A loyal, sympathetic ‘girlfriend’ for 20 yuan a day
By Tan Weiyun
SHE gives you sweet morning calls every day, reminds you of having meals on time, patiently listens to your complaints about work and encourages you when you fall into a depression. She is 24-hour standby for you. She can be fun or serious, tough or tender, sweet or cheerful — whatever type you choose her to be.
She is your girlfriend, but you’ve never met her.
Recently, a new service that originated in the past few months is gaining popularity on Taobao.com (China’s largest online shopping website) — buy a virtual lover.
With 20 yuan (US$3.30) for 24 hours or 5 yuan for an hour, one can easily “purchase” a girlfriend or boyfriend, who will chat with you via text messages or by instant messaging tools such as QQ, weibo (microblog) and WeChat.
“She says good morning and good night every day to me; she chats with me on the topics I’m interested in and never interrupts. And she’s got a very sweet voice,” says Alex Ma, 26, an office worker, who “bought” a virtual girlfriend.
Ma has no girlfriend and he says chatting with a girl makes him feel relaxed and loved.
“Compared with dating a real girlfriend, which would cost me several hundred yuan for a meal or a gift, a virtual one is affordable, warm and thoughtful,” he explains.
The normal price for a virtual companion is 20 yuan for 24 hours (hours are accumulated and no instant reply is guaranteed) mainly via instant messaging tools, 20 yuan for 10 minutes for talking on the phone and 30 yuan for 24 hours that includes chatting online and two phone calls to sing two songs.
A virtual companion will text you no more than 30 messages a day and is required to listen to all of your complaints. She/he can be any type a buyer seeks — mature or innocent — as you like.
“We offer a channel for our customers to vent their pressure. It has nothing to do with erotic services,” says Yao Bei, one of hundreds of online shop owners who provide the service.
Yao’s shop was selling overseas cosmetics but the business was not going well.
“I had plenty of time and I started to think, why not sell my time?” she says.
In Ma’s case, she alone did the job and at times had to handle more than 10 people a day. “It was a multi-task to chat with so many strangers at one time and it was no fun,” she admits.
But the money is good, though the price is quite cheap. Today Yao has hired four girls and boys to join her team. Last month, almost 1,400 deals were made. Most of the clients were men.
A buyer can tick off his/her preferred age, character and location for the ideal companion, which will allow the establishment of some common topics.
As for the virtual girlfriend, there are four types to choose from: “sweet little sister,” “fashion girl,” “regal queen” and “artsy young lady.” The four virtual boyfriends can be selected from “family man,” “mature uncle,” “tender boy” and “macho brother.”
Any presumptuous demands and harassments from the buyers are forbidden, such as sending erotic pictures, asking the virtual companion out for a real date or probing the lover’s privacy.
“If buyers cross the line, they will be blacklisted at once and there is no refund,” says Yao.
Shanghai Daily, disguised as a 27-year-old engineer (male), bought a 5-yuan, 1-hour service for a trial. The girl named Qing Qing was a very sweet lover. “Darling, I’m here. What do you prefer to be called?” she asked.
In the afternoon, Qing Qing sent voice messages to remind Shanghai Daily to have some tea and take a rest. She also sent cute emoticons and some funny jokes.
However, she dodged some presumptuous demands and refused to send her photo number or do a video call. A video call, Qing Qing said, would cost about 200 yuan per hour. Most of the buyers’ reviews, which can be seen on the shop’s website, have been positive.
“Xiao Yu is a very thoughtful girl. She chatted with me for an hour and helped me walk out of my gloomy mood,” a user named “Cool Gege” said in his remarks.
Another buyer said “Le Le (a virtual girlfriend) has a beautiful voice. Sometimes I felt it was all real,” while Daibao1124 said, “it was like I put my girlfriend into my pocket. She sang songs for me when I was tired, reminded me to have meals during the work hours, played games with me when I was at home.”
Yao admits that her employees are subject to occasional harassment. Once a buyer asked a girl to send him a picture as she knelt down. Another customer asked a virtual lover to scold him.
Wang Caomei, based in Zhejiang Province, earned big money from the business by playing a girlfriend for others. She charged a much higher price for chatting — 20 yuan per hour (two hours a day at most for each client) via instant messaging (or 1,160 yuan a month), 30 yuan per hour for chatting on the phone (one hour a day at most for each client).
“I just did it for fun, but it turned out to be good money,” she says.
Within three days, she had earned more than 800 yuan. Most of her clients were men in their 20s who talked mostly about their work and study pressures.
“Almost every one of them would ask me if I had a boyfriend. I dodged the question and would try to shift the topic back to their lives again,” Wang says.
She says she would immediately blacklist a client if she felt harassed.
“As for me, I definite wouldn’t fall in love with my client,” she says, “You know, it’s just business.”
Hu Hairong, a lawyer, says “virtual companions” are such a new service that there are no laws or regulations for it.
“But the ‘lovers’ and buyers should keep their personal information safe and avoid divulging their privacy,” he warns.