Wednesday. 22/4/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Follow your nose

A parcel of masks I sent from Hong Kong – the city is currently overflowing with personal hygiene products – arrived in the UK last weekend. My family is now all set for the end of lockdown. But I forgot to include instructions on how to wear them. Don’t be fooled: there’s etiquette and fashion to consider. And while I’m a later adopter myself, I have seen these trends ebb and flow during my time in Asia.

Colour is the most obvious differentiator. My kin will be sporting the traditional sky blue pleated fabric number made in Vietnam. But bolder dressers match yellow, green, pink or lilac masks to their outfits. Some Hong Kong trendsetters even wear two or three of different colours at a time to create a layered effect. I’m waiting to get my hands on some white ones: they’re clean and simple, and they don’t clash. Black is a political statement in Hong Kong but should work elsewhere.

Size is another concern: standard Asian sizing might have to be modified for export if masks become a long-term fixture. But there are other concerns too. Expats have adopted a “nostrils out” style to aid breathing and prevent foggy glasses. Cordless headphones are also a struggle: mine go flying every time I try to remove my mask. Hardy smokers: stay true to your reckless disregard for personal health by adopting the “across the chin” style beloved by construction workers and delivery men.

Other industries are also adapting: a waiter came to my table last week with a bottle of anti-bac and a pack of hand towels rather than the traditional water and street stalls selling phone cases have diversified into plastic wallets to hold masks during mealtimes. Many trends start in the West but when it comes to masks, Asia is definitely out in front.

Defence / Mexico & USA

Arms length

Mexico’s designation of its aerospace and defence sector as an “unessential” industry has thrown US defence procurement into jeopardy: its southerly neighbour, which is currently in lockdown, is among Washington’s top 10 suppliers. While the Pentagon is placing pressure on Mexico to reopen its factories, the issue is merely a symptom of a larger problem: the Defense Department announced this week that many of its arms procurements will be delayed by three months due to supply-chain issues. And the US is not alone. “There’s going to be a tremendous shake out globally,” says Robert Fox, honorary fellow at Exeter University’s Strategic Studies Institute, citing the temporary closure of arms suppliers in Western Europe and the faltering of supply chains in Russia. Fox predicts that the major powers will have to produce “a completely new blueprint for defence procurement by the end of the year”. But, he says, it remains “open to question” how much each country can afford to reconstruct their supply chains.

Transport / Melbourne

Going the distance

Cities around the world are uncharacteristically free from traffic – and Melbourne is among those hoping to keep it that way. Infrastructure Victoria, the state’s independent road and transit advisory body, has suggested that the city could introduce a congestion charge that will make driving during peak hours more expensive. But the success of such a scheme relies on the presence – and use – of suitable alternatives.

Transport companies will be hard pressed to convince passengers to use buses and trains in the aftermath of coronavirus. To assuage concern, Elliot Fishman of the Melbourne-based Institute for Sensible Transport suggests “running services more frequently and introducing price incentives for non-peak travel”. Both approaches will help to reduce the number of people travelling at any given time, allowing for physical distancing and, hopefully, inspiring confidence. Pandemic or not, it seems that investment in public transit is still key to mitigating gridlock.

Culture / London

Home makers

Struggling to keep your children entertained during lockdown? London’s V&A is here to help. Today the museum is launching Lockdown Wednesdays, a weekly series of hands-on activities to spark creativity. The programme, which is available on the V&A’s blog and social-media feeds, is aimed at youngsters aged seven and up, and encourages participants to make items inspired by pieces from its collection. This week the theme is fashion: children are tasked with creating clothing that can be used for sleepwear (such as the museum’s 19th-century Japanese sleeping “coverlet”); for cooking (Dame Edna’s breakfast dress, pictured); and for games (a “Bingo” jacket). No specific tools are needed; participants are encouraged to use whatever they have at home. There are also making-of videos and interviews with the designers behind some of the archive pieces. It’s a thoughtful gesture to help keep children stimulated – and to give parents a break.

Business / Armenia

Capital gains

For many smaller countries, the pandemic will mean an increasing reliance on their diaspora to provide extra income and lifelines for struggling businesses. Armenia is a perfect example of how well this can work – both in times of difficulty and growth. With a diaspora that is supposedly three times larger than its population, Armenia has long tapped this huge source of money, skills and connections. As a result, its capital Yerevan is thriving. Various diaspora foundations have funded a small-business incubator, a creative technologies institute and a design school, while returnees have helped bolster everything from the start-up scene to wine production and even the government itself. For a deeper dive into the city’s revival, don’t miss the latest issue of The Entrepreneurs, available for to order here.

M24 / Meet the Writers

Maaza Mengiste

A bright new force in international literature tells Georgina Godwin about her new book, ‘The Shadow King’, which casts a light on the women who went to war in the late 1930s in Ethiopia, the country of Mengiste’s birth.

Film / Lithuania

Property Prospectus: Uzupis

Monocle Films heads to Vilnius to explore Uzupis. This creative and quirky corner of the Lithuanian capital is more than just a neighbourhood – it’s a mini-state.

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