Reporters on the job

ON THE BEACH BEAT: To get today's story on China's leadership succession (page 7), or at least to try to get it, Robert Marquand took the three-hour train to Beidaihe - a coastal town where Communist Party members go each August.

Other reporters warned him not to go to Beidaihe expecting to schmooze. Nonetheless, he booked a room at the State Guest House for Diplomats, where mid-level Chinese officials and foreign officials stay. "I met a wide variety of interesting people, but only one official, who was actually retired. He was sitting under a towel on the hotel's private beach. I asked him direct questions about the leadership succession, and he would answer with Chinese folk tales and parables that I found impenetrable."

Bob made another valiant effort to penetrate the wall of officialdom. He rode a bicycle 15 feet inside the People's Daily [newspaper] guesthouse gate, hoping to gab with a few reporters. But even that gambit proved unsuccessful. He was politely told to leave - now. Still, China may be changing, a slightly blushing news official said. "He told me that 'a few years ago, you would have not made it even 15 feet inside the gate.' "

COLOR ME PINK: As an American woman, the Monitor's Ilene Prusher was a little turned off by the "cute and pink" products aimed at Japanese women (page 1). "I went into the SCoco convenience store - designed just for women - expecting to knock it, because the idea sounded ridiculous. But I liked it, and I admit that if there were one in my neighborhood, I'd go there ... especially because of the spacious bathroom and the counter to eat your lunch," she says. Lunches in Japan seldom cost less than $10. "Also, the fact that the portions are smaller just makes you feel better when you eat lunch. Yes, it's another psychological trick they play on women - but man, it works."

CULTURAL SNAPSHOT

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