Heading to South Korea for a work trip? Don’t forget your toothbrush. Office bathrooms can make for a peculiar sight for visitors as colleagues congregate around the sink multiple times a day for a spot of teeth-cleaning. Young South Koreans are taught to brush three times a day and TV ads promote a “3.3.3” strategy: brush three times daily for three minutes, within three minutes of finishing food. Office bathrooms are often equipped with a dental cabinet; the boys’ room at the Blue House – workplace of the president – features wall-to-ceiling shelves full of toothbrushes. Outward appearances matter in South Korea but look inside and you’ll find that things are kept pretty clean there too.
Raise your glasses
For a country of dedicated drinkers, the UK’s beer glasses offer little variation and rarely stray from the conic shape and its bulging cousin, the nonic. But the Germans have an eye on the British pint. On a flight from Frankfurt to London, we met the chief designer of a glassware company who carried news of an innovatively shaped “smart” glass that can track consumption and the factors that make it faster.
Many cities are taking cues from Oslo in its virtuous aim to eliminate cars from its central districts. Pedestrians on home soil, however, still have plenty of unresolved issues. As we walked the city’s snow-coated streets this winter we were shocked by how many residents were hitting the dirt on their daily commute. While the city’s core has heated pavements to prevent such falls, the wider implementation of the system has not caught up with Oslo’s growth, meaning many streets remain treacherously slippery. We hope the Scandinavian city’s reputation for setting smart urban trends doesn’t slip away due to half-pursued policies.
Would a delay of half a second frustrate you? The London Underground is today mostly a world of contactless payment, with passengers tapping in and out using their bankcards or Apple Pay. The latter, however, can take a blink of an eye longer – and that’s enough to send fellow travellers into a huff. Welcome to London.
Cuter than the average bear
Asia’s menagerie of mascots comprises many creatures but one species has garnered multinational status above all others. From the Pyeongchang Olympics’ Bandabi to Japanese superstar Kumamon and the Taiwanese tourism board’s Oh Bear, brown bears have spread across the continent. Could it be time for a cross-country encounter? We think a Teddy bear tea party would benefit all nations.
While this issue of Monocle was heading to press we were happy to welcome Estonia’s prime minister, Jüri Ratas, to Midori House. The PM was darting around London for the day, meeting UK premier Theresa May and foreign secretary Boris Johnson, and hosting a concert at London’s Barbican Centre as part of the Estonian republic’s 100-year-anniversary celebrations.
With a deep voice and a strong handshake, Ratas could serve as a baritone in any choir and could easily hold top billing in any arm-wrestling bout. But it was on regional jostling that we wanted to pin the prime minister down. Ratas, however, needs to be nuanced in what he says: even though his nation is a member of Nato and has advisers on the ground from the UK-led Nato battle group, his election was built largely on links with his country’s large ethnic-Russian community.
It took our editor in chief Tyler Brûlé (who has strong Estonian roots himself) a couple of pushes – no arm wrestling, mind you – to get a good response. “I understand the question and the problems between the Baltic states and the Russian Federation,” said Ratas. “But our security, our troops, they are strong.” He was keen to stress that, in everyday dealings, things were good between Russians and Estonians. But, in a piece of phrasing pitched with perfect diplomacy, he added: “As neighbours I have to admit that our relations could be more active”.
But his lot looked better than May’s in one respect: Brexit. “Everyone in Europe is sad that the UK is leaving but we respect the choice of the British people,” he said. “I do feel it has brought the eu27 closer together; it has united us again and given us fresh energy to make our union more secure, prosperous, innovative and competitive.” On that we agree and can shake hands.
New paint job
During a recent trip to Montréal we took a ride in one of the city’s freshly rebranded taxis. The new livery is a cheerful affair: each white car’s roof is painted in one of an assortment of bright colours, while the word “bonjour” is printed along the cabs’ flanks. The designs were greenlit in 2014, when then mayor Denis Coderre sought to give Montréal’s 4,500 taxis a cohesive identity. The idea was met with grumbling from drivers, who were asked to cover the ca$1500 (€970) paint job themselves. But, as app-based taxi services have since upped competition, uptake of the scheme has become robust.
The Andreas Gursky show at London’s Hayward Gallery (see page 95) is a who’s who of who’s watching who. The galleries are full of Instagrammers surreptitiously snapping each other, as well as photographers photographing the photographs. Among all the lenses there’s usually one weirdo who’s content to merely look at the work (and will be seen doing so in a million social-media posts).