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Sun was dressed in a navy blue suit, and wore his dyed black hair slicked back. The only tell-tale sign of his 70 years was a cluster of white hair at the end of his right eyebrow. For about an hour, he sat there all by himself, peering at the other patrons cruising around the nearly full seat cafe. During that time, he only took one bite of his cake. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, I visited the Ikea cafe to talk extensively to several of the seniors looking for matches there. For seniors, finding true love at Ikea is just as tough as any other Chinese singles event.
Chinese people traditionally want a marriage that is evenly matched in terms of salary, property, and family background—it is never just a combination of the husband and the wife but also of their two extended families. One of these even slept with both an Ikea cafe regular, and her daughter, who is in her 40s, two people told me.
Although Shanghai is considered a very international city, locals, particularly older ones, still seek other locals first, making the dating scene tough for anyone who has migrated to the big city from outside. After talking with over a dozen seniors at the Ikea, I realized that successful matches were rare. The one example that anyone could remember was two well-off academics in their eighties, both of whom had worked in the US before. Most of them have been destroyed to make way for high rises.
As the alleyways were torn down, other things changed about getting old in China, too. The new apartment buildings have few common areas in which to hang out. Instead, they enjoy just hanging out with other lonely hearts who have nowhere to go except the cafe. Two bags, , yuan. The couple usually comes to the cafe at around 9am and heads back home after lunch. The rest of the week, they cruise around other shopping plazas near their home. Liu, the Bejinger, said she would invest in a tea house for senior citizens if she had enough money.
Word spread quickly and suddenly hundreds of seniors looking for dates were showing up at the Ikea cafe on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In October, Ikea started cracking down, asking customers to order food before they are seated, and cordoning off the cafeteria area with a row of standing desks. Security guards stand at the entrance and patrol the cafe everyday from 9am to 5pm.