By any standard, Millionaire, Tough Love or otherwise, a matchmaker who's brought together 360 couples in under four years is a roaring success. And that's not even counting Choi Young-hee's contribution to diplomacy!
Choi Young-hee's decision to become a yenta may have sprung from her own difficulty in meeting someone after defecting from North Korea, but clearly she's no starry-eyed romantic; having survived a year in a Mongolian prison, she says starting a business was easy, and she saw a gap in the cross-peninsula dating market. Her business, South Korean Man-North Korean Woman Marriage Consulting, is named for a legend that South Korean men are handsome, North Korean women beautiful. Clearly, Choi does not shy away from stereotypes or generalizations; says a profile in the Los Angeles Times,
South Korean men are charmers, full of sweet talk, she says. But some overdo the cheesy compliments. Yet even at their worst, she says, they make better mates than North Korean men."North Koreans are hard men of few words. They don't have as much consideration for a woman."Some South Korean men have decided they want North Korean wives, who favor more traditional values. In many cases, their parents were displaced from the North during the Korean War, and they relate more to the culture there.North Korean women are also seen as exotic yet still Korean.
As seems to be fairly standard and depressing in such setups, Choi's client list has a 3:1 ratio of women to men. She provides the service free to North Korean women, presumably to spare them the difficulty she went through as en emigree on the dating scene. Says she, "Nothing is more important for us than marriage to settle down in South Korea. It is a turning point to start a new life." There's clearly a strong vein of pragmatism to the setup, and Choi admits that in a couple of cases women have used men they met for money, then vanished, while one guy promised a woman marriage, slept with her, then demanded a refund. South Korea only recently changed the laws to allow emigres to divorce their spouses, still up north, in absentia, and clearly for a lot of people the idea of a "new life" is quite a literal one.
It's interesting to contrast the pragmatism of Choi's business with the raft of matchmakers pop culture has given us in the last couple of years. While we are fed pragmatism glossed with romance, a setup like Choi's seems to strip the business down to its essentials, and if romance blooms, well, that's a nice benefit. Korean culture is, traditionally, one of arranged marriages, particularly in rural areas, so the notion of matchmaking does not have the stigma of desperation or sadness that it does here. And if it is based on generalizations, well, one can only assume that the realities of cross-peninsular marriages will do more to offset this, ironically, than anything else possibly could.
South Korean Matchmaker Found Her Date With Destiny [Los Angeles Times]