Love in the air from Bondi to Bangkok to Beijing
( Reuter )- Australians seeking love on Valentine's Day speed-dated in deckchairs on Bondi Beach, while Japanese trekked through snow in search of romance and Filipinos sang syrupy ballads.
Contrary to its racy reputation, Thailand told police and "student inspectors" to stake out motels, malls and parks to ensure youngsters behaved themselves on the "Day of Love," when polls say many teenagers have sex for the first time.
In the northern city of Chiang Mai, youngsters flocked to give blood in a "I'd rather lose blood than virginity" campaign.
In China, where homosexuality was listed as a mental illness until 2001, 20 gay and lesbian activists in Beijing marked the day by handing out roses to promote awareness and same-sex marriages.
More than 2,000 people signed up for 16 simultaneous speed dating events in eight Australian cities on Thursday, with the proceeds going to charity.
Australian newspapers ran pages of Valentine's Day love messages to people with nicknames like "Boo Bubby," "Pookey," "The Phantom" and "Wicked Wench." "I love 2 Things," wrote a romantic Johnny, adding "cars & u."
Mobile telephone networks were preparing for an onslaught of love over the airwaves. Top phone company Telstra expected picture messages to be up 60 percent and video calls 50 percent higher than normal.
Valentine's Day in the Philippines was celebrated traditionally, with a riot of red and pink roses, heart-shaped cards and syrupy love ballads.
But Manila's Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales warned against "exclusive moments" between unmarried couples.
"We advise everyone to be careful especially when spending time with one's boyfriend or girlfriend," Rosales said in an interview on Church-run Radio Veritas. "Sometimes, celebration of this day -- which is not really bad -- ends up in a sin."
Although a largely Roman Catholic country, where marriage is heavily emphasized, extramarital affairs are often accepted in the Philippines and teenage pregnancy is not uncommon.
The cardinal said religious pastimes such as attending Mass or saying the rosary were a good way of celebrating special days, such as Valentines. "It's best to look for honest-to-goodness entertainment," he said.
A day before Valentine's Day, more than 500 Japanese women sailed across the Ashino-ko lake at the foot of Mount Fuji, then trekked through a snow-covered forest to pray for love at the small red Kuzuryu shrine, a famous divine match-making site.
The more than 1,000-year-old shrine, whose name means "nine-headed dragon," started to attract singles after some pilgrims reported that their prayers for romance had been heard.
"I prayed for the man I love to fall in love with me," said Ayumi Sakai, a 25-year-old saleswoman who had arrived in one of two love boats ferrying more than 500 women to the shrine.
With both men and women in Japan increasingly putting off marriage to pursue their careers -- often cited as one reason behind the country's low birth rate -- lovelorn Japanese in search of a partner need all the support they can get.
In the Japanese version of Valentine's Day, women buy chocolates for their lovers and even colleagues, while men return the favor a month later, on White Day.
South Korea put a typically modern spin on the traditional festival, with a mobile phone operator promoting a "Love Detector" service that is supposed to analyze voice patterns to see if a lover is speaking honestly and with affection.
Valentine's Day, with roots in both an early Christian martyr and an ancient Roman fertility festival, was first linked to romance by Chaucer in a 1381 poem, according to some references. The exchange of cards was popularized in England not long after.