Creating a Better You Online Requires Strokes of Keyboard, Piles of Cash

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Creating a Better You Online Requires Strokes of Keyboard, Piles of Cash

Kim Si-chul, 23, a typical Korean college student was chatting online as usual at 2 a.m. He just met a young woman, a high school student, who called herself "Sweet185."

After just a few minutes of talking, Sweet185 asked Mr. Kim, "Could U buy me a dress for my little pretty avatar? PLS..." When Mr. Kim protested that they had just met, she continued to press her demands: "Does it really matter on the Net? My avatar already had plastic surgery last week, and now I really want that posh pink satin dress by the designer Andre Kon! It only costs 1,500 won ($1.10)!"

Later, Mr. Kim received a number of menacing emails from Sweet185, creating quite an annoyance for him. He found out later that a couple of his friends had also been "intimidated" by similar young women who stalk economically well-off men, hoping to get clothes or accessories for their avatars. "Money is not the problem, but those girls are just too demanding, even threatening," Mr. Kim said.

What are these "avatars" that cause young Korean women to become such bullies? Strictly speaking, an avatar is an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu as a human being in this world. Despite what the dictionary says, to young people in South Korea today, an avatar is a person's cyber-incarnation.

You Jae-rim, 18, a high school student said, "I consider my avatar to be another 'me' online. Moreover, I can become a fashionable hip-hop guy or try on a tuxedo or anything, instead of the same old school uniforms that I have to wear everyday." He is not alone: according to Freechal, an online portal company that first started the avatar service, one million people have already created avatars.

To create your own avatar, you should log on to a Web site, such as www.freechal.com or www.sayclub.com. There, you will find a wide range of selections: 30 different face shapes, 106 kinds of eyes, 72 noses and nine bodies. "Mathematically, millions of billions kinds of avatars can be made," said Lee Jeong-ah, a public relations manager at Freechal.

Choosing a body is free. But the next phase is picking your clothes, and that is when the costs start to add up. There are various shops that sell clothes in a range of styles and prices. The store names are parodies of some famous name brand, such as "Sebastian Dior" instead of Christian Dior and "Andre Kon" instead of Andre Kim. The most extravagant dress currently for sale costs 3,900 won of cyber money at "Bebeoli Hils" (Beverly Hills). Ms. Lee at Freechal said of the recent trend, "These days, bizarre avatars, such as male avatars wearing school girl's uniforms, are popular."

Since June, more than 200,000 people have bought the clothes and other items such as fashion accessories giving Freechal a profit of 600 million won from selling avatars. Nowadays, gift certificates of 5,000 won and 10,000 won, with which you can buy every item related to avatars, are popular as presents. Companies have also started to provide other kinds of services for the avatars, such as plastic surgery, beauty salons, pet shops and special vacation packages to the seaside. Freechal even started to hold weekly contests for the best avatars.

Mr. You said, "My girlfriend and I are going to splurge on a tuxedo and wedding dress next Monday, the 100-day anniversary since we first met."



by Chun Su-jin

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