Friday 18 March 2016

Dating “Gangnam Style”: Josephine Teo

Getting more Singaporean singles to date 'Gangnam style'
Koreans open to using dating agencies, but agencies in Singapore need to keep in view local culture: Josephine Teo
By Charissa Yong, In Seoul, The Straits Times, 17 Mar 2016

Singaporeans who are single and ready to explore becoming attached can take a page from South Korea's vibrant dating scene and embrace dating agencies, said Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo.

Singles in Singapore tend to be shy about getting help to date or look for a partner, even when they cannot find someone themselves.

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But Koreans are generally open about dating and are more willing to approach commercial agencies, said Mrs Teo, who oversees population matters and is on a week-long trip to South Korea and Denmark to study how each country encourages marriage and parenthood.

"Single Koreans may be discreet in not openly advertising the fact, but if asked, they won't deny it either," she said in a Facebook post yesterday at the end of the South Korean leg of her trip.

"Starting early, proactively reaching out to meet new friends, openness to getting help, and having a relaxed attitude all seem to be the essential ingredients to enjoyable and successful dating. Can this style of dating help more Singaporean singles, perhaps?"

Mrs Teo, who had been in South Korea since Sunday, visits Denmark next.

Singaporeans and Koreans are marrying later in life, which has contributed to the low birth rates in both countries. In 2014, Singapore had a total fertility rate of 1.25 while South Korea's figure was 1.21.

By encouraging dating, the hope is that more singles will pair up, tie the knot, and eventually have children. One way of doing so is through dating agencies, an industry which is well-established in South Korea.

Its more than 1,000 dating agencies are found mostly in the capital Seoul, and it is not uncommon for parents to sign their single children up at these agencies.

The largest agency, Duo, offers specialised services such as professional dating coaches and "couple managers", who counsel couples working on their relationship or who want to get married.

More than 32,000 people have been married after meeting up through Duo - which sounds like the Korean word for "marry" - since it began operating in the mid-1990s.

Mrs Teo visited Duo's headquarters in the glitzy Gangnam neighbourhood, which is frequented by celebrities and well-to-do Koreans, and which was made popular by Korean hip-hop artist Psy's 2012 hit song, Gangnam Style.

Making reference to this, Mrs Teo said in her Facebook post: "Dating 'Gangnam style' may be deliberate but still fairly cheerful and relaxed, and very often aided by family, friends or professionals."

In earlier comments to reporters during the visit, she said dating agencies in Singapore will need to take into account the local culture to be successful. For instance, Singaporean parents may be less keen than their Korean counterparts to pressure their children to date or to sign them up with a dating agency.

One agency success story which Mrs Teo cited in her post is that of newly-married Ms Kim Minhye, 34, who is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the National University of Singapore and shuttles back and forth between Korea and Singapore.

"I was very much into work and studying, and at some point, it just wasn't enough. I was looking for something more and wanted someone to share my dreams with," said Ms Kim of her decision to sign up with a dating agency in South Korea about two years ago.

After uploading her profile, she was eventually matched with a bespectacled engineer who is four years older than her.

Recounting how her Singaporean colleagues reacted when she told them that she met her husband through a dating agency, Ms Kim told reporters here: "Everybody looked at me really, really surprised. They said it's highly stigmatised in Singapore.

"In (South) Korea, the stigma is still there, but not as much. Practically, there are no other ways to meet people, so we accept it. It's not that natural, but what can we do? We just choose to go and try."

Ms Kim's parents were also surprised by her use of a dating agency, but she said they thought it was an innovative way for her to meet someone.

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