The Fast and the Curious 

It was an affair to remember. Thirty, actually.

It's Saturday night and I am walking into Oakland's Waterfront Plaza Hotel wearing a blue wrap-around dress and Italian heels. I feel like a prostitute or young mistress who illicitly meets men at a hotel. But I'm not here tonight to meet a man. I'm here to meet ten.

I am joining twenty single men and women for the second speed-dating event hosted by Asians Connection, a dating service for single Asians living in the East Bay. During my early twenties, speed-dating meant snorting a line in the restaurant bathroom while your date ordered appetizers. Today it's a national phenomenon thanks to Yaacov Deyo, a Los Angeles rabbi who in 1999 wanted to facilitate intra-faith mingling and marriage through chaperoned sessions for young, single Jews.

Speed-dating has since expanded to include the mainstream and the secular. The popularity of Asian-specific dating services reflects a growing demand for same-race intimacy. Asians Connection ( was launched in 2005 by a Cal State Hayward-schooled trio who wanted to help Asians living in the East Bay find relationships. Men pay $25 and women pay $20 for ten to fifteen mini-trysts lasting five to eight minutes each.

After I sign in and slap on my nametag, I make small talk with Norlan Lee, one of the co-founders. "As we get older, our social world diminishes -- we have our careers and commitments and can't party as much," Norlan says. "Speed-dating is a straightforward shot at meeting people who at the very least share the desire to meet others."

As he talks, I'm sipping water from my wine glass, wishing it were gin. Turns out I'm not the only one who wants some alcohol to soothe her pre-date jitters. For an icebreaker, we match up with another person to talk about our favorite animal. Suddenly, a female participant yells out, "If you want a real icebreaker, try providing some alcohol." We all look up and laugh, then resume talking about killer whales and zebras. Afterward, the women are escorted to individual tables decorated with plastic rose petals, mint chocolates, and Tic Tacs. "That's what we're all about," Norlan says, nodding at the tables. "Comfort and class."

Like traditional dates, speed-dates are structured to make the men do more of the hustling -- after each date, they have to rotate while the women remain seated. Before my first date begins, I'm handed a "match sheet" where I am supposed to write down my dates' names and take notes for each. When a date sits down across from me, I get seven minutes to learn all I can about him. Then I check "yes" or "no" next to his name to indicate whether I want to see him again. He'll do the same, and if we both say on our sheets that we want to reconnect, the event staff will e-mail us the other's contact information the next day.

For the next hour, I engage in a barrage of one-on-one conversations. Every seven minutes, an organizer rings a bell and yells "Switch!" to signal that it's time to rotate and start over again. Initially, I'm energetic and amicable. We talk about our jobs and where we live. I chuckle at their jokes, even when they're not funny. When my first date tells me he thinks the Bush Administration is doing fine, I smile and pretend I'm not mortified.

"What about the war?" I ask sweetly. My head is slightly tilted, my hands folded neatly on my lap. "Yes, Iraq," my date says with a slow nod. "But the thing about Bush is that you know what you're getting. There's no reading between the lines."

"That is, when there are lines to even read," I say.

We laugh politely, sip our water and smile.

By the third round, my dates begin to feel like a quick and dirty job interview by an employer who hates to waste time. Each one starts with the standard questions: Where are you from, what's your job, and what do you do for fun? This question reeks with banality and is difficult to answer. If I reply, "watch movies and hang out with friends," I sound vague and cliché. Yet if I say, "rock climb and play the saxophone," I'm lying.

So I decide to take charge and read from the "out of the box" questions suggested by the event's organizers. Before my next date even sits down, I read off one of the gramatically challenged questions: "Which do you believe in: God, Ghost, UFO and/or Yourself?" But as he starts going on about Catholicism, I shift my attention to something much more exciting: the croissants sitting in a heap on the table next to me. One unavoidable flaw of speed-dating is that halfway into it, exhaustion hits. It's really difficult to answer questions, act flirtatious, and put on the charm when all you really want to do is lean your head back and crash. Well aware of this, the organizers have scheduled an intermission so we can refuel with bread and apple juice.

"I take it you don't eat healthy," my date says when he notices he's competing for my attention with a croissant.

"Since when are croissants unhealthy?" I ask, annoyed that he is using our precious time together to judge me.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but that is bread fried in butter, is it not?"

After intermission I'm still tired. I am no longer chipper and resort to passively answering questions with monosyllabic answers. When one of my dates asks me what I do for a living, I reply, "Write."

"Cool, a writer! What do you write about?"


"Interesting," he says, with understandable sarcasm. He picks up his pencil and scribbles something on his match-sheet next to my name, while quietly uttering "writes stuff."

By my eighth date, I've learned that most of the men are engineers or work in the tech field, and range from 27 to 32 years old. Some are stereotypically nervous and socially awkward, but most are not. They are ordinary people who are busy, or isolated, and looking to meet people in a way that feels casual and non-threatening. I haven't felt a strong connection with any of them, but there are some I could imagine having a beer with after the event. The women, I later learn, ranged from 23 to 32, but most were 26 or 27. Their occupations were much more diverse than those of the men -- I talked to a student, a teacher, a designer, a nurse, and an architect, and a few women in accounting and marketing.

My ninth date takes his seat. Unlike the others, he looks bored, but he has the dry, deadpan wit of Woody Allen. Unfortunately, when we reach a lull in our cynical banter, he begins staring at me strangely. He has the eyes of a crazy man.

"I'm weird," he says, as his eyes narrow slightly. "Really weird."

For the first time all night, I recognize the true advantage of speed dating: The weird dates are brief and, to my relief, chaperoned.

By the end of my tenth date, I've only checked "yes" to Rolando, a financial analyst for Levi's. The next day, his name and e-mail address are in my inbox. Good thing, too, because he'd promised me free jeans.

I'd always imagined spending my twenties as a casual dater with few attachments and even fewer expectations. Instead, I spent the last four years isolated in a series of monogamous relationships. After my last one ended, I discovered that the Internet had radically changed the singles scene. At 28, I felt like a dating novice.

Lured by curiosity and my freshly single status, I tried out speed-dating for the first time on a Friday night at Whisper, a San Francisco bar. It hosts monthly events by, a Los Angeles-based online dating service boasting 150,000 members. Click2Asia began organizing Asian-focused speed-dating soirees last year in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. Its monthly Bay Area events usually draw in eighty singles. Once the group is split into two categories -- under thirty and thirty-plus -- each participant has twenty seven-minute dates in less than three hours.

Despite the success of Click2Asia, speed-dating is still plagued by stereotypes of a desperate and pathetic clientele. Even Henry Kim, a Click2Asia volunteer who buys me a drink before the event, says there are two types of speed-daters: "The ones that want to have fun and try something new," he says, suddenly lowering his eyes, "and the ones who need to be here."

But looking around, it doesn't seem like anyone at Whisper is from the latter category. I see an eclectic crowd of young, fashionably dressed hipsters sipping cocktails. It also helps that the environment is familiar: bartenders in black, a DJ spinning records, candlelit tabletops. Sans the numbered stations and nametags, the event has the feel of a regular night out.

When the event commences, I sit at a table marked "A-12." For the rest of the night, I am identified as "A-12" on my nametag and on the match sheet. Chris Oh, Click2Asia's regional director, starts barking off the rules: seven minutes per date; and when the bell rings, the men switch to the next station. He then offers some advice: "Be original. Don't ask the run-of-the-mill questions."

One of my early dates takes this advice seriously. Sitting down, we shake hands and introduce ourselves. "Do you live to work, or work to live?" my date asks. In the context of speed dating, it's refreshing to hear a new approach. But before I can answer, our date is interrupted by a waitlisted participant who has to leave because a slot didn't open up for him.

"Sorry, man," the waitlisted cock-blocker says to my date. He kneels next to me, handing over his business card and speaking at the speed of light. "Call me, think you're cute, would love to chat, here's my number," he says, before bolting for the door.

I slip the business card in my purse and smile at my date. "I'm sorry, but what was your question?"

"Oh nothing," he says. "So, where are you from?"

In junior high, I once played a kissing game called Seven Minutes in Heaven. For seven minutes, I was locked in a hallway closet with a boy classmate, where we were supposed to make out while all our friends sat on the other side of the door with a stopwatch. Unlike my other girlfriends, I wasn't yet interested in boys, so my classmate and I ended up sitting in silence. I remember feeling like those seven minutes would never end.

After an hour at Whisper, the luxury of seven minutes of silence sounds appealing. By midway through my fifth date, fatigue sets in and I nod and smile at the appropriate moments even though I have no idea what my date is talking about. I do the same as my eighth date describes the zombie movie Evil Dead. My twelfth is a former classmate whom I hadn't seen since we graduated from a Los Angeles high school in 1994. He looks embarrassed to be caught speed-dating and I feel like reminding him it's been ten years since high school. It doesn't matter anymore what people think.

My thirteenth date, a dentist, compliments me on my clear T-zone but tells me that smoking cigarettes has discolored my teeth. "You know smoking is bad for you, right?" he asks. I simply nod and flash my nicotine-stained teeth. I could really use a cigarette now. After trying to memorize twenty names and professions, all I want to do is crawl into bed -- alone.


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