Seated alone at tables strewn with flower petals, 30 of Phnom Penh’s eligible expatriate men anxiously awaited the ring of Cupid’s bell Wednesday night.
A few had wives or girlfriends—even a telltale wedding ring—but none saw anything wrong with a Valentine’s night-out playing the “speed-dating” field at the FCC’s rooftop terrace.
Women, clutching glasses of free-flowing wine and beer, moved from table to table every three minutes, and daters ranked their new acquaintances in the margins of a list of names as potential friends or lovers—or neither.
Originally conceived by a Jewish rabbi to ensure that Jewish singles could meet each other in large cities, speed-dating—as it is known—seems to suit the transient, nomadic flux of Phnom Penh’s expat population, according to organizers and participants at the FCC.
Attended by 30 men and 30 women, the serial-dating challenge was “a fun way to introduce new people,” said FCC head chef Lucia Dengate, adding that the format appeals to people because it is non-committal.
The 60 participants paid $11 at the door, or $9 in advance, to join the event. Most agreed they got their money’s worth: a bell rang every three minutes to signal that women should move along to their next date.
At the end of the night, daters submitted their forms—with each date’s score—to the organizers who will later notify participants of the outcome by e-mail, FCC Group Operations Manager Michelle Duncan said.
Contacted Thursday, Duncan said that three or four romantic matches were made, but friendship seemed to be the dominant feeling to come out of the night.
It was the second speed-dating night held at the FCC, and was punctuated by a charity “bachelor auction,” in which women bid on dates with eight different men.
The auction was the brainchild of two British expatriates, Jeni Dixon and Edward Pollard, after several late-night discussions with friends about “how few single, straight barang guys there are” in Phnom Penh’s social circle, Dixon, 27, wrote in an e-mail.
The names of the bachelors for auction were listed on a chalkboard under the heading “Today’s Special,” and they were cheekily described as a tree hugger, a mama’s boy, a proteomic scientist, and a “dark-haired, blue-eyed, long-lashed beauty of a man.”
A US Embassy staffer was among the lucky women with winning bids in the auction, which ultimately raised $460 for the Indochina Starfish foundation, a local children’s NGO.
Mitchell Isaacs, a 26-year-old bachelor who fetched $55 in the auction, said he was a bit overwhelmed by the attention.
“Who wants to buy me? That’s pretty intense,” the Australian national said, adding that he was pleased with the price he sold for. “I was expecting, like, $12,” he said.
Choup Channa, who observed the teeming crowd of expat daters from a nearby table, thought that speed-dating would be an ideal social event for young, 20-something Cambodians.
“It’s a way to be acquainted before being boyfriend-girlfriend,” said the 25-year-old Khmer teacher. “It’d be a good way to meet,” she said, “as long as the parents didn’t find out.”