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CHANGING FACES

American investment adviser set up own dating website in Beijing

American investment adviser set up his own dating website as a hobby after finding Chinese sites did not offer satisfactory services

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 March, 2014, 5:51am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 March, 2014, 5:51am
 

Alex Edmunds, 26, a Princeton graduate from Los Angeles, was on the golden path to investment banking. Today he is a matchmaker living in Beijing. Five years ago he came to China to study the language and decided to stay. He was keen to meet Chinese women and had many blind dates organised by Chinese dating websites. He was struck by the women's materialism and wished there was a better platform to find a significant other. So he set one up himself, Coucou8.com.

How does your website differ from other Chinese dating websites?

It took me months to experience blind dates the Chinese way. When I socialised among wider groups, I realised there should be a way for people who are interested in Western events, or a Western kind of format, to find their "significant other". We organise offline events for classy people to get together and use our website Coucou8.com as a portal to book events. Almost every week there are between eight and 24 people for small interest group activities such as badminton, picnics, cooking classes or hiking in the northwest of Beijing. If girls are really good at cooking they can find others who cook well too. If guys are good at badminton, they can show off and attract girls. The events are set up for people to meet in a low-key way. We want to create an environment to let people get to know each other over two or three hours instead of a 15-second conversation going through 200 people at once at a mass blind date organised by a Chinese dating website.

Who are you targeting with your events?

Mostly people with an international background. The majority of our clients have either studied abroad, worked abroad or worked for international companies. Up to 30 per cent of attendees at our events are foreigners. Most of those who attend our offline events are aged 28-35. We also host special events among different companies. Last year we hosted an event for 24 white-collar workers who were born in the 1970s and worked in large American firms. For them we organised a three-course dinner in a French restaurant in downtown Beijing. Between every course, guys switched tables to meet other girls. Sometimes it was hard for us to know whether people would go out after attending the group dating, because it is easy for them to ask each other for their contacts and to continue dating outside of the group. Only when they tell me that things went well would I know about it.

How do Western ways of dating help people meet others?

Many girls tell me that events organised by Chinese dating websites are not classy. They meet too many people at once. Some programmes that organisers design to let people touch and hug each other are kind of embarrassing. Chinese society has been around for more than 5,000 years. It's hard to judge what is right or wrong with the Chinese way of blind dates. I read from Chinese media that the divorce rate has been rising in recent years. If blind dates are made up of events for small groups where matches are made based on personalities - not whether you have a car or flat - perhaps the divorce rate might be much lower. Chinese parents tend to pressure their children to follow the tradition that one needs to get married before 30. People who enjoy Western culture prefer the company of similar personalities. I just want to become the foreign matchmaker who introduces people who are interested in meeting classy and sophisticated people.

How hard is it for young Chinese to find partners and why?

It is difficult because it is impacted by China's modernisation process. A generation ago, most people's parents grew up in the countryside. There were matchmakers in their villages to bring together people of similar background for marriage. It was simpler. China's modernisation has driven people to the cities. The small paradise for people does not hold together any more. United Nations world marriage data has proven that in China 20 per cent of women between the ages of 30 and 34 are single. Some Chinese call it a "left-over girl" phenomenon. But it is not. Because if you look at the UK, the United States and Hong Kong, the rate for the same age group of women is more than 40 per cent. The study shows that culture is not a factor in women getting married late. It is an urbanisation and development issue. When a country or a city gets advanced enough, women don't rush to get married.

Do Chinese parents adopt different views about their children's marriage?

Unfortunately, the percentage of women who delay marriage will continue to grow because China is getting more developed just like other industrialised countries. I also think parents' views are not going to change fast. This is especially true for people who live in secondary cities. They are still in their small closed society. They won't know what it is like to work and struggle in Beijing. It has to be a generation change to adopt more flexible views towards marriage. I think in about 15 or 20 years the single rate among Chinese women aged from 30 to 34 will approach 40 per cent.

What's your future self-development plan?

It's great to host these events and help classy people get together. If we can make people happier, we'll continue to provide our service. My personal belief is that our generation will definitely change their views on marriage. If you're already well off with a home and a car, you'd rather find a partner who is compatible with your life. What I'm doing now is for passion. I consult for investment banks and work on the dating service as a hobby. In order to make the dating service website become profitable, we have to scale it a lot more. We have about 25,000 registered users and 500 to 600 unique users who have attended our offline events over the past two years. We usually charge 80-200 yuan (HK$101-253) per event. I like my current lifestyle in Beijing. I could not imagine being anywhere else right now. If I have a dream, I'd like to help a higher percentage of the Chinese urban elite find their personality matches. I'll continue to be a foreign matchmaker.

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