Wednesday. 25/3/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Inside knowledge

At Monocle we keep an eye and an ear on the world. For me that means travelling around Asia to interview many inspiring people, from Thai politicians in Bangkok to hotel founders in Bali. But all this came to an abrupt halt on Sunday when I arrived home and was fitted at the airport with a smart tag. So long Balinese yarn bracelet, hello Hong Kong “stay home safe” wristband. The department of health is now using an app on my phone to make sure that I complete a 14-day mandatory home quarantine.

It’s part of the government’s efforts to contain a second wave of imported coronavirus cases. The plan also involves the shutting of the border to all foreign visitors, including anyone in transit. I’m happy to do my time and it could be worse: residents returning to mainland China apparently have a CCTV camera installed outside their front door – at least that’s what I’ve heard from friends. I’m going to have to be a lot more circumspect over the next two weeks as I won’t be able to see the reality on the ground for myself.

So, what can I actually tell you about Hong Kong? Well, from my window, I can report that two workmen have installed a new air-conditioning unit and it’s been a smashing few days for tennis on the rooftop courts of the Chinese Recreation Club. Birds have been chirping all day, a church nearby plays organ music on weekdays and I’ve discovered that someone in the city owns a metallic pink Lamborghini, which has been parked outside the café downstairs. Life in Hong Kong is much slower than usual at the moment but I am seeing and hearing another side of my city.

Geopolitics / EU

Healthy debate

Global conflicts don’t stop for a virus and the European Union is doing its best this week to keep operations running as normal. Foreign ministers from the bloc’s member states held a video conference on Monday to discuss not just co-ordination on the epidemic but other pressing international concerns, including a proposed military mission in Libya, the conflict in Syria and a new EU migration deal with Turkey. And yesterday, another video conference was held to give the go-ahead for EU accession talks for North Macedonia and Albania. “Solidarity is fundamental, not only for our physical survival but also to ensure the continuation of the European idea of unity,” EU parliamentarian Andrey Kovatchev said in a statement. EU enlargement is a challenging topic at the best of times but it’s a good sign that the bloc is determined to remain open for (geopolitical) business.

Media / London

Helping hand

As London’s streets empty, the city’s free magazines and newspapers are having to quickly rethink their business models. Time Out, which has temporarily rebranded itself as Time In, is now digital-only and has switched its focus from events to live-stream listings from the likes of the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells.

The Evening Standard newspaper, meanwhile, has adopted a different strategy and will now be delivering direct to homes across the city’s residential zones. But one of the hardest-hit publications is The Big Issue, which is sold by London’s homeless as a means of supporting themselves financially. Founder Lord John Bird has launched an urgent appeal for readers to take out subscriptions – an easy way to continue helping those in need.

Urbanism / USA

Pandemic playbook

Online network UrbanLeague launched last week to help city and government officials in the US to share information on how to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and its impact. Designed by San Francisco-based startup UrbanLeap, the free-to-use platform consists of webinars, a live-chat feature that allows officials to ask one another questions and a resources board. The latter includes vital information such as how to sanitise public transport and protect homeless populations during the pandemic. With city officials signed up from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, UrbanLeap’s hope is that the platform will remove barriers to sharing information and will help cities to learn quickly from one another and, ultimately, to better protect their residents in the face of these unprecedented challenges.

Retail / Global

Net appreciation

At a time when people are stuck indoors and shops are boarded up, brands face a dilemma: how should they keep engaging with customers in interesting ways? In recent years it has become an accepted doctrine that bricks-and-mortar shops need to provide “experiences” that go beyond selling products – and now those principles must be applied online. There are plenty of examples being launched. Scottish cashmere label Begg & Co has created Our Comfort Blanket, a website on which the brand shares playlists, book reviews, recipes and meditation tips. Meanwhile, Italian luxury powerhouse Bottega Veneta will launch Bottega Residency this weekend, broadcasting musical performances and films across its digital channels as well as sharing recipes from up-and-coming chefs. None of these initiatives are pegged to specific products; the idea is to offer respite for bored housebound folk – and breed customer loyalty in the process. It’s a win-win.

M24 / Tall Stories

Japan’s kōbans

We investigate kōbans, Japan’s friendlier answer to the neighbourhood police station.

Monocle Films / Germany

Funkhaus: on the same wavelength

We tour the stunning studios and recording halls of Funkhaus, east Berlin’s former communist broadcasting house.

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