Friends all out of town? Can’t get a date? Need someone to
pose as a board member in your fictitious company to fool investors? Just rent
someone. No, it’s not expensive and, yes, there’s an app for it. You can find
someone from just 1RMB an hour or pay as much as 8,000RMB. What do you get for
your money? Well, that would be telling. So we started asking.
The app is Rent
Me (Zu Wo Ba, 租我吧),
which has the pun-derful slogan ‘mei “you” bu keneng’ (‘没“友”不可能’) – though it doesn’t
exactly translate, ‘friend’ is intentionally kept in quotation marks. It’s free
to download, but to actually rent someone or put yourself on the market you
need to be a Chinese national because it uses ID-verified real-name registration.
You’re presented with a long roster of potential candidates with their
nicknames, hourly rate and popularity (how many ‘likes’ they’ve had).
a profile and you can see what activities they’re available for. This is where
the whole concept becomes more baffling, and not just because every user has to
enter their exact weight. Rather because the heavily photoshopped or
professionally shot profile pictures are of the more suggestive nature, yet to
book someone you have to choose from a list that includes ‘going for strolls’
You can also choose to go to haunted houses, have a private
tuition session, order a wake-up call (they call to make sure you get up),
‘outfit choosing’, even ‘emotional outpouring’. You just choose a ‘study time’
and get out the Alipay.
After much trying, we finally find someone who will
appear in the magazine and duly head to the North Fourth Ring to meet
100RMB-an-hour Xingxing. Is it a honey trap? Will it have a brutal or happy
ending? Well, with my chosen activity being ‘afternoon tea’ and Costa Coffee
chosen as the venue, there’s a semblance of normality.
‘I do it because I’m
curious,’ Xingxing tells me over a cappuccino; ‘I don’t do it for the money’
(true – she wouldn’t let us pay her back for the drink). ‘The first man who got
in touch asked straight away if we could do… illicit things. So I refused that
request. Then the second person just wanted to go for dinner and that’s all it
was, so I thought I’d carry on after that.’
Even though we’re just having a
coffee, it does feel strange that she’s been paid to be there. ‘I end up being
friends with people – that’s why I do it. So sometimes just the first or first
two meet-ups are paid for. Then we just hang out. I get to meet new people and
you can choose what sort of friends you make, like just choosing pretty friends
if you want pretty friends.’
No one has asked her to pretend to be their
girlfriend or anything else. Xinxing doesn’t find it embarrassing and talks to
her friends about it, but as a civil servant she won’t talk about it at work.
It also turns out that she gets the full amount of the money we are paying –
the app doesn’t take a cut. ‘It must be all these ads,’ suggests Xingxing. But
there aren’t many at all.
‘You can easily tell the people who are doing it for
you-know-what. They’re free all day every day, so this is their job.’ What
about those doing it for just 1RMB an hour, such as those who list themselves
as ‘artists’? Take another look – all those ‘artists’ for one kuai are men.
They’re just looking for sex or a girlfriend. Some people are so tacky.’
have a fun time, the feeling of a host-client relationship wears off and we
agree to meet up again, but next time without Xingxing being on the clock.