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UPDATED: April 1, 2013 NO. 14 APRIL 4, 2013
The Outsourced Life
Middle-class urbanites outsourcing chores and errands abound
By Yuan Yuan

PICTURE PERFECT: Wedding planners cater to young people's demand for full-service ceremonies (CFP)

Instead of booking six-hour train tickets back and forth to Datong, Shanxi Province, to spend what might have been a month to prepare for their wedding ceremony, husband Xie Chuanyin and wife Lu Jieying, office workers in Beijing, hired the Sunny Principle Club to deal with the specifics.

Outsourcing their big day to wedding planners saved the couple countless hours, and they wed on February 21 with a minimum of fuss and frustration.

According to manager Xu Jianjun, the Sunny Principle Club received five such orders in February.

"Most young people work in other cities and only come back for their weddings, so they hire us to take care of everything," Xu said. "Even local couples are more inclined to leave the details to us."

Professional and ubiquitous

For Xie and Lu, the wedding planning is only the first step on a slippery slope of domestic outsourcing. Neither has time to cook, instead preferring to eat out or order delivery food. An hourly worker cleans the house every Saturday afternoon.

"Both of us are very busy at work. We want to enjoy more spare time instead of cooking and cleaning at home," Lu said.

"For the baby on the way, although my parents have offered to help with childcare, we are planning to hire a 'confinement nurse' as well," Lu said, referring to a Chinese custom of sequestering mother and newborn for the month following childbirth. She intends to have a child in 2014, and is already searching for a confinement nurse online.

In 2011, the Beijing Horizon Market Survey Co. found that 41.1 percent of office workers reported facing great pressure at work, and 61.4 percent experienced varying degrees of mental fatigue. As a result, many had tried to relieve the pressure by outsourcing time-consuming and laborious housework.

Outsourcing services are becoming more professional as well.

"There are even some mentoring services that teach women how to be good wives or how to get more benefits from divorce," said Zhu Qi, a 25-year-old woman living in Beijing. "It seems as long as you pay, you don't even need to think."

Holding a pile of business cards for veterinarians, convenience stores and dry cleaners, Zhu appreciates the ease of her modern lifestyle but feels she is becoming complacent. "The convenience store is right downstairs, but I prefer to ask them to deliver goods to my door even though it is not heavy at all," she said. "It is becoming addictive. The more you use the service, the more you want to use it."

Yin Chunli, a Shanghai resident, has never spent one day at home since he opened an online storefront for his surrogate service. The business plan revealed itself to Yin in September 2011.

"The pace of life is so fast nowadays and I always hear people complaining that time is too limited for all the tasks they need to do," Yin said. "I think I can try to help, as I have plenty of time."

At first, Yin's clients commissioned him to visit hospitals at midnight to queue for popular doctors' appointments. With good reviews from customers, Yin gradually built a reliable reputation and clients started to offer him more complex tasks, even giving him their ID cards to pick up packages from the post office. Some even hired him to collect debts.

Now Yin is the busiest surrogate on Taobao.com, China's largest C2C online marketplace, earning an average of 28,000 yuan ($4,500) each month by doing odd jobs for clients.

"I do almost everything as long as it is not against the law," Yin said. Some customers even hire him to apologize to lovers or friends.

"People don't even have the courage or ability to say sorry themselves," said Wang Kaiyu, a sociologist at the Anhui Provincial Academy of Social Sciences. "It reflects a crisis of interpersonal communication."

But one of Yin's customers surnamed Hu thought it was a great idea. After quarreling with his girlfriend, Hu hired Yin to deliver an apology by proxy.

"I am an introvert and not good at expressing my feelings," Hu said, according to Yin. Yin said Hu was convinced that commissioning an apology by proxy would make his girlfriend feel more highly respected than if he had delivered the apology on his own.

Finally, Yin phoned Hu's girlfriend to say sorry on his behalf and even sent her flowers. According to Yin, the two soon became reconciled.

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