As a regular traveller between Hong Kong and Beijing, Niuniu finds there's a large group of thirtysomething Chinese women in both cities who are single. Niuniu and her friends Lulu and CC are members of this growing group. These women are well educated, hold good jobs, earn good money, and are cultured. Each considers herself a Grade A woman. Why are they left out in the marriage game? 'Chinese men don't like to marry up,' says Lulu. 'So Grade A men normally marry Grade B women. Grade B men marry Grade C women. Grade C men marry Grade D women.' CC chimes in: 'Then Grade D men are what remain, and immediately we can conclude that their choices are limited. 'Grade D men are generally poor, but they expect women to serve them, as if they were exalted, and to take care of the family. In one breath, they are both poor and selfish. And they also think women like us are too westernised.' Niuniu's single girlfriends all love to buy condos. Condos are collectable items, like stamps or photos or CDs. Whenever they have time, they visit real-estate developments in Beijing. CC owns three places. Lulu and Niuniu have two each. 'We can live comfortably without men,' says Lulu. 'We don't want them to share our wealth, or even worse, to drain our wealth and resources. Just like Chinese men don't want to marry women who are better than they are, Chinese women don't want to marry beneath themselves. It's more shameful than staying single.' Because they don't have husbands, the girls are close to one another. Whenever they get together, they enjoy making comments about the men they know, including details about what they find wrong with men. 'You know Wong, the carpet manufacturer?' says Lulu. 'Well, he has dirt under his fingernails. Zhang, who has a chain of cosmetics shops, wears trousers that are never pressed. And Chou, the artist, seems to own just one pair of shoes.' CC is next: 'Roger the dot.com chief executive always seems to have forgotten his money or his wallet when we're out. I end up paying for him. Wu the film director keeps his car spotless, but apparently he never changes his sheets.' 'You mean ...' begins Niuniu. 'Don't ask,' says CC, cutting her off. 'You don't want to know.' Niuniu eagerly adds her ingredients to the stew. 'This guy Chin is always begging me to go dancing. I love to dance, but not with a guy who's a lot shorter than me. That doctor I told you about, Dr Tsang, is time-challenged. He is always late for dates, and he's even stood me up - he thought the date was the next night.' And so it goes, long into the night. The more they compare notes, the more Lulu, CC and Niuniu agree about how discouraging the prospects are. For these women, the key to the vault where all the good men are kept, waiting for an eager woman to unwrap them, always seems to be just out of reach. Of course, in bars and karaoke clubs all over town, in the locker rooms of golf clubs, and in saunas everywhere, men - from Grades A to D - are having similar conversations. If so many are so dissatisfied, how do we explain the fact that the population continues to grow, and reservations for wedding halls and honeymoon suites at resorts, need to be booked so far in advance?