HK Magazine Archive

Chinese New Year Sparks Posting Surge on Hong Kong People-Renting App

People in the past would more commonly use local online forums, such as HK Golden, to set up a fake date.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 February, 2016, 11:44am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:56pm

With Chinese New Year rapidly approaching on Monday, pressure is mounting for sons and daughters to introduce their partners to their families. For those who are still alone, turns out, there’s a new salvation: renting a partner from an app.

Up to 21 job ads for new year's partners have been found on Jobdoh as of 11am today, a bilingual part-time job search app based in Hong Kong. People in the past would more commonly use local online forums, such as HK Golden, to set up a fake date. Job descriptions include memorizing an agreed story on how the couple met, attending family functions and it is even ideal if the applicant “can play mahjong and can drink a lot.”

Jobdoh’s co-founder Xania Wong ensures that each listing—usually posted by larger organizations seeking part-time help—is confirmed by the team. Private clients are verified by their HKID number and photo. Applicants are also carefully checked to make sure they are able to work legally in Hong Kong. “We don’t have a checklist per se, but we do carefully verify each listing and check for any questionable content,” says Wong.

For this type of service, romance is commonly not in the job description: “Absolutely no kissing and beyond but hand holding and a hug may be necessary to make it look real,” according to one ad seeking a male applicant. The posts are nearly equally split between those seeking male and female hires.  

Average fees are at $250 an hour, with working hours starting at 7pm dinner time on Feb 7, Lunar New Year’s Eve, a full day on Feb 8 and lunch and afternoon on Feb 9. Chinese families commonly spend all three days together. The third day of the Lunar New Year is deemed an unlucky day to meet with others, as it is believed that conflict and arguments arise easier.

Hongkongers may also visit their relatives on the mainland during Chinese New Year, and there are job listings for out of town work. Netizens have expressed concerns for personal safety there, with one commenter saying, “Don’t be silly, you’ll become the next Lee Po.” Another replied, “Or you’ll end up having your limbs broken and forced to become a beggar. Or you’ll lose your organs. Or maybe you’d get sold to be a farmer’s wife.” On the other hand, some were more enthusiastic about potential earnings of up to $1,000 per hour on Feb 9.

“This has been happening for a few years already in the mainland,” says Wong, “but to my knowledge not as much [through a smartphone application] in Hong Kong.” She adds that she’s seen similar situations in New York, where some of those of Indian descent feel pressured by family to bring home a partner over the holiday season.

The popularity of these types of people rental apps in the mainland is high—with some men paying up to $1,000 yuan ($1184.44) an hour to rent a fake girlfriend to appease parents who are anxious about their son’s marital future.

The phenomenon of renting people is not uncommon across Asia, where it first gained popularity in Japan with services such as Ossan Rental, where you can rent an ossan (uncle) purely for company and conversation. In Hong Kong, handyman Zombie Tam and his team Cat Every Matter are willing to carry out any task you desire, in return for a meal. Past examples include helping a client get their dream girl, to helping with travel itineraries and complete style makeovers.

And is renting people through an app ethical? “I don’t have a position on whether or not this is right or wrong,” says Wong. "It's really just a bit of good fun, in time for the Chinese New Year."