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Reporters on the Job

CAPITAL GOODS: During his first visit to Iran, to cover the recent presidential election, correspondent Cameron Barr experienced first-hand the legacy of Iran's once-firm ties to the US: He stayed in the former Sheraton hotel. Now run by the state, the hotel is still fine, he says, even though there have been some changes.

"The best word to sum up the service," he adds, "is lassitude. The folks working in places owned by the government - I don't care what country you're in - don't have the drive you find in the private sector."

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A BLACK-AND-WHITE VIEW OF MOSCOW: Soviet schoolchildren learned about Western advertising - and the "evil" capitalism it was meant to represent - in required "scientific socialism" classes. But because the capital today is as clogged with billboards as any Western city, Moscow bureau chief Scott Peterson had a hard time imagining what Moscow must have looked like more than a decade ago.

That is until he came across a worn Soviet-era documentary video cassette in the Monitor's office. He popped the tape into a video player, and a black-and-white world of Communist Moscow came to life. Scott recognized many buildings and streets, which have hardly changed at all. But the city was also like a blank canvas - with no billboards at all.

LINGUISTIC LEGWORK: When Nicole Itano visited a private Afrikaans high school in Johannesburg, she was amazed to find just how well students spoke English. Even though English was most of the students' second language, they immediately switched into flawless English when they heard she was from the United States.

One of the grade 10 pupils even invited her to come see the school's annual cultural talent show."Unfortunately I had to decline. I wouldn't understand a word that was being said,"Nicole says.

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor