Reporters on the Job

THAT RUSSIAN THING YOU DO: When Russian President Vladimir Putin dropped by Beijing University Tuesday (page 6), he got a welcome worthy of the Beatles - or Bill Clinton, for that matter. "I wouldn't have believed it, but there was this 'Vlad is cool' thing going on," says Monitor correspondent Robert Marquand.

Bob notes that the Chinese in general are skeptical of Russia, with whom relations have long been a bit chilly. "But they like Putin. There's a romance about the KGB: Who knows what sensitive inside information lies behind that calm exterior?"

Putin's appeal crossed gender lines at China's most prestigious university. "The male students thought he was cool - he is a tough leader and doesn't show much emotion." The women? "They are in a bit of a giggly swoon about him," Bob says.

OPEN-MIKE NIGHT: Monitor correspondent Danna Harman went out into the Muslim suburbs around Nairobi to report today's story (page 7). Soon, she came upon a small corner where individuals can preach and everyone gathers around to listen and comment.

Next thing she knew, she was in the spotlight - and the man preaching was asking her if she had any questions for them.

"I was a bit taken aback, and said I just wanted to listen. But then I thought, well, I have 200 people here and I could get some answers to my questions. So I went into the circle and took the mike. I asked if they thought it was appropriate that the minute there was a bombing, Muslims get blamed. I also asked if they had any sympathy for the bombers."

Everyone started yelling - enough to make Danna's driver nervous and interested in leaving. But "I got a lot of answers," Danna says. "What impressed me was that there was a range of opinions, and some more moderate voices who didn't want to be perceived negatively. I was amazed how thoughtful many people's comments were. They knew dates of events, and what people had said at the UN. This wasn't a mass crowd that was ill informed."

Danna's language skills came in handy, as it turned out. "I speak Arabic, and I threw a bit in. They warmed to me and asked me if I wanted to convert to Islam." Danna politely declined.

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy World editor

Correction

• In a chart accompanying our November 18 story "China has new chief, but power may lie elsewhere," we reversed photos of Standing Committee members Li Changchun and Luo Gan. Mr. Changchun is wearing the glasses with darker frames.

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