Reporters on the Job

BACK IN BELGRADE: The last time Justin Brown reported from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, was just as the US airstrikes began in the the spring of 1999. With Slobodan Milosevic out of power, Justin expected that people would be more optimistic about the future. Anecdotally, he found the opposite was true. "Everyday life has not improved," he says. "One friend told me that she set her bags down in the grocery store, and they were stolen. Crime is up," he says. Justin went to visit his favorite eatery, "The Crazy House," a Chinese restaurant, and they refused to take his $100 bill. "The owner knows me, and knows I'm an American, and he still wouldn't take it," says Justin. "He told me there were too many counterfeit bills in circulation. He showed me a 100 Deutschemark note. I told him it was an amazing counterfeit. 'You like it? You can keep it,' he said."

BORDERLINE DEALS: For today's story on cross-border smuggling out of Paraguay (page 7), reporter Marcel Ballve took a 15-hour bus ride from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to the border. "Almost everyone on the bus was going to buy contraband goods," he says. They walked across the bridge into Paraguay, loaded up with their $150 per person limit, and stuffed as much as they could - toys, cosmetics, electronics, cigarettes - on the bus. What they couldn't fit on the bus, they paid people to bring later. During the first 1,500 kilometers of the return trip, there were several checkpoints where Brazilian inspectors came aboard, says Marcel. "Everybody on the bus had to throw $5 into a hat to pay off the customs agent," he says. Did he buy anything? "Well, yes. I got a cordless phone that stopped working a week later. You get what you pay for," says Marcel, sheepishly.

MAO FOR SALE: Sotheby's is holding an online auction ( of bric-a-brac used to disseminate Chairman Mao's image during the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1965. Items for sale include Nixon-Mao ping-pong paddles in their original package, tea pots, posters, ceramic statues, portrait medallions, and metal clocks.

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