When the ash cleared it was apparent there were far worse places to have been stranded than Hong Kong, with its can-do attitude and impeccable service. The experiences of Monocle staff during the airspace shutdown vindicate our decision to open our new Asia bureau there, writes Tyler Brûlé.
We came dangerously close to editing and producing this entire issue in exile (from adjoining rooms at the Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong and random hotels all over Milan) or delaying its release until the volcanic ash dispersed beyond European airspace.
While one third of the team was toiling away at HQ in London, the balance of our staff was split between the Salone in Milan and the opening of our seasonal shop at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. At first we thought the ash would quite literally blow over with an inconvenience of a one day delay, but it was soon clear that more urgent measures were needed to ensure a timely delivery of this 34th issue.
While I was in Hong Kong with 10 colleagues, our editor Andrew was consulting rail timetables and block-booking hotel rooms to get our design corps back from Milan. While team HK plotted the speediest routes back to Europe, Andrew managed to get everyone up to Paris and eventually back to London. By the time I returned from Asia it was as if nothing had ever happened as 20 Boston Place was its usual, busy-buzzy self.
The good thing about being temporarily stranded is that aside from forcing you to be more resourceful than you might be in normal daily life (Which airline CEO can you call to move your colleagues up the waiting list? How can you turn an eight-hour time difference into a positive?) it also demands that you assess your surroundings and determine whether you’re in a functioning world city or an urban sprawl with aspirations above its station.
It didn’t take long for my colleagues in HK to realise they were far better off operating from the Grand Hyatt than potentially similar set-ups in New York, Mexico City or even London. Apart from getting on with routine daily tasks, it also allowed us to work on our new bureau-cum-shop in Wan Chai (due to open in early July), to meet clients and work on stories. Along the way, many locals asked us why we chose Hong Kong over other Asian hubs. Why not Bangkok? Or Beijing? Or Singapore?
Attractive neighbourhood aside, the simple answer is service. Hong Kong is built for purpose and that purpose is to engage in commerce and get the job done swiftly, efficiently and economically. That’s not to say Hong Kong isn’t without competitors. While Singapore puts up a good fight and Auckland is trying to position itself as the city where the world starts its day (see page 25), Seoul is working hard to become both Asia’s most liveable city and an English-speaking business centre nestled in the bosom of the world’s second and third largest economies.
And what about Tokyo in this neighbourhood race? The opening of Haneda’s new international terminal in October will significantly change the game as the centrally located airport will not only offer flights into the heart of Taipei and up its frequencies to other Asian capitals, it will also offer direct links to the likes of Paris and San Francisco. For anyone who’s had to endure Friday evening traffic on the Limousine Bus from Narita, the new globally connected Haneda will shave 90 minutes off total journey times. If Japan can get all of its ministries working in sync, it could rapidly carve out a unique position as Asia’s most convenient and inspiring hub for meeting and greeting.
As this issue is about to be shipped off to the printers, global connections will play a key factor in our forthcoming quality of life survey. For our 2010 round-up of the world’s most liveable cities, we’ll be adding a host of new metrics to identify the best places to call home while also focusing on a few cities that may be more than a little bit dysfunctional but still manage to offer their residents a superior living standard.
If you’d like to make a last-minute appeal to see your hometown make the cut on this year’s list, then drop me a note (firstname.lastname@example.org) or shower my assistant Alexander (email@example.com) with lavish bribes in the form of well-cut blazers, chocolate tortes (no nuts) and sunny seaside holidays.
For more from our editor-in-chief, read his column in the FT Weekend.