Mon, Jan 23, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Matchmaking enjoying a revival in South Korea

AP , SEOUL

Hwang Yoon-hee, a 24-year-old in her final semester at a university, had a definite plan for her future: graduate school, followed by a career working with an international organization. But her determination wavered a bit when she got a call from "Madame Tu."

"She offered me a man of wealth to meet with," Hwang said. "Such chances come very rarely."

As South Koreans try to strike a balance between traditional arranged marriages and the newer trend of marrying for love, the country has seen rising numbers of Madame Tus -- the slang for female entrepreneurs in the lucrative matchmaking field.

Matchmaking in South Korea has grown into a 50 billion won (US$49.3 million) business, a 20 percent growth since the late 1990s. The number of small and large private agencies -- including Madame Tus -- has increased to more than 1,000.

The industry is a mix of tradition and modern values. It allows young people to avoid having parents choose a mate, but still recognizes the importance of family background, social status and a mate's earning power. And it takes into account good looks and compatibility -- and the hope that love will blossom.

With the help of Madame Tus and matchmaking firms, many find their partners with less hassle.

Jo Hyung-joon, who works at a computer consulting company, is now selecting a company to find his ideal wife.

"My colleagues suggested I contact a company and meet girls from there," said Jo, 26. "I have such limited time to see even my friends ... and knowing that I'm slightly picky, I think matchmaking counselors will be a great help."

In June, Kim Young-hwan and Moon Jae-in married after meeting the previous November through DUO, the largest South Korean matchmaking company with 20,000 men and women registered as "members."

The company said their vows marked the 10,000th marriage arranged by DUO.

Kim, 30, and his 29-year-old bride praised marriage consultant Song Young-lae for encouraging them to keep looking for the right person.

"We thank Song from the bottom of our hearts for cheering us up whenever we wanted to give up," the couple, both company workers, said in an interview posted on the DUO Web site.

DUO, citing privacy concerns, refused to provide contacts for the couple.

Not everyone, however, can use these matchmaking services to find their special someone.

Kim Joo-kwan, who has a disabled leg, filed a suit a year ago against the two biggest matchmaking companies, DUO and Sunoo, for refusing to take him as a client. Kim, set to begin working as a lawyer in February, says he was outraged to see discrimination in the companies' membership qualifications.

"I called them up and asked whether I could be accepted, but they refused, citing their standards," he said.

"This is against the basic human right of equality and against our law," he said.

In August, South Korea's National Human Rights Commission urged the matchmaking firms to revise membership qualifications.

Most South Korean matchmaking companies do not accept the disabled, bald men, women considered unattractive and people without a university degree.

"These restrictions should not be interpreted as discrimination," said Lee Min-hee, a spokeswoman for DUO. "Even if we accept these people, they are wasting their money ... for others would avoid them."

"It is commonly known that these companies grade their applicants with numbers," adds Lee Yun-suk, a professor of urban sociology at the University of Seoul. Women get more points for looks, while for men it's their job.

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