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NAILING THE INTERVIEW: Bob Marquand finds reporting in China quite different from India, where to get a story, he would just show up at an official's residence.

Bob wanted to talk with an official Olympics Committee member for today's story. So he attended a Xinhua news agency New Year's reception, where he met the editor. Bob asked to be put in touch with the sports editor. The editor passed Bob to the publicity chief, who put him in touch with the sports editor, who told Bob he would arrange an interview with a top Beijing official.

The Beijing official's secretary called and asked for Bob to send a written request. He complied, and two days later was told he'd get an interview with the mayor of Beijing in four days. The mayor's office then called and said they wanted Bob to send a formal request. He did. Then they asked for a list of questions. Bob sent the questions. The officials called back to say they wanted Bob's biography. The mayor's office then said it didn't look like they'd have time for the interview, then called back to say it was on. They asked Bob to send his car's license numbers. It became such a complicated process - more than two weeks - that Bob decided to wander over to the Olympics Committee office.

The deputy director of the Olympics Committee finally agreed to an interview because she'd heard the story of this American reporter wandering through China's labyrinthine process, Bob says. She gave him two hours - probably more than the mayor would have given him, and she was probably a lot more frank.

HAVE BUCKLE WILL TRAVEL: Vicente Fox, Mexico's very popular president, is known for wearing cowboy boots and a big belt buckle that says "FOX." Those buckles were on sale at souvenir stands during President Bush's visit to Fox's ranch, and the Monitor's Howard LaFranchi says that among the buckle buyers was at least one US Secret Service agent. "The agent told me he couldn't wait to get back to Washington to show off his latest wardrobe addition," Howard says. To be worn during off-duty hours, we presume.

NO COUCH POTATO, HERE: When Peter Ford moved to Paris, he signed up for cable TV, because that is the only way he can get the local and international all-news stations, like CNN and BBC. And those have ended up being the only channels he watches. Interviewing TV producers for today's story on "reality TV" shows, he could only excuse his complete ignorance of the entertainment genre that has swept Europe by pretending to have recently moved to France after decades in remote parts of the world (which is nearly true). "Talk to me as if I were an alien," he told one source.

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