Yes, there's a reason I'm speaking into this dog

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Yes, there's a reason I'm speaking into this dog

Korea is a paradise for cellular phone users, not to mention producers. In few other countries can you find so many phone styles, accessories and promotions, and retailers are ubiquitous. About one in four Koreans owns a cell phone, and many are addicted to them; these mobile maniacs readily admit that they would be unable to function without their cellulars. The phones are used for many other things besides basic phone calls. Teenagers and young adults use them to kill time: They play downloaded games, check e-mail and surf the Web. Professionals use them as organizers, setting schedules, compiling client lists and using the calculator function.

One accessory that is particularly handy in winter is the warm, fuzzy phone covers shaped like sad-eyed puppies or other cute characters. Walk down any street in Seoul and you'll see young women holding palm-sized stuffed beagles. Then there's a ring and they open up their doggies and chat expansively.

On a recent, frigid night in Daehangno, northeastern Seoul, the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition observed a local coed, Kim Su-yeon, with a puppy-covered phone. "It keeps my hands and ears warm when I talk," she said. "Also, this fancy little cover helps hide my old-fashioned and beat-up phone." Her puppy was beige and white, which Ms. Kim said are the prettiest colors for the covers. Ms. Kim's puppy had a strawberry fragrance at first, but the aroma disappeared after several washings.

A street vendor in the area, Lee Yeon-ja, affirmed that Ms. Kim's cover is up-to-date. "Those soft covers are in this winter, especially puppies," she said. Ms. Lee has operated her stand for several years, and her business relies mostly on sales of phone covers to the young shoppers that throng the area. Following puppies in popularity, Ms. Lee said, are plump, white rabbits called MashiMaros, after the English word marshmallow. The sleepy-eyed bunnies, also known as yeopgi tokki (bizarre rabbit), are based on an animated Internet character that hit the peninsula in April.

Ms. Lee charges 6,000 won ($4.60) for the puppies, which come in various colors, styles and fragrances. The rabbits fetch 9,000 won. Both types easily fit flip-style phones: Typically, there's an elastic slip on the puppy's chest in which you slide the top of your phone, and a plastic pocket on the tail of the puppy where you slide the bottom of the phone. If you want a cover that will keep your ears warm when you take calls on cold winter nights, choose a doggie with thick, long paws. The covers stretch to fit all sizes of phones.

Two main companies make the covers. Bestever specializes in the simple animal styles, like dogs, while Mild Hands churns out the more unusual characters. The Web site of Mild Hands displays 30 cover styles. Everything imaginable is offered, from crocodiles and gorillas to Santa Claus and Rudolph, all discounted for online purchases, from 6,000 won to 8,000 won each. The CEO at Mild Hands, Kim Young-wan, said that the trend for fluffy covers is spreading abroad. "We're getting orders from some 30 countries including the United States and Europe," he said.

Our Ms. Kim, however, was not entirely satisfied with her puppy. "After I washed it a few times, it lost its nice smell and its softness," she said. "Also, when I change the ringer to vibration mode, I can't tell when I'm getting a call." Incidentally, the CEO Mr. Kim said the polyester covers should not be washed in hot water if you want to keep them soft and fragrant. But Ms. Kim was clearly not too put off. "Now it's Christmas, so it's time for me to try Rudolph!"

by Chun Su-jin

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