Sun, Nov 14, 2004 - Page 18 News List

A match made in Taipei

Taiwan matchmaker Mama Jan has a degree in foreign languages, but has found her calling as a modern-day Cupid

By Diana Freundl  /  STAFF REPORTER

Mama and Papa Jan, shown above, look through a binder full of recent applicants as right.

PHOTO: DIANA FREUNDL, TAIPEI TIMES

Searching for a soul mate when you're 20 is hopelessly romantic, but when you're still searching at 30 it can feel just hopeless. So how much would you pay to have someone do it for you? Is NT$25, 000 a year too much?

Lily Jan, or Mama Jan (詹媽媽) as her clients refer to her, might not locate your soul mate but she claims more than 2,000 happily married couples will attest to her matchmaking abilities.

Five years ago, Jan turned her talent into profit with the Taiwan-based matchmaking agency, Super Matchmaker Mama Jan (姻緣專家詹媽媽). Although she holds a degree in foreign languages from National Taiwan University, she put her academic career on hold to become a modern day cupid.

Matchmaking in Chinese society can be traced to the Song dynasty when marriages were arranged between the parents of the prospective bride and groom, along with the help of a go-between. The matchmaker's main responsibilities included making sure the young man and woman were suitably matched and negotiating the dowry.

For the Jan's, it began as a family business in 1954 when Granny Jan (Mama Jan's mother-in-law) introduced a classmate to an employee in her father's company. It was a meeting that led to marriage and an informal business for Granny. Four decades later with the help of her son James (Papa) Jan, (詹謙益) and his wife, Mama Jan, the family enterprise expanded into a licensed company.

Now, with more than 6,000 single candidates on their roster and six branches nation-wide, it is arguably the largest of its kind in Taiwan. "There are thousands of organized dating agencies in the country but few are focused exclusively on marriage. We're not about meeting people and making friends. One hundred percent of the people who come to us come because they want to get married," Jan said.

The clients are between 26 to 35 years of age. In contrast to other agencies, most of them are women. The reason for this, Jan said, is because "we are very selective about the men we accept."

They don't discriminate against race, religion or cultural background, but if anyone without a steady income or a strong educational background applies they will likely be turned away. "We're a white-collar organization. The people who register with us are intelligent men and women. Our requirements are good education and a steady income. And if we don't think we can find someone a match, then we don't want to take their money," she said.

The dim and jobless are not the only castaways. Jan said if she or any of her employees has qualms about an individual's "character," then that candidate will be politely rejected. "It's difficult to determine if someone has a violent history from an application form, so if we're unsure it's better to be safe."

After the preliminary background check to verify a person has a job and is not married, or a psychopath, the next stage is a face-to-face consultation. This is where candidates are encouraged to be as specific as possible about the qualities they're looking for in a potential partner. Perhaps to guard against any future family strife down the road, parents will often attend this meeting.

The only applicants who are not required to meet in person with a company employee are the 50-plus Taiwanese candidates living in the US. The increase of overseas clients in the past two years has led to the Jan's decision to open a US branch based in California.

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