Reporters on the Job

FINDING HUMOR IN BAGHDAD: The Monitor's Scott Peterson has been struck by the efforts of Iraqi civilians to maintain a sense of normalcy. In recent days, those efforts have paralleled preparations for war. Citizens have bought water pumps, laid up food stores, and said their goodbyes to relatives who could leave. But even so, some persist in their determination not to change their lives. For example, today Scott writes about a black comedy - with the staying power (and audience participation) of The Rocky Horror Picture Show - that still plays to packed audiences (page 11).

WAITING TO SPEAK: While working on today's story about the role of Premier Zhu Rongji (page 1), the Monitor's Robert Marquand met with a well-known columnist and author at a restaurant. As the meal got under way, the columnist - after praising much of what outgoing Mr. Zhu has accomplished, started talking about China's rural problems. As it turned out, Bob wasn't the only one listening.

"In the code of Chinese etiquette, the waiters are invisible and extremely polite." But as the source started sharing his views that Zhu had left the countryside behind and done very little about rural education in places like Anhui Province, the server could no longer maintain his professional composure.

"He put down the plate he was holding, and stopped completely," says Bob. "Then he turned a bit red and exclaimed, 'Wo tong yi! Wo tong yi!' (I agree! I agree!)"

The young waiter, it turned out, was from Anhui Province - and had made his way to the city to find work. "It doesn't happen very often that a kid like this would break protocol," Bob says. "Here was this Beijing University-educated, well-known commentator sharing a moment with this poor young waiter. The columnist was pleased that the waiter spoke up. Within the veneer of Chinese politeness, this would almost never happen."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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