Monday. 28/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

All the trimmings

For our Christmas lunch this year, the Monocle Tokyo bureau went along the road to Mimet (pictured), a local favourite run by our neighbours. The food was, as usual, delicious: a salad of crunchy seasonal vegetables, a soufflé-light “quiche” (minus the buttery pastry), grilled chicken with a small serving of homemade ratatouille and some pasta with shungiku, a dark-green edible chrysanthemum. It struck me that a festive lunch in London would have involved a pile of potatoes (which I would happily have wolfed down), a calorific pudding (hopefully laden with cream) and maybe a round of chocolates to finish it all off. No such thing in Tokyo. There were no roast potatoes, nothing sweet and no expectation of either. As we walked back to the office, I overcame the urge to peel off to the nearest conbini (convenience store) for a hit of Meiji chocolate or Premium Pocky.

On the same day I read that Japan has been hailed as the world’s healthiest country. A survey of OECD countries put Japan in the top spot thanks to its high life expectancy, low obesity rates and low rates of alcohol consumption. The Japanese diet isn’t perfect (deep-fried pork cutlet sandwich on white bread, anyone?) and some of the conbini lunch offerings are not my cup of tea but overall it’s easy to see why Japanese people are generally so slim and long-living. Portions are smaller, food is still tied to the seasons and people aren’t programmed to expect pudding at the end of a meal. If a box of biscuits is opened in the office, people take just the one and leave it at that. Food education also starts early. School lunches are taken as seriously as any subject and good habits set Japanese children on the path of healthy eating.

Many other nations grappling with obesity could take note. Over Christmas, as I remained in Japan this year, I’ve had to do without the mince pies, Christmas pud and even turkey. But I’ll be hoping that my years in Japan have at least lengthened my own life expectancy.

Politics / Taiwan

Blast off

At the end of every year Taiwan’s tallest building lights up the capital city with a fireworks display. The owners of Taipei 101 are determined to go ahead with their annual New Year’s Eve display on Thursday – and who can blame them? The island has plenty of reasons to be cheery. Taiwan’s deft handling of the pandemic has impressed the world and allowed the island to get back to business. Its export-led economy is expected to end the year with GDP growth of 2.5 per cent, joining China as one of the few countries to report positive figures in 2020. What sets Taiwan apart from the mainland is that it has achieved these impressive feats as a fully fledged liberal democracy. Taiwan deserves its big, end-of-year knees-up and it has one more reason to clink glasses: a debut appearance in Monocle’s annual Soft Power Survey. Bottoms up.

For more on the nations who projected a positive image abroad buy a copy of our December/January double issue today.

Diplomacy / India

Friends like these

India’s first major diplomatic visitor in the new year is likely to be Boris Johnson, who plans to make his first bilateral trip to the south Asian nation since taking office. The UK prime minister is clearly preparing to foster trade and investment ties as the UK leaves the EU’s orbit. But what’s in it for leaders in New Delhi? “Much will depend on how flexible Johnson’s administration is; a sticking point in the past has been London’s refusal to create a favourable visa regime for Indians,” Kapil Komireddi, author of Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India, tells The Monocle Minute. Still, India is a good test-run for how countries will relate to an untethered UK in the new year. “The UK’s utility as the gateway to Europe has diminished somewhat,” adds Komireddi. “But India’s business titans remain personally fond of the country and those deep ties are unlikely to fray as a result of Brexit.”

Business / Singapore

Making an impression

Singapore is known in some circles as the Switzerland of Asia due to its low tax regime and stable political climate. So perhaps it’s little surprise that the World Economic Forum chose to relocate its annual meeting from Davos to the city-state in 2021. A key reason for the move in May is the nation’s exemplary management of the pandemic but Singapore’s influence and attractiveness is only expected to grow in the coming year as US-China relations remain strained and Hong Kong loses its clout. “We can expect Singapore to use this model to further opportunities to hold more high-level meetings, conferences and exhibitions,” says Jessica Wa’u, assistant director for the Asean region at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. “Economic recovery, digital trends and sustainability are likely to be the focus of policymakers and business leaders next year.” Singapore now has the opportunity to show what it’s capable of and reassert itself as a key global business capital.

Urbanism / Hong Kong

Liquid lunch

Hong Kong’s maligned chief executive Carrie Lam may be in hot water over her pro-Beijing stance but she delivered a rare miracle this year when she saved a beloved tourist attraction from the scrapyard. Jumbo Kingdom, a floating Cantonese restaurant styled after an imperial palace, closed for business in March amid the coronavirus outbreak. As fears mounted for Jumbo’s future, the bobbing banquet hall, originally opened in the 1970s by the late casino magnate Stanley Ho, made a surprise appearance in Lam’s annual policy address in November. Ho’s company Melco plans to donate the landmark to a nearby theme park, which will play an anchoring role in the government’s plans to turn the southern district of Hong Kong Island into a leisure destination. A Jumbo dinner might well be one of the city’s kitschiest experiences but seeing the restaurant lit up like a Christmas tree is still a sight to behold.

M24 / The Urbanist

Best of 2020

Monocle editor Andrew Tuck picks some of his favourite interviews and reports of the year on ‘The Urbanist’.

Monocle Films / Prague

A Bohemian Toy Story

The Czech Republic has a rich toy-making history, which dedicated collectors and craftsmen are committed to keeping alive. From the atelier to the Christmas market, Monocle films discover an inspiring toy story where art meets craft.

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