On a mission for marriage

By Frances Morton

Greg Morgan won a radio competition called 'Win a Wife' on the radio. Photo / Doug Sherring
Greg Morgan won a radio competition called 'Win a Wife' on the radio. Photo / Doug Sherring

Roksolana is 27. Glossy haired with milky shoulders accentuated by a tight strapless black dress, she gazes straight down the lens.

Greg Morgan is hoping she could be The One. But if not, maybe his future will be Okslana, 29. Or one of the other Ukrainian beauties with photos on the Endless Love agency website.

On March 23, Morgan is setting out on what he hopes will be the trip of a lifetime. The 37-year-old winemaker from West Auckland won The Rock FM's controversial "Win a Wife" competition. Morgan's prize is a fortnight in the Ukraine meeting eligible ladies introduced by the New Zealand-based matchmaking agency, Endless Love.

Roksolana and Okslana both caught Morgan's eye while he was flipping through the agency's books, and he is optimistic that by the time he touches down in the Ukraine he will have exchanged emails and video messages with the young women and they will be willing to meet him.

"I guess it will be a two-week blind date," says Morgan, "with all the hopes of meeting that special person in my life."

A group of local lasses didn't have such a romantic view of the radio competition.

This week, Ukrainian feminists staged a topless protest in wintry Kiev holding placards that read: "Ukraine is not a brothel."

The story was picked up around the world and featured on BBC and National Public Radio in the United States.

Morgan is unfazed by the backlash. He says if the protesters turn up to the airport he will happily get a photo with them and listen to their point of view.

He says he is just a guy who is "unlucky in love", and is seizing one of life's opportunities.

Morgan is not the only Kiwi bloke to have sought companionship offshore.

The internet has opened up the marriage market from a domestic to an international hunting ground, and men are looking abroad when they do not find what they want at home, according to a new study by Paul Callister and Zoe Lawton of Victoria University's Institute of Policy Studies.

There is a lack of research on mail-order brides in New Zealand, so Callister and Lawton investigated population statistics and related this to international studies.

The study suggests long-distance marriages tend to owe more to economic, social and demographic factors rather than the power of love.

Mail-order brides in New Zealand are nothing new. During the late 1700s and 1800s, European male settlers would post advertisements in newspapers seeking brides back home in Britain. Women would reply and correspond by mail, often agreeing to marry without meeting in person.

In the 1980s, social changes had an effect on some men and women's decisions relating to relationships - and the impact has had long-term effects on the marriage market.

In the past three decades, women have increasingly moved into tertiary education and paid employment. As New Zealand women have a tendency to "marry up", this has led to a growing number of unskilled men who struggled to find partners locally.

Worse still for those men, well-educated women may choose to live alone, even raise children on their own, while working to support themselves.

Some men have continued to look for women who will fulfil a more traditional role in marriage - homemakers who stay at home to raise children.

This leaves a mismatch, says Callister, and so some Kiwi blokes have turned to mail-order brides from countries such as Thailand, the Philippines and Russia.

"If those guys can turn elsewhere to find that and it suits those particular women from those countries, you could argue everybody wins," he says. "Except the well-educated women don't have a partner."

Historically, says Callister, relationships were about practical matters such as family ties, land transfers and dowries - so why should we be shocked that factors such as prosperity and citizenship should again be factors?

"It's only been recently that we've been into the idea that partnerships are designed by love."

Asia NZ Foundation researcher Andrew Butcher says statistics support the theory that New Zealand men are looking to other countries, particularly Asian nations, for partners.

This is reflected in the fact that there are 26 per cent more Asian women than Asian men, aged 25 to 49, living in New Zealand.

And nearly a quarter of the Southeast Asian immigrants stated that their primary reason for moving to New Zealand was marriage.

Morgan shrugs off suggestions that there is stigma attached to seeking a bride from the Ukraine.

He has been married before, to a New Zealander. He got hitched in 2006 and things turned sour shortly after.

"I'm a firm believer if you love something, set it free and if it comes back it loves you. It didn't come back," he says. "We were talking to the lawyers in 2007."

But that has not put him off the hope of one day settling down. He has tried agencies, online dating and Table for Six, a dining event for singles. "I guess you could say I'm an old Kiwi battler."

It is Morgan's second visit to the Ukraine. He went on a three-week trip in July last year and had arranged to meet up with a young woman he connected with online, but she pulled out at the last minute.

He said he went there for work - the Ukraine has a long history of winemaking - but while preparing for his trip could not avoid the marketing of dating agencies over there.

"Every time you look online about the Ukraine or Russia you get all these pop-ups on the internet. Curiosity kills the cat."

Morgan describes Ukrainian women as "amazingly attractive, friendly, bubbly" and "they don't eat rubbish food".

In his opinion, the men do not put up much competition: "Drunks and alcoholics."

Morgan is looking for someone who is "open-minded, passionate, similar to myself but not too similar".

And, he says, he is not in the camp of Kiwi men who want a traditional wife and homemaker.

He likes cooking.

Kiwi men a good catch

Kiwi men are sought after by Thai women because they treat their wives with respect.

That's according to Hamish Linklater, a Mt Roskill accountant who has been in a relationship with Payao Chomkhunthod for 12 years. What started as a business partnership blossomed into a love story - a happy ending for Chomkhunthod after two broken marriages.

Chomkhunthod, the owner of Zap Thai restaurants, is from Nakhon Phanom in northern Thailand. At 18 she married a Thai man and quickly had two children, daughter Eid and son Addie.

Fed up with her husband's womanising ways, she left him after nine years and worked in Bangkok as a nanny.

She got her ticket to New Zealand when her employer moved here and organised for her to marry a Kiwi for residency.

Chomkhunthod and her New Zealand husband, Ray, tried to make a go of their marriage and with his help she was able to bring her children out from Thailand.

But the marriage dissolved when Chomkhunthod wanted to start her own business.

Chomkhunthod met Linklater at a party and with his financial help was able to set up a string of Thai restaurants in Auckland.

Now key figures in the Auckland Thai community, the couple have facilitated many happy matches between Thai women and New Zealand men - most through friends but some online.

Linklater says Thai men tend to be "very chauvinistic, drink too much and chase other ladies".

A Kiwi guy, particularly an older one who wants a life partner, is an attractive option for a Thai woman.

Linklater has rented the two houses next door to their Mt Roskill home for Chomkhunthod's relatives - and they also provide a workforce for the restaurants.

- Herald on Sunday

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