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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. One morning this spring, I was in Beijing, walking to the Forbidden City with NPR's correspondent Anthony Kuhn. Just before we got there, we passed through a beautiful, little park. Throngs of middle-aged and elderly men and women were milling about and chatting. Something was obviously going on. We were curious. We asked and were told that this was the epicenter of the Chinese capital's dating scene for seniors. Since then, I've been gently nudging Anthony to go find out how this scene works. He sent us this story.

ANTHONY KUHN: Most of the time, Changpuhe Park is just another urban oasis. Beneath the crimson walls of the imperial city, tall willow trees drape elegantly over a manmade stream full of goldfish. Spanning the stream is Magpie Bridge, which locals say symbolizes romance.

(Soundbite of music)

The scene gets swinging on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. There's dancing. Seniors sit under a long colonnade, fanning themselves, drinking tea and swapping some rather bittersweet stories.

Forty-two-year-old Li Yan is a regular here. Her husband was out fishing one day when floodwaters swept him away. Li says she's got an eagle eye for spotting likely couples.

Ms. LI YAN: (Through translator) Out of 107 couples I've introduced, 13 have gotten married. They're all doing extremely well. I have done very well for others, but not so well for myself. Although I haven't had any luck, I've met many great sisters here.

KUHN: Li says a lot of women come here from the provinces, hoping to find a Beijing husband so that they can move to the capital.

Retired merchant Chen Zhenyu found a partner here, but he confides that it didn't last long. He says most seniors' views of marriage and dating are not as traditional as you might think.

Mr. CHEN ZHENYU: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: Seniors here are not concerned about finding mates of the same social status as themselves, he says. We are no different from younger folks. We, too, believe in love at first sight. We believe in yuanfen.

You hear that word a lot here, yuanfen. It's a bit like the Buddhist idea of karma. Every meeting, every marriage, every break-up is predetermined by your yuanfen with that person.

Romantic as they may be, these folks are, after all, cruising a city park. So they have to be a bit cautious and protect themselves from suitors who are just after their money.

Sixty-three-year-old Lu Dong's wife went off to do business in Europe and never came back. He's met most of the female regulars here, but no instant karma for him yet.

A slightly nervous-looking, middle-aged woman, who only gives her family name, Wu, approaches Lu Dong, and they stand talking at one end of Magpie Bridge.

Mr. LU DONG: (Through translator) This year, you're?

Ms. WU: (Through translator) I'm 47.

Mr. LU: (Through translator) What kind of man are you looking for?

Ms. WU: (Through translator) Someone who likes to exercise, healthy.

Mr. LU: (Through translator) You're looking for a man with his own home?

Ms. WU: (Through translator) Why do you ask?

Mr. LU: (Through translator) Just chatting.

Ms. WU: (Through translator) Of course that's what I want.

Mr. LU: (Through translator) I ask because women here are usually looking for men who have their own homes, a decent income and good health. Those are the big three.

KUHN: Mr. Lu and Ms. Wu seem to have broken the ice a bit, and they no longer look quite so nervous.

Ms. WU: (Through translator) People need to get to know each other gradually. It's not good to come right out and start asking all these questions so boldly.

Mr. LU: (Through translator) You've got the right idea. Some women start with the heavy questions and drive the men off.

Ms. WU: (Through translator) Yeah, it makes you wonder what their motives are.

KUHN: Now, I certainly have no interest in matchmaking, but my two shy interviewees are now strolling by the stream and chatting together. What happens next, well, I guess that depends on their destiny, or as they would say, yuanfen.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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