'Hang on, while I visit Norway'

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'Hang on, while I visit Norway'

Waiting for someone to pick up the phone is not a pleasant business. The monotonous ringing can make you uneasy, not to mention bored. Lee Jun-seo, who works in public relations at a music agency, wanted to make it something fun. His solution? Subscribing to a new service called "coloring" from SK Telecom. For 700 won per sound (about 60 cents) plus a 900 won monthly charge, his phone entertains his callers before he picks up.

Mr. Lee's callers hear the cute voice of a young lady saying, "Thank you for calling. My master really wants to pick up, but he's a little bit busy. Please wait, sorry." During June's soccer spree, he downloaded the cheerleading song for the Korean national soccer team.

"I get a lot of phone calls for the post at work, thus getting a coloring service was a strategy to please my clients," he told the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition. Does he get more phone calls because of the service? He doubts it, but at least he is happy with the sounds.

SK Telecom, which has been raking in large profits with its optional services, introduced coloring in March. People with phone numbers starting with 011 or 017 can subscribe to coloring and choose from a variety of sounds ranging from the latest pop songs and birds singing to spooky ghost sounds or fun parodies of television commercials. A comic version would say, "This number is out of service." A woman's voice might say, "This is my dear boyfriend's phone. If you are a woman, please hang up right away and if a man, please wait a second" ?a useful version for a flirting boyfriend.

The voice of a ghost could blubber, "Please open my coffin." Another version would make you king of the world, with a voice commanding "Wait until your majesty makes time to pick up the phone," though Mr. Lee would never dare use it. For devoted Christians, there are also applied versions of hymns.

SK Telecom has attracted 1.7 million users of the service since last March. Kwon Chul-keun, a public relations manager at SK Telecom, said that the service has been well-received, especially by 20-somethings. Users can download sounds from the Internet or make a call to certain numbers providing the service.

The service has been met with enthusiasm, quickly spawning upgraded versions. Users can program the phone so that different callers hear different sounds. For a stalker, "The phone is turned off. Please leave a message" and for a lover, "My darling, never ever hang up." A user can also change sounds according to the time. For instance, "Don't you know what time it is?" after midnight.

Mr. Lee said he would consider "The number is out of service" for his nosy superior.

by Chun Su-jin

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