Wife: “The house is on fire! Get the kids out first!” Me (Stuffing “Star Wars” figurines collection into pockets): “I’m on it! Really soon! Almost immediately!”
Fortunately, it turned out to be a dream – or more accurately, a nightmare. No husband/father should ever be forced to make an impossible moral choice like that.
The challenges of being a family man were on my mind when I got to the office that same morning to find a reader had sent me an extraordinary news story on that topic.
Sixteen women in a single village went shopping one morning, and none of them came back. It is already being called The Great Marriage Escape. Some were pregnant.
That village main street is now full of dazed, stunned men trying to work out what happened to their lives – just like every other married man on Earth.
The strange tale started last year when a matchmaker turned up at Zhanzhi, a farm town in China’s Fujian province, and said she had a supply of marriage-ready “plug-and-play” brides from Vietnam at just 60,000 yuan ($9,200) each.
Women are so rare in parts of China that males form obsessive relationships with badly drawn female anime characters. No, wait, that happens everywhere.
Anyway, one farmer said yes, was delivered a pleasant, charming woman, and started a stampede by lonely men clutching banknotes.
Zhanzhi village became the happiest, most romantic place on earth – until a chilly Tuesday in mid-February. The wives went out shopping and none returned. The matchmaker disappeared too. The longest marriage had lasted six months and the shortest three days.
The curious thing is that people to whom I showed the tale of the Great Marriage Escape had very different responses.
Married guy: “Why do some men have all the luck?”
Single guy: “Can this format be standardized for all marriages?”
Single woman: “Did the girls get to keep the money?”
The one married woman present just looked thoughtful and left the room quietly, possibly to make Group Escape Plans with her friends.
Not that everyone is so cynical about marriage. One female friend always says: “It’s fine as long as women go into marriage thinking of it as a form of adoption, only you get a very large child.”
I contacted the original source of the story, a China watcher in Beijing, to ask him to identify the signs of a society’s wives planning to depart en masse. “In each case, the woman said she was going shopping that day for clothing and/or food,” he said. “That’s probably not very useful, is it?”
True. On the other hand, most married men I know hate it when women say “I’m popping out to do a little shopping”, because we are misers, and now at least we have an additional reason to be suspicious of it.
A colleague has just pointed out that even the most shopping-phobic male in the world must at some time enter a retail establishment. Not necessarily. We might order everything through the internet, and even then, we only purchase vital household essentials, such as collectible “Star Wars” figurines.
(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas and comments via his Facebook page)