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We go Subtle Asian Dating!

Dating while Asian has never been so fun!

A smiling woman in pink stretches out her arms. In the background are some love hearts. Artwork by Annie Zhang.

While the number 6 repeated has been associated with all things evil in the West, there can be nothing more desirable to second generation Asians. 6 foot, 6 pack, 6 figures, 6 inch — you get the point. But you know what we have? Personality. And more importantly, such a lack of dignity that we found ourselves on a Saturday night attending an Asian dating meetup. Fuck you, everyone who’s ever matched with us on Tinder but then ghosted us! Jokes! One of us is an Asian male! He doesn’t have any Tinder matches!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Asian in possession of a large social media following, a banging bod and absurdly good grades must be in want of a romantic partner. If there is any lesson to be learnt from the rise of Subtle Asian Dating — a wildly popular Facebook group and the cause of a recent drop in our self-esteem — it is that. But what about the rest of us, who don’t have the holy trinity of everything it means to be an azn_babygurl or boy? Go to the aforementioned event hosted by Subtle Asian Dating, of course!

Subtle Asian Dating (SAD) is a virtual meat market on Facebook. Hot Asians auction off their hot Asian friends with emojis (and sometimes actual words!), plug their instas and accumulate social capital while the rest of the group and their mums gawk at their mastery of the modern dating game. As if the pressure from old Asians to deliver them grandchildren wasn’t enough, now we have a bunch of young Asians telling us pretty much the same thing through their constant urging of “shoot ya shot.”

A far cry from the straight-laced “I’m a 5’2 virgin who works in IT” image of Asians which the Western media seems to love, SAD reveals a very different story of love and romance in Asian diasporic communities — one of obsession verging onto desperation. Almost as a reaction to the difficulties of dating while Asian, SAD is the communal equivalent of the nerdy high schooler who goes wild at university to compensate. Remember Kevin Chan who you used to laugh at in high school for his awkward manners and bad haircut? Yeah well he has abs now, and can one-shot a bottle of soju. And he goes to Harvard. So long, self-worth!

But for those who would rather shoot their shot outside the perfectly curated virtual world, dozens of real-life SAD meetups have taken place in America and Canada. Thinking about it, it’s kind of strange that it’s taken so long for one to happen in Sydney, which is statistically speaking one of the most Asian cities outside of Asia. But better late than never!

The first SAD event in Sydney happened on Saturday (the night after White Party, would you believe it?) and was attended by approximately 100 single Asian hopefuls at the Smoking Panda — 50 girls and 50 guys (or so it was planned). Despite earlier concerns that the event would only provoke the interest of Asian men, it was surprisingly not as unbalanced as we thought. Speaking to this, the organisers admitted that the male tickets had sold out in four days, but even after three weeks there were still 20 female tickets left. Have fun analysing this, MRAsians!

Like most great ideas in the Asian community, the inspiration to start a real-life meetup for Asian singles was sparked at a KBBQ over an unspecified amount of soju. Perhaps, in a fit of alcoholic passion, they sought to engage with the politicisation and racialisation of Asian bodies in the white hegemony and forge their own narratives in a stunning move of sexual self-determination.

“Honestly, it was a meme at first,” says Olivia Kosasih, one of the three organisers and a UNSW medicine student of Chinese-Indonesian descent. Whilst having soju and lamenting the woes of being a single Asian, she created an event which caught the eye of Hong Kong-born Humphrey Chan, who proposed that they elevate the event from meme to reality. Joining them was Cindy Hoang, a Vietnamese-Australian from Bankstown, who got on board after Humphrey asked whether anyone was interested in helping out at another Asian social gathering (“I was the only person who raised their hand!”).

Humphrey, a business and science student at USyd, explains that he was very eager to do an event “for Asian-Australians, by Asian-Australians,” given that there is no designated space for Asian-Australians to mingle outside the virtual world. (All three organisers are also single and very ready to mingle, but admit that they are more excited at the prospect of facilitating a match than finding one for themselves — classic collectivist thinking.)

A key source of inspiration was Crazy Rich Asians, a popular film released last year that was the first Hollywood movie in 25 years to star not only an all Asian-American cast, but an all Asian-American cast that’s HOT. Even Ken Jeong looks alright from a specific angle, under a certain lighting setup!

“You don’t really see Asians portrayed in a romantic context very often,” explains Humphrey. “This movie showed that Asians can also be attractive, and can also be the star of romantic storylines.”

What a revolutionary idea! So how did our Rachel Chus and Nick Youngs fare?

The three organisers greet us at the door, and hand us a free entry pass to the nightclub Flexx before we enter. It’s 7pm, and the first influx of attendees is comprised of bright-eyed, hopeful young Asian men in the age range of 19 to 24, their polo shirt sleeves about to burst from the sheer size of their biceps. The atmosphere is buzzing with anticipation… and fear? Some women start trickling in eventually and the awkwardness begins to dissipate slightly. Attendees mingle over the finger food, which to our disappointment includes dumplings, har gow, and siu mai. What about party pies? Sausage rolls? Where’s the exotic cuisine we didn’t grow up eating?

Surveying the crowd, neither of us have ever seen so many fade haircuts in our lives — and we’ve been to Defqon!

“We hope you can all get a success story out of this,” Olivia declares to the crowd in an announcement. And the games begin. “Let’s get LIT,” someone shouts, before more cautious whispers of “actually let’s not I flush really bad.”

The games provide some structure to the evening, but are centred around the very tired, very heterosexual, very gender essentialist theme of “battle of the sexes” — can boys or girls get dressed faster, can boys or girls think faster, blah. More interesting is a competition which involves passing notes to your partner while only using your mouth. (Bob, despite his best efforts, did not win that game. But he almost kissed someone so there’s that!)

The event adopts a more wholesome tone as the evening draws on, with a greater focus on friendship and making connections than thirsty pursuits. People talk about where they live (Bankstown is a very popular answer), their hobbies (Asians like dancing?), the high schools they went to (“Omg you know Kevin Chan from NSB?”). Indeed, many of the participants tell us “they’re just here to meet new people” — whatever that means. Then again, maybe the real treasure is these friends we’ve made along the way…

Amidst it all are more serious discussions about belonging and cultural identity. People speak of a refreshing sense of familiarity within the confines of the dimly lit city bar.

“I don’t feel like the other in this space,” an attendee tells us. “There’s so much common ground to fall back on here.”

One of our observations is that this is the first time we’ve ever been in a space that’s exclusively Asian on purpose. (And NO, it isn’t just all East Asian people, thank you very much. Tonight we saw with our very own eyes ONE South Asian person, so there you go, critics! #Diversity.) While there are many institutions and organisations in Sydney which are very Asian (have you been to BSOC camp?), none of them are explicitly so — they just so happen to be that way. From selective schools to every second youth group, maybe we in Sydney haven’t felt a need for a special Asian space because we already have them, albeit in an unofficial capacity. And though a special Asian space can be a fun, wholesome place of belonging for some, there’s still a long way to go in making events and creating spaces where all Asians (not just light-skinned, straight ones) can feel like they belong.

The organisers seem aware of these issues, however. “Specific Asian ethnicities and groups face more specific issues,” Humphrey agrees. “But we’re not at the stage where we can get specific about these issues yet as we don’t have that encompassing Asian space yet.” With the success of the first, we remain hopeful for the future.

The event ends and we all somehow end up at Sanctuary Hotel. Because of course we do. And guess what? Timstar is here. Because of course he is. Despite having a lot of fun, we’ve ended the night as single as we started it. But single or not, some things will always be the same.