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Reporters on the Job

December 10, 2008

Mail Call For God: Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz places letters written and addressed to God into cracks in the Western Wall in Jerusalem, in an annual delivery.

Bernat Armangue/AP

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Banking on Russia? Correspondent Fred Weir says that today's story on Russia's long string of financial crises is one that he has lived himself.

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"Since I've always earned my income in dollars from foreign sources, as a journalist, I've been more secure than the Russians around me," says Fred. But he recalls that his Russian bank savings of around 1,000 rubles quickly melted from being worth around $1,000 at official rates in early 1991 to being worth a couple of bucks by mid-1992. And that wasn't the last time he had such a jarring financial experience.

"In 1998, my wife and I lost $800, which we'd kept in a dollar account in a leading Russian bank. The bank simply folded one day and the money disappeared."

There was technological fallout as well. Fred's wife had only recently gotten used to using an ATM machine. Nonetheless, says Fred, she was mortified when they all stopped working at the height of the 1998 crisis. "It was a lesson for me in how quickly people can get used to conveniences like that, and how devastating it can be when they're taken away."

Another lesson from those times: Fred says that for the past decade or so, he and his wife have chosen to bank in London.

Less Than Fully Employed in Japan: Correspondent Takehiko Kambayashi says the tough employment picture in Japan has hit young people hard (see story). "In the past five years, things have gotten a lot worse. There's a lot of focus on the deepening gap between the rich and the poor," he says. "There used to be a lot of young people who worked to save money, and then spent their holidays traveling abroad. Now, even when people work hard, they don't feel they can travel." Takehiko adds that he used to see a lot of young people eating in nice restaurants. "Now you see more people getting instant rice meals from the convenience store, or lining up at McDonald's. Japan is often called the land of the silent majority, but young people are getting angry."

– Amelia Newcomb

Deputy World editor

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