As the lunchtime crowd drifts away, Tsai Huang-jin draws up a chair inside his family's noodle shop. His wife spoons ice cubes into a glass, then pours in a cup of dark-roasted coffee blended with sweetened milk. It's a taste of exotic Vietnam in rural Taiwan. Tsai met his wife Tran Kieu Thanh Thuy on an arranged trip to Vietnam. Seven years on, they have three children who live with them and Tsai's extended Taiwanese family. But far from being oddities in Shihding, a farming community of 7,800 people, their children are growing up with playmates from other mixed-race marriages. Over the past decade, 187 men have brought a foreign bride home. Across Taiwan, a wave of foreign marriages is sending ripples through an island nation more accustomed to outbound than inbound migration. Last year, one in five marriages was to a foreigner, most of them young women from Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries who met their husbands through marriage brokers. An increasing number are even taking mainland brides. Tsai went to Vietnam after trying and failing to marry locally. 'Taiwanese women are too difficult. They won't take care of my parents when they get old. In Vietnam, it's more like Taiwan was in the 1960s, the traditions are still strong,' he said. Since 1987, Taiwan has registered over 370,000 marriages to foreigners, and their share of national births has doubled in the past five years. Last year, one in eight children was born to a foreign parent, and as more Taiwanese women choose to stay single that number is expected to grow. 'In a traditional Taiwanese family the men have the responsibility to carry on the family line,' said Ke Yu-ling, executive director of the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, a charity that helps foreign brides and their children. 'They definitely need to have children, so when they reach 30-40, they're under a lot of pressure and might look for a foreign wife.' For the wives, it's a path out of poverty that is strewn with hazards. Some complain of being isolated in rural households, unable to speak the language and bullied by tyrannical in-laws. Stories of domestic abuse, even suicide, are common. One source estimates that 40 per cent of mail-order marriages fail within five years. Local authorities have begun offering free language classes to non-Chinese immigrants. The Pearl S. Buck Foundation runs hotlines for abused wives and counsels those seeking divorce. It also works with local authorities to teach cultural acclimatisation at after-school classes. Huang Vu Tuyet moved to Taipei in 2000 with her husband, a factory shift-worker, and quickly felt the sting of her mother-in-law's tongue. Her cooking and laundry were criticised, and she felt unwelcome in a family that doted on her husband, an only son. She missed the warmth of Vietnamese community life and its more egalitarian ways. 'The first year was very difficult for me, it was so hard to adjust. In Vietnam, women are very independent. We don't just serve men,' she said. After seeking counselling from a Vietnamese priest, Ms Huang stuck it out in Taiwan. Three years ago, she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. But she complains that her mother-in-law ignores her daughter and insists on taking care of the son when Ms Huang's husband goes to work. In the 1990s, Taiwanese investors blazed a trail to Vietnam, and marriage brokers weren't far behind, matching tens of thousands of young brides with older Taiwanese men. But last year, after persistent reports of Vietnamese women being sold into prostitution and trafficked as brides, Taiwan decided to tighten the rules on marriage visas. Applicants must now sit individual interviews over a period of months, ending a fast-track system that relied on group interviews. As a result, the number of successful applicants for marriage visas in Vietnam fell by 70 per cent. Tsai Chao-lan, a marriage broker in Taipei, used to average 40-50 marriages in Vietnam a month. Today she's all but given up on Vietnam and is steering her clients towards the mainland's impoverished hinterland where women are more likely to jump at the chance to move to wealthier Taiwan. Fewer Taiwanese women are willing to marry into traditional families in rural communities, as they are increasingly educated, career-driven and assertive. 'Taiwanese women are well educated and have good jobs. They have high demands and criteria for husbands, and I think it's difficult for men to keep up,' says the marriage broker.