually praised him and commiserated regarding the occasional need for violence when it comes to keeping women in line. Among the responses:

“Having also been accused of asult by western women, who are usually the instigaters of domestic violence I can tell you: A) don't let it bother you and B) most Thais avoid confrontation, Buddhist philosophy, so they are not likely to start something that may end in violence

“Thank you for your open and honest letter. I believe we all have skeletons in the closet and do not let them fall out when we meet someone. When I look into my past it also does not look too rosy. In heated arguments we all say and do things we did not mean, it does not make us a bad person. What I am trying to say is, let the ladies get to know the real you.”

“We are an agency and our purpose is to try to help people meet each other. We never refuse any clients that come to us with the exception of incarcerated people. So the answer is yes we will do our very best to help you, as we do for everybody else, but you should try to work on these problem you have for your own benefit and the benefit of your future wife.”