Thursday. 2/1/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

View from the East

The start of a new year is a time to reflect on what’s passed and look toward the future. And over Christmas, I’ve been asked a lot by friends and family whether it’s time for me to leave Hong Kong. So far my stint here has lasted almost six years. The current turmoil is likely to continue for some time: a report on the policing of the protests is expected to be published soon and elections are due in September. But does that make me want to leave? And, if so, where would I go next?

Certainly not back home to the UK. Not yet anyway. The politics is too hot and the weather too cold. Also, the sun is still rising in the East. This is meant to be the Asian century and we are only entering its third decade. Vietnam would certainly be at the top of my list. I like the food; I like the people; I like the prospects. I’ll be visiting Hanoi in April for the country’s inaugural Formula One grand prix; the street race around the Vietnamese capital is likely to become the latest milestone in the country’s rapid rise up the soft-power starting grid. But, sadly, a one-party state with no freedom of speech is no place to be a journalist.

So it seems that – for now – there’s still only one place for me in Asia. Journalists want to be on the ground where the story is. Rather than being a reason to leave, the unrest in my current home city is exactly what I signed up for. History is being made in Hong Kong; I’d be mad to leave now.

Politics / Asia-Pacific

Power of three

Three women loom large in Asian-Pacific politics this year. Next week’s presidential elections in Taiwan will get 2020 off to a bang. Incumbent Tsai Ing-wen is battling a populist opposition candidate, Han Kuo-yu, who supports closer ties with China. Beijing’s bullying tactics have backfired by giving Tsai an electoral boost: she appeals to voters’ patriotism. Meanwhile, Jacinda Ardern (pictured) is seeking a second term as New Zealand’s prime minister. A liberal darling on the international stage, Ardern’s future is less certain at home where her popularity eclipses that of her floundering party. And finally, elections are due in Myanmar, although there is no guarantee that they will go ahead. Power has been a double-edged sword for Nobel laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who governs as state counsellor, a role akin to prime minister. “Aunt Suu” has seen her international reputation plummet as she stayed silent during the army’s persecution of the Rohingya ethnic minority and crackdown on journalists.

Society / Japan

Race to the finish line

Now that nearly all of the 2020 Olympics venues are ready, Tokyo can breathe a bit easier. The ¥157bn (€1.3bn) national stadium opened to the public in December and the ¥20.5bn (€169m) Ariake gymnastics centre and ¥7bn (€57m) Ariake arena have been completed, along with the venues for archery, hockey and canoeing. Meanwhile, the ¥56.7bn (€467m) Tokyo aquatics centre is little more than a month away from being finished. Japan views the Olympics as a chance to upgrade its infrastructure and bask in the limelight – a rare marketing opportunity for brand Japan – but once the athletes head home and the crowds disperse, what becomes of the facilities?

Some will no doubt be put to use in the future but Japanese officials say that they already expect five of the new sites to operate at a loss after the games finish. Fortunately, officials have a blueprint for how world-class facilities can benefit residents: the Yoyogi national gymnasium and Nippon Budokan, both built for the 1964 Olympics, are heavily used today and will serve as venues for this year’s games too. Will such a blueprint work a second time around? Only time will tell.

Cinema / Hong Kong

Restoring pride

As Hong Kong’s future looks uncertain, its film fans could be forgiven for delving into the city’s rose-tinted past. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Wong Kar-wai’s seminal In the Mood for Love. The iconic Hong Kong film, set during the city’s colonial era in the 1960s, premiered at the Cannes film festival in 2000 and is often cited as being among the best movies of the 21st century. To mark the anniversary, Wong is restoring the film in 4K-quality resolution, alongside nine other movies from his back catalogue. The director is also said to be working on a new film and TV series, both called Blossoms. Fans in Hong Kong will be keen to see the director’s first work since 2013 but it might be a sign of the times that Wong has moved its setting to Shanghai – the city of his birth.

Hospitality / Thailand

Feelgood factor

Six Senses is due to make its North American debut in 2020 with the opening of a hotel and clubhouse in New York’s West Chelsea. The Thai-based luxury spa and resorts group, known for its destination locations, is pushing into cities as wellness becomes a year-round pursuit. Health-conscious consumers are reshaping the hospitality industry: data shows that spa users tend to be the highest-spending guests – leisure travellers who stay in suites and make use of hotel restaurants and retail outlets. “Wellness drives hotel occupancy and financial success,” says Anna Bjurstam, vice-president of spas and wellness at Six Senses, which was acquired by IHG in 2019. “It has become the holy grail.” The group’s recent opening in Istanbul will be followed by a first property in its home city of Bangkok.

M24 / The Best of The Foreign Desk

Twitter diplomacy

Diplomacy used to be a dignified art. But social media has changed that, as it has everything else, into a faster, more direct and often informal discourse. On The Foreign Desk last September, Andrew Mueller discussed whether this is just a case of governments changing with the times – or is the world walking into something more serious?

Monocle Films / France

Gallic revivals

Revamping forgotten brands is a growing trend in France, where entrepreneurs are tapping into pre-existing DNA and ready-made heritage. Monocle meets the brains behind some of these French revivals.

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