Dating had never been easy for Kim Jeong-soon. In her native North Korea, couples holding hands were chastised for “disturbing public order”, and when she arrived in South Korea potential suitors were often repelled by the mere fact of the country of her birth.
It was with a certain reservation, then, that she went on a blind date witha South Korean man three years ago. They dined on fried chicken and beer and launched right into conversations about marriage, divorce and what a future together might look like. “South Korean men are more attentive and considerate compared with North Korean men, and they’re also more friendly,” Kim said.
Six months after that first date they were married. Not only was it a cause for celebration for them, it was another success story for the woman who arranged their meeting. Han Yoo-jin has helped about 300 couples marry since she started her matchmaking company four years ago. Amid a skewed gender ratio,cultural differences and a desire among many North Korean refugees for a sense of security in their adopted home, an industry has sprung up catering for lonely South Korean men and North Korean women interested in marriage.
Han’s own relationship makes her the literal poster child for her business. After three failed escape attempts, – each time receiving increasingly harsh punishments in one of the North’s infamous labor camps – Han arrived in South Korea in 2001. She worked as a highway toll collector and then in a string of matchmaking firms before striking out on her own. She met her South Korean husband at a party for prospective clients, and photos of the twoon their wedding day fill her company’s website. Her service is part matchmaker, part therapist because frequently mediates conflicts between couples, sometimes even after their wedding.
Hong Seung-woo, another matchmaker, says the divorce rate among North-South couples is about 5%, lower than the South Korean national average. But the industry has its problems, not least the fact that in the south suspicion ofNorth Koreans still remains. She is confident that her business will endure despite the proliferation of apps such as Tinder. “North Korean refugees prefer handling things face-to-face,” she said, adding that most were deeply skeptical of technology, and concerned about revealing even mundane personal details online.