To most, matchmaking is a job only found in Jane Austen novels and legends from old cultures. But to JJ Wu Chang, it’s his life. The 29-year-old helps people find love in Hong Kong, with clients from the city’s most elite circles. Seemingly off the pages of Crazy Rich Asians, JJ takes over when dating apps fail. In a city like Hong Kong, that happens a lot.
Despite being an international cosmopolitan city, most locals are still very traditional and steeped in social norms. Most don’t date outside their social circle and interracial dating is still uncommon.
That’s where JJ comes in. He finds people who meet his client’s requirements, but also teaches them to loosen up and open their minds to other kinds of people. His business, The Love Consultant Hong Kong, is part dating service, part relationship counseling.
VICE spoke with JJ about how he got into this unusual career path, the weirdest thing a client has done, and what dating is like for the one percent.
VICE: Hey JJ. So, first of all, how did you become a matchmaker?
JJ: I studied in Boston and came back to Hong Kong to work in marketing and advertising, but I really didn’t like the jobs. I saved a bit of money and decided to do something that had to do with helping people and, for me, that’s what matchmaking is.
I found the Matchmaking Institute in New York, which is recognised by the Board of Education of New York State. I went to one of their conferences in 2015, which was basically my initiation as a matchmaker. It was strangely ritualistic. I did not fit in with the people there, considering that most were white women in their 40s from middle America. Meanwhile, I was an Asian guy in my mid-20s.
Why do you think matchmaking is so taboo?
Firstly, it’s because most of the time, it’s done on a mass scale. I applied for a job to be a dating consultant in a large firm and it was all based on a script, very “customer-service-y.” Fitting people into categories does a huge disservice to clients. I wanted to do it in a way that honours a person’s background.
There’s also a misconception that people looking for a matchmaker are desperate. At first, I was surprised to have attractive people around my age coming to me. I even said to one of my first clients: “What the fuck do you need my help for?” I’m really glad that this happened. Of course, he wasn’t desperate, but Hong Kong society can be very harsh when it comes to this. Just because they are single and need help finding a significant other, does not mean that they are the dregs of society, not at all. Mostly, they’re just busy or need to be very discreet when it comes to dating. People from certain families have to date people that are “socially approved.”
Who are your clients?
I mostly deal with high-net-worth individuals with an international background. They don’t fit into the two main Hong Kong dating demographics of expats and locals. They were born and raised here but speak English with an American or British accent. I think most of them are 40 percent modern and 60 percent traditional. Their dating sensibilities are very westernised but their values are also based on tradition.
How do you decide who to take as clients?
I have different “observatories,” those are people who know a lot of people from the city’s different social circles. I do my own research first. I need to find out if the prospective client has bad blood or past issues with anyone. Some past issues are not published online but have made their way around social circles.
The first consultation is free because I might not be comfortable signing them on or they may not want to continue the relationship. I ask people to be as open and honest as possible because I don’t want to dictate any narrative.
When it comes to dating, what do most of your clients look for?
Some people look for “the one,” which makes them very inflexible. What you should look for is someone you are compatible with. I don’t make people in my backyard, I need to find them, so having specific requirements will cost you a lot of money and, in most cases, is not realistic.
In the end, what everybody really desires is someone who accepts them for who they are and won’t try to change them. What people aspire for and what they end up understanding that they need, are two very different things.
What makes dating in Hong Kong particularly challenging?
On the surface, Hong Kong is one the most international and cosmopolitan places in the world, but it is not progressive at all. Especially because a lot of women here suffer from incredible pressure attached to conventional and archaic values. And it sucks, it really does. I teach my clients that it’s their life we’re talking about, not their parents’ life. Another thing is that a lot of people here are weirdly inflexible and won’t date outside of their race, which is still seen as bizarre.
What’s one of the strangest requirements you’ve heard from a client?
I went to a meeting with this girl in her mid-30s and she wanted me to add BDSM as a main requirement. I told her that I had somebody in mind that was in that scene but I had to educate myself on that, which usually takes more time and money. The next day, she told me more about her past BDSM experiences with previous lovers, including specific preferences, and told me that the only thing that gets her off is to use scissors to drop blood from a guy. She also asked me to find someone to give her a stipend every month, like a sugar daddy. I had to tell her that these things were not part of my services. She even offered to give me 10 percent of the money every month, which would have effectively made me a pimp. I obviously didn’t end up taking the client.
Is it the same dealing with straight and LGBTQ clients?
I put a lot of work into trying to understand dating among conventional, straight, and binary relationships, having also dated in this circle. But when it came to the LGBTQ world, I realised from hanging out with friends that I had a lot to learn. I met with a lot of people to listen to their coming out stories. I also learned more about gay lingo and culture, like what’s considered attractive and what a “bear” is. My gay friends really helped me educate myself. I just started taking on clients from the LGBTQ community three months ago.
Is there a dark side to matchmaking?
Yes! Some matchmaking services are not regulated at all and Hong Kong has no law on matchmaking, so there’s a huge grey area of what’s OK and not OK to do. People get cheated by so-called matchmakers and lose a lot of money all the time.
There’s one case wherein a matchmaker, a woman, took on a male client and purposely matched him with people who didn’t meet his criteria — all mismatches. By the tenth one, the matchmaker, who had some of the physical criteria the client was looking for, started dating him while still taking his money. She broke up with him after three months. There need to be strict rules, and not dating your clients must be one of them.
What’s your success rate?
A lot of people think that when people get matched, that’s a success, but it doesn’t really work that way. For me, there is much more to consider. Success rate is not the number of matches, those are just for big companies to inflate their numbers. I work with such a small number of clients that this won’t make any sense for me. Success, for me, is educating people and helping them understand what they want, what they need, and how to get them in a relationship.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.