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AND THERE'S ONE NEAR YOU

Have you started your holiday shopping yet? If not, and you're bewildered about where to begin, the Census Bureau says you have good reason to be. Based on 1998 data, the latest available, it reports that the US has 10,526 department stores; no fewer than 122,431 apparel or accessory shops; 24,138 sporting goods stores; 28,090 jewelry outlets; 10,921 hobby, toy, and game shops; and 36,603 gift, novelty, or souvenir stores. Oh, yes, and 9,779 catalog and mail-order houses.

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How would you guess that most people in China prefer to spend their free time after a heavy workday and attending to family responsibilities? Probably no differently than people anywhere else, if the results of a new survey are accurate. And that would be? Right: watching TV. Of the 5,584 respondents, 60 percent chose the tube over the closest runner-up, playing the game of mah-jongg, which was favored by 26 percent.

Soccer's governing board names century's best players

Most "best of the century" surveys were released when calendars flipped over to 2000, but some are coming out closer to the technical end of the 20th century - Dec. 31 of this year. One such survey is by FIFA, the world soccer governing board, which recognized the sport's greats at a gala Monday in Rome. Hoping to quell a feud between nominees Pele and Diego Maradona, two categories were created for the "footballer of the century" - one according to the votes of FIFA members, the other according to online balloting. The women's award followed suit. The winners:

Footballer of the century (grand jury) Pele, Brazil

Footballer of the century (Internet) Diego Maradona, Argentina

Woman footballer of the century (grand jury) Michelle Akers, US

Woman footballer of the century (Internet) Sun Wen, China

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Team of the century Real Madrid, Spain

-- Agence France-Presse, Associated Press

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society