Swim against the tide
The growing Chinese luxury-travel market has seen expensive teas added to hotel rooms, but the more interesting change in direction is taking place in the pool. Baking in the sun is lost on most Chinese visitors who want to protect their skin. That’s why the busiest time to hit the water at Hong Kong’s Hotel Vic is dusk. Western hotels should follow suit and keep pools open after dark.
The Finns have found a solution to the global battle of pram vs café – where parents park pushchairs the size of a Volvo in the entrance and receive looks frostier than an iced latte from everyone else as their kids scream and the hipsters lose focus on their laptops.
The fix: give the little ones their very own place. Helsinki’s Skidilä features small tables and a diminutive bar so that the young can order their own babyccinos. It seems that good design enables children and overwrought parents to coexist with some civility.
Lost in translation
If you are a Georgian then your arsenal of swearwords is rich and varied (often pertaining to parts of your mother). This was in evidence at the Frankfurt Book Fair where Georgia appeared as the show’s “guest of honour”. There Sybilla Heinze, a translator, explained how this is the most challenging aspect of her job: “Georgian swearwords are very sexual,” she explains. “There isn’t always a German equivalent.”
For people in most nations in the world the words “skinnamarinkydinkydink skinnamarinky-doo” sound like the ravings of someone in the midst of an ether binge. But for Canadians born in the 1970s and 1980s, they carry a near lip-wobbling degree of nostalgia. They are the lyrics to the most famous song by children’s entertainers Sharon, Lois & Bram.
For decades Sharon Hampson, Bram Morrison and their late co-star Lois Lilienstein were the darlings of pre-school broadcasting. Their first album One Elephant, Deux Éléphants was re-released five times between 1978 and 2008 and The Elephant Show, which ran on television from 1984 to 1988, propelled the three to national stardom. The trio were soft-power ambassadors for the country, performing at the UN General Assembly as well as for the Clintons at the White House. Public parks and ice rinks (such as the Skinnama-rink in Davisville) were named in their honour.
In October, Sharon and Bram announced their retirement. While the news came as no surprise after 40-odd years in the business, it prompts questions about the current state of Canadian TV production. The industry is booming in Ontario and British Columbia but competition from platforms such as Netflix as well as investment shortfalls means production of children’s shows is waning. Nevertheless, Canadian creativity endures. Recent years have seen the rise of shows like Paw Patrol, in which a group of dogs safeguard the community. The plots and visuals of such shows appear to travel well – Paw Patrol has seen meteoric success in Asia.
As Sharon and Bram bow out, Canada must nurture its flair for children’s content and ensure that shrinking budgets don’t bring about a long-term decline in an often overlooked soft-power asset.
The dean of social commentators, the late Tom Wolfe, could draw. One of his best sketches was an old robber-baron type of the 1870s in full Victorian attire with top hat. The caption: “As long as they don’t think I’m poor.” The next frame has the same old man in the late 1970s, pounding the sidewalk in jogging kit, saying: “As long as they don’t think I’m old.”
Everything seems to have gone from snob to slob over the past 40 years, with grown folk dressing like teenagers in an attempt to roll back the years and project an image of easy-going informality.Nobody was expecting it; back in the 1960s and 1970s fashion futurists used to say that the new glorious freedoms would bring in more individual, expressive ways of dressing. What we got was “athleisure”.
As the world grew richer, but less equal, lucky people pretended to be ordinary. You couldn’t, for instance, read an interview with an actor famous for high-gloss roles without hearing how thoroughly slobbed-out they were.
The only things that remain special – big dinners at Windsor Castle or the White House – are now archaic. They invoke the last vestiges of a social order and a dress code. But when English prime ministers talk about dressed-down “kitchen suppers” and the occupant of the White House wears a slogan baseball cap at every given opportunity, you know it’s a lost cause.
To the ladies and gentlemen of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, in consideration of the 2019 Peace prize I hereby nominate naengmyeon, a bowl of buckwheat noodles served in an iced, savoury broth. For the unsung hero of this year’s rapprochement on the Korean peninsula has been this local favourite from the North’s political and culinary capital, Pyongyang.
Nuclear weapons were not the only items on the negotiating table during the inter-Korean summits in April and September. State leaders Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in bonded during meals of the dish, which includes diced pear and a slice of meat and is doused in vinegar and spicy mustard.
Naengmyeon’s diplomatic credentials go back decades, thanks to a flood of North Korean war refugees who brought the recipe with them to the South in the early 1950s. The dish has since become symbolic of peace between the two countries. Kim, aware of naengmyeon’s reconciliatory power, made sure it was on the menu during encounters with the South Korean president. It’s fair to say the noodles played a role in the post-summit joint declaration, in which Kim and Moon pledged to scale down military tensions as well as put in a bid to co-host the 2032 Olympics. It shows that a good meal can go a long way in the pursuit of lasting peace.
But there is still one last step in achieving the permanent end of hostilities on the divided peninsula: persuading Donald Trump to try the dish. Trump once said that should he meet with Kim in the US, the two would chow down on burgers. Given their next meeting is likely to take place in Japan, the diplomatic fare is far from certain.