Want To Make Extra Cash From Friendship?

Want To Make Extra Cash From Friendship? Here Is The Way To Go

Want To Make Extra Cash From Friendship?

OpenLife Nigeria reports that current global economic and social pressures are spurring the growth of ‘side hustle’ which is gradually becoming an industry. It is called ‘friend for hire,’ whereby either young or old people rent out their time to share with another person and earn extra cash.

The business which is developing in China had a 27-year-old Yang, a blogger in Beijing.
He was in an IKEA store to meet her first client, a young man who was paying 125 yuan ($17) an hour for her time and company.

She did not know what to expect other than that he wanted someone to talk to. She soon spotted him and the two walked around the store for a bit before finding a display couch to sit on. For the next two hours, he complained to Yang about his girlfriend.

“He would ask me what I thought from a female perspective. I guess he didn’t have female friends to talk to, and he didn’t want to complain about his girlfriend to friends either,” Yang said with a laugh, as she recounted her experience to Nikkei Asia. “Young people have become lonelier,” she added. “Some people are very stressed at work and some experience pressure from their own family.”

Technically, the combination of stress and loneliness has opened up a business opportunity for young people in China: renting out their spare time for extra cash.

It is a near-perfect marriage of supply and demand. On the supply side, China’s slow economic recovery, layoffs and record-high youth unemployment have created a vast pool of people with time on their hands and a need to earn extra money. On the demand side, enormous workplace and societal pressures have pushed young people to seek new ways to vent and decompress.

As Yang explained, “If you pay for someone to accompany you, you can do whatever you want. You don’t have to compromise like when you’re with friends or family.”

Chinese social media apps such as Douyin and Xiaohongshu have become popular platforms for the services.
A lot of netizens started posting their own advertisements out of curiosity and some have successfully turned it into a side hustle.

Yang says she has had seven clients so far, all of them under 35 years old. Most of them have stressful full-time jobs and a bit of money to spare, such as the man who had to constantly please his clients at work and wanted to be the “client” himself on the weekend.

Another man had trouble with his marriage and he asked Yang to be a listener. One woman was a stay-at-home mom who had Yang accompany her to random activities, including having her fortune read, because her friends did not have time to hang out with her.

Yang’s day job is working as an influencer on Douyin showcasing different restaurants and stores. She said her side hustle would not make anyone wealthy but it provides a nice stream of income. To be safe and make sure there is no physical contact with her clients, she only meets them in public.

Alaia Zhang, 22, also emphasized how much her clients are looking for someone to talk to.

Based in Guangzhou and currently out of work, Zhang has been operating on Xiaohongshu as a paid companion for a few months.

She only accepts female clients for safety reasons and says she wants to be a spiritual teacher in the future. Her first client was an introverted young woman who paid her to attend a dance class together. Most of her other clients paid her just to listen.

“Young people have a lot of anxiety nowadays but they either don’t want to spill that negativity to their friends and family, or they don’t feel like they have trustworthy people to share that with,” Zhang said. “Everybody is lonely, even I am lonely myself.”

In Zhang’s view, young people today are less keen to spend the time and effort to form deep and trusting relationships because they are afraid of getting hurt.

“It’s much easier to pay for a stranger to listen, to vent and feel better,” she said. “Paid companionship sits between professional psychological therapy and not getting help at all. It provides comfort and it’s more casual.”

Zhang said the market for paid companionship is huge because so many young people care about their mental health but cannot afford professional services. There is also the stigma of seeking mental help.

Yi Xiang, a 30-year-old massage parlor owner from Wenzhou, hired a companion when he visited Hangzhou. As a blind introvert, this service fills the gap when disability volunteers are not available.

It was an extroverted young woman from Liaoning who went to Hangzhou for job interviews. She took Yi to visit the famous West Lake for 200 yuan. She described the scenery to him, helped him feel the leaves on trees alongside the lake, and talked about their lives and aspirations.

“My nondisabled friends live far from me and they don’t always have time,” said Yi. “It’s easier to just pay for this service and it’s fun to hire a stranger to take me on tours. I can meet a new person every time.”
Yi said the boom in paid companionship is related to youth unemployment, quick urbanization and residual effects of the former one-child rules.

“A lot of young people are jobless, so it makes sense for them to make some extra cash because there is a need for such services,” Yi said. “Most people live in high-rise apartments these days, unlike how families used to help each other out in villages.”

“Kids grow up without siblings nowadays, their colleagues might compete against them. A part-time tour guide once told me he is willing to take us on trips because disabled people don’t compete against him for resources so he feels relaxed around us,” Yi continued.

This trend is catching on with Chinese youth overseas as well. Cindy Lu, 31, a freelance photographer based in Toronto, has been accepting female customers since last August.

Most of her clients are Chinese international students. Lu recalled that a mother in mainland China found her on Xiaohongshu and asked Lu to take her daughter to dinner for her 18th birthday. She was a student at a private boarding school and was very sad because she was bullied and isolated by her peers.

“Many international students are stressed about school and their careers, they have trouble fitting in, but they might not have access to professional help,” said Lu. “Especially doctor’s visits or surgery pickups. It usually happens during weekdays and their friends don’t have time to help them out.”

Back in China, a subset of the paid companionship market is spreading particularly quickly.

Paid hospital companions accompanying people on doctor visits. This role also has a higher bar than leisure companions. One needs to know the local health care system well, research the client’s conditions and medical history ahead of time, wait in line for the client before they arrive, and ask doctors the right questions.

Cui Pei, 38, a hospital companion based in Xi’an, has been on the job for a year and a half. She was a stay-at-home mom with two kids and managed an Airbnb listing. She became a full-time hospital companion because the demand has “skyrocketed,” she told Nikkei Asia.

Most of her clients are adult children working in other cities or overseas who hire her to accompany their elderly parents to the hospital. Her clients found her on Xiaohongshu as well as through a local retirement community group.

“This is called the ‘silver hair economy,'” Cui said. “This industry will become huge because China has such a large population and it’s aging fast.”

Cui explained that China’s health care resources are limited and the hospital systems are usually very complicated and increasingly digitized. Even young people who grew up with smartphones can struggle to make doctor appointments or figure out where to go for each department.

“We need to act like the elderly parents’ children when their own children are not here and take good care of them just like their children would,” Cui said. “We have to be empathetic and learn how to understand the elderly’s emotions and to comfort them.”

Doctors have increasingly embraced this phenomenon, Cui said, as it is often quicker and easier to explain the situation to the companion rather than dealing with patients who can be emotional or hard of hearing.
But hospital companions are not only for the elderly.

Young people unfamiliar with local health care systems are also tapping this resource, partly because they do not want to “owe” somebody a favor by asking their friends to accompany them, according to Cui.

People are increasingly interested in becoming hospital companions, given its scheduling freedom and no need for a resume. Cui said established hospital companions can earn above 6,000 yuan a month. Many have reached out to Cui via Xiaohongshu to become her “pupils,” but she does not accept students who are older than 50 because the job is physically exhausting.

But the nascent industry still lacks legislation to standardize it, said Cui. There is no official platform or medical association to certify hospital companions. People still need to find their own clients on social media or through different health care agencies, and income can be unstable.

“I believe in the market for paid companionship because everybody will eventually need it,” said Cui.

Credit: Nikkei

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