Friday. 4/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Markets stalled

It’s about this time of year that you’ll normally find me, post-work, at my first Christmas market, with a Glühwein in one hand and a Bratwurst in the other. If done right, Mitteleuropa-style, Christmas markets are really all about food, drink and good company after a hard day’s labour. It’s these moments that can really save a tough year – and, boy, has this been a tough one for all of us.

So it was with no small amount of chagrin that I heard that Christmas markets would be cancelled in my birth nation of Austria this year. The announcement this week was made in passing – it had to be brought up by a reporter – as government officials went through the litany of rules that will apply to the country’s lockdown, which has been extended until 7 January. I was reminded, upon hearing this tale from my (equally outraged) mother in Vienna, of the moment in the classic comedy Airplane 2 where the stewardess announces that the plane’s navigation system is down but leaves the worst news to last: they’re also out of coffee.

I find myself, not for the first time, envying the Swiss. Their government is relying a little more on self-policing by the public and will allow limited Christmas markets to go ahead. Indeed, Monocle will be throwing its own small gathering in Zürich this weekend. I’ll be green with envy as I pour myself a warm cup of Glühwein in the little Christmas grotto that I’m making for myself, my partner and maybe a few friends (no more than four) in the garden of my London home.

This isn’t about irrationally wishing that things were normal, or dismissing necessary health precautions. I realise that there are far worse things happening in the world than my inability to drink mulled wine in a crowd. But I think we all have that one trivial thing that can send us over the edge. Perhaps it’s the fact that so many of us have reached that point at one time this year that has made it so damn hard. So let’s acknowledge our collective grief before we reach out to friends and family as best we can, and keep on pushing through. A vaccine is on the way – I’ll certainly raise a glass to that.

Politics / Mexico

Occupational hazards

It’s been quite a ride since Mexico’s populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (pictured), known as Amlo, came to power two years ago this week. A vast airport project in Mexico City has been cancelled, there have been promises to get tough on corruption, and the country has seen a perhaps surprising push towards austerity. This week, Amlo announced that the government had saved MXN1.3bn (€53.7m) on contracts and purchases, partly due to the curbs on corruption. Widely seen as an honest leader, he has an approval rating of 64 per cent. But there are issues that might threaten those figures, including a growing feeling that the president has failed to come to grips with the pandemic. The World Health Organization this week warned that the country was in a “bad shape” over coronavirus (Mexico has more than 1.1 million cases). And he’s not done enough to tackle the country’s appalling crime figures. The 29,182 murders between January and October this year is a higher number over the same period than under his previous three predecessors. The next years of Amlo’s term will define his legacy and test his popularity. And they might well be just as tumultuous as the first two.

Geopolitics / Taiwan

Strait forward

A recent poll conducted in Taiwan revealed that, for the first time, nearly half of respondents believe that the country’s full independence from China is more likely than unification. Perhaps such a shift in opinion was inevitable, especially following the events in Hong Kong over the past year and a half, which the Taiwanese watched closely. But another of the poll’s findings was perhaps more surprising: a majority reported that they believed the US would send its military to the island’s aid if Taiwan was to trigger a conflict by declaring independence from Beijing. Some might say that it’s an over-optimistic bet, particularly those paying attention in Washington. But it’s already quite clear that maintaining the status quo between Beijing and Taipei will be one of the most delicate issues in the region for incoming US president Joe Biden.

Work / Japan

Boxed in

Soundproof blue-and-white boxes, about two metres tall and one metre wide, have started popping up in railway stations and office foyers across Japan. Requiring a quick booking on your phone to enter, these Telecubes house a desk, a chair and a strong wi-fi signal for use by the nation’s new legion of remote workers. There are 87 booths already installed in Japanese cities and that figure is expected to increase to 1,000 by 2023. Though the cubes offer a handy quick fix for an on-the-go video call, such optimistic growth projections do raise the question of how the minds behind the Telecube see Japan working after the rollout of an effective vaccine. Will squeezing workers into ever-smaller, ever-more-isolated spaces be the future of the workplace? We’re not sold. Well-designed offices for meeting face to face and connecting with colleagues won’t be going anywhere soon.

Urbanism / London

Park life

In a year marked by confinement, public spaces have gained a greater importance in our daily lives than ever before and, as a tribute to the city’s resilience during the pandemic, London is set to get a new public garden. The city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said that the new green space within the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park complex (pictured) will serve as a living memorial to those affected by coronavirus and “a symbol of how Londoners have stood together to help one another”. As a centrepiece, the garden will feature 33 blossoming trees representing London’s 32 boroughs and the City of London. As gestures go, it’s a fitting one: in 2020, the capital’s many parks have been a lifeline to residents looking for exercise, escape and safe social connection. This is a fine start, but will the resolve to celebrate the city’s green spaces also see more support for existing parks’ upkeep?

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Hint

Kara Goldin is CEO and founder of Hint, a flavoured-water brand she launched in 2005 that has grown into a $200m (€163m) operation. Hint’s first products were created at Goldin’s home after she left a career in media but its wares are now staples on the shelves at Whole Foods, Starbucks and Costco. Goldin writes about the company’s incredible growth in her brand new book, Undaunted.

Monocle Films / Global

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