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    Mar 17, 2016

    Give 'dating Gangnam style' a chance

    SINGAPOREANS who are single and ready to explore becoming attached can take a page from South Korea's vibrant dating scene and embrace dating agencies, said Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo.

    Singles in Singapore tend to be shy about getting help to date or look for a partner, even when they cannot find someone themselves.

    But Koreans are generally open about dating and are more willing to approach commercial agencies, said Mrs Teo, who oversees population matters and is on a week-long trip to South Korea and Denmark to study how each country encourages marriage and parenthood.

    "Single Koreans may be discreet in not openly advertising the fact but, if asked, they won't deny it either," she said in a Facebook post yesterday at the end of the South Korean leg of her trip.

    "Starting early, proactively reaching out to meet new friends, openness to getting help, and having a relaxed attitude all seem to be the essential ingredients to enjoyable and successful dating. Can this style of dating help more Singaporean singles, perhaps?"

    Mrs Teo, who had been in South Korea since Sunday, visits Denmark next.

    Singaporeans and Koreans are marrying later in life which has contributed to the low birth rates in both countries.

    In 2014, Singapore had a total fertility rate of 1.25 while Korea's figure was 1.21 that same year. By encouraging dating, the hope is that more singles will pair up, tie the knot and eventually have children.

    One way of doing so is through dating agencies, an industry which is well-established in Korea.

    Its more than 1,000 dating agencies are found mostly in the capital Seoul, and it is not uncommon for parents to sign their single children up at these places.

    The largest agency, Duo, offers specialised services such as professional dating coaches and "couple managers", who counsel couples working on their relationship or who want to get married.

    More than 32,000 people have been married after meeting up through Duo since it began operating in the mid-1990s.

    Mrs Teo visited Duo's headquarters in the glitzy Gangnam neighbourhood, which was made popular by Korean hip-hop artiste Psy's 2012 hit song, Gangnam Style.

    Making reference to this, Mrs Teo said in her Facebook post: "Dating 'Gangnam style' may be deliberate but still fairly cheerful and relaxed, and very often aided by family, friends or professionals."

    One agency success story which Mrs Teo cited in her post is that of newlywed Kim Minhye, 34, who is pursuing her PhD in sociology at the National University of Singapore and shuttles back and forth between Korea and Singapore.

    "I was very much into work and studying, and at some point it just wasn't enough," Ms Kim said of her decision to sign up with a dating agency in Korea about two years ago.

    After uploading her profile, she was matched with a bespectacled engineer who is four years older than her.

    Recounting how her Singaporean colleagues reacted when she told them that she met her husband through a dating agency, Ms Kim told reporters here: "Everybody looked at me really, really surprised. They said it's highly stigmatised in Singapore."

    "In Korea, the stigma is still there but not as much.

    "Practically, there are no other ways to meet people so we accept it."