The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Wednesday 14 February 2018

Business

Image: Getty Images

Nothing to crow about

After cocking up the Year of the Rooster some Chinese firms will be hoping that the new year is man’s best friend.

Some of China’s most expansionist companies have taken quite the hit during the Year of the Rooster, which ends tomorrow. The Hainan-based conglomerate HNA has just announced the sale of two Hong Kong sites, one of which it had only acquired in the middle of 2017 with a plan to build affordable housing for its employees. The debt-laden company is now looking to offload a string of overseas acquisitions, ranging from stakes in American hotel chains to German investment banks. It’s a similar story for LeEco and its founder Jia Yueting (pictured) – China’s Elon Musk – who was bailed out by property-investment company Sunac and is fighting to keep control of a sprawling business that spans electronics, entertainment and electric cars. Even Dalian Wanda, the world’s largest private property developer, recently reported a double-digit revenue drop and has been busy offloading assets. Will the upcoming Year of the Dog bring these companies better luck?

Geopolitics

Image: Getty Images

Battle royal

The UK’s global clout could take another hit with Commonwealth leaders debating the Queen’s successor – and not everyone wants to keep it in the family.

The future of the UK’s influence on the international stage is being threatened by more than just Brexit: the British monarch’s future as the head of the Commonwealth is being called into question. With current head, Queen Elizabeth II, turning 92 this year, Commonwealth leaders met at the London HQ on Tuesday to discuss, among other things, who would succeed her in the role, according to reports by the BBC. Though a British monarch has always served as head of the Commonwealth in the past (King George VI held the title before the Queen), some members have been pushing to democratically elect the Queen’s successor. Though it’s far from certain that Prince Charles won’t end up as head, the rumblings are sure to worry Brits who are banking on international influence outside the EU.

Culture

Image: Getty Images

Words on the street

A Quebec foundation is putting words in French-Canadian mouths but is this English-language evasion really necessary?

Among the more intriguing linguistics jobs in Canada are those carried out by employees of the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF). Founded in 1961, the organisation is responsible for finding suitable Québécois alternatives to newer English-language phrases by concocting slang and disseminating it into public use. The organisation sees it as a way to stave off the threat of English expressions seeping into Canada’s French-language lexicon and protecting Québécois culture. The translation for “foodie”? Cuisinomane. “Cocktail”? Coquetel. “Grilled-cheese” (as in the sandwich)? Au fromage fondant. But a new study has found that, unlike in many other bilingual nations, English words and phrases rarely slip into the vocabulary of French-speaking Canadians – regardless of the OQLF’s involvement – and, when they do, their lifespans tend to be short-lived. Might it be time for the OQLF to rethink its raison d’etre?

Urbanism

Image: Jun Ren Chan

Towers fall

Singapore is saying goodbye to another beloved tower but perhaps the city-state should clutch its pearls more closely.

Heavily photographed and loved by architecture fans, Singapore’s Pearl Bank Apartments will soon feel the brunt of the wrecking ball after its recent sale for a whopping SGD$728m (€446m). Its prime location in the space-starved city-state was the reason for the high price – and its sale to a property developer who will build luxury flats in its place. Yet, as one of Singapore’s pioneering mass-housing towers, built in 1976 in the brutalist style and loved for its smart creation of public space from the ground floor to its sky garden, its loss will be felt by the architectural community. Tearing down buildings for redevelopment is common practice in Singapore. Preservation efforts have improved in recent years, however, with the salvage of some colonial and Peranakan-style treasures. Perhaps the island nation should consider the value of its modernist wonders more closely. After all, it’s these that set design benchmarks across Asia-Pacific.

From Monocle 24

Image: Alamy

Moomin on up

Section D

Magnus Englund and Sophia Jansson discuss design’s role in exporting Finland’s favourite fictional trolls.

From Monocle Films

How to fix your high street: Frome

We visit a monthly market in the unassuming Somerset town that’s proving easy sell to locals, buoying local businesses and luring in punters from miles around.

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