RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And in Taiwan these days, you can see some cartoony-looking dogs on the street and on social media. Owners are asking pet groomers to transform their four-legged friends to become geometric shapes, spheres and squares. NPR's Elise Hu has this postcard from the capital city Taipei.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: To really see the square cut done right, we had to go to the man who made it a viral sensation. His name is Xiao Mo.
XIAO MO: Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi, (foreign language spoken).
HU: Mo runs a grooming shop that's become ground zero for special request cuts. We're watching as he styles a bichon frise named Tang Xiong Xiong. If done right, her head will go from a white puff of fur into a perfectly shaped square.
MO: (Foreign language spoken).
HU: "I've just given her a blowout, and I'm about to design the head shape," he tells us. Xiao Mo takes his work seriously.
MO: (Foreign language spoken).
HU: He just said he uses eight different kinds of shears and scissors to make the square shape. You don't become a master groomer overnight. Mo has spent the last 13 years perfecting his skills, grooming dogs' heads into squares, spheres, triangles, flowers and lately pushing for even more possibilities.
MO: (Through interpreter) I want to improve my skills. These days I'm working on a cut in the shape of an Apple computer monitor, which looks round from the back. I want to perfect it. So I won't start teaching others until I think the style is ready.
HU: Why did this become such a thing in Taiwan? Mo suggests it's the country's low human birth rate combined with the power of social sharing.
MO: (Through interpreter) Groomers have tried geometric shape styles before, but it started to attract people's attention this year, mostly because people posted photos on social media paired with interesting headlines.
HU: After a nearly 45-minute cut, our bichon frise's new 'do is done. Her owner, Paul Chiang, is in the front of the store waiting to pick her up.
This is her first square, right?
PAUL CHIANG: Yeah, exactly.
HU: Are you nervous?
CHIANG: Oh, very.
HU: Xiao Mo carries her out with a giant pink bow on her collar.
CHIANG: Let me see. Let me see. Let me see. Let me see. Let me see. Oh (laughter).
HU: What do you think?
CHIANG: To be honest, I was a little afraid that the square design might make her look odd or a little - I don't know. But this is great, actually. Yeah, I think - I'm very impressed by the artistry of the groomer.
HU: But what does the dog think?
CHIANG: Let me ask her.
CHIANG: (Whispering, unintelligible). She's getting used to it I think.
HU: Her human friends certainly approve. Photos of Tang Xiong Xiong's new 'do end up fetching hundreds of likes on social media. Elise Hu, NPR News, Taipei.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOUND DOG")
ELVIS PRESLEY: You ain't nothing but a hound dog crying all the time. You ain't nothing but a hound dog, crying all the time.
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