Sunday 31 January 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 31/1/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Trips to remember

I’m not the tidiest person in the world. I know this might come as somewhat of a surprise confession but anyone who’s visited my office will know that this is defined by a jagged mountain range of magazines shipped in from our Tokyo bureau, favourite paper stocks, newspaper supplements that I’ll someday get to, various gifts opened and unopened, invoices to be signed, letters to be read, boxes of wine that need to be loaded up and taken home and stacks upon stacks of books that will hopefully find space on a bookshelf over the coming weeks.

On the home front it’s a tidier affair but my side of the bedroom has a life of its own. At first glance the room could be classified as “neat” but if you spin around to my patch there are small piles of books, a couple of half-full tote bags that don’t know if they’ll get out on the road again and a dresser that’s a mix of passports, crumpled receipts, euros, francs and business cards that are waiting for some sort of follow-up. The other day I decided to get things under control and while organising shoes and sorting through the totes I came across a little black nylon duffel with a luggage tag attached: a reminder of the last time I flew long-haul. I’ve now marked 7 March in the diary as I’ve made a commitment to not let a full year pass without being in Tokyo. (If you’re reading this and just happen to be a Japanese diplomat who can assist me in creating a compelling case then you know where to find me. And by the way, I can give you hundreds of reasons why I need to visit.)

While I feel lucky that I’ve managed to get around Europe with reasonable efficiency and frequency in the past 11 months, my trip to Paris earlier this week reminded me why we often speak of “the art of travel”. It’s because it takes real practice and skill to get it right and my simple journey on the TGV revealed how rusty I am.

For the past three decades I have taken some pride in being a pro in security queues; knowing my 777s from my 350s for choice of seats; and having a proper regime for getting on the road swiftly and seamlessly. When I boarded the TGV, made my way to the seat and attempted to set up my high-speed office and dining arrangement two things became clear. First, I wasn’t going to be very productive as I didn’t pack the correct Mac cable and second, it’s clear that millions of other professional travellers are also going to be a bit flabby when they start to travel again because much like gyms and restaurants, trains and planes are empty – no one is out on the road.

My depleted techniques were further confirmed when, against my better judgement, I checked into a hotel that had come highly recommended but still left me wary. After the clunky welcome I walked into a room that I believe the hotel staff must call the “Baby Jessica Suite” (or, this being Paris, la suite bébé Jessica). You don’t remember Jessica McClure? Think back to the late 1980s, somewhere in Texas and the little girl who fell down a well in her aunt’s backyard and spent two and a half days stuck in the shaft. Remember how it dominated world news for nearly a full week? On this particular Tuesday evening, staring upwards at the soaring ceiling, the battleship-grey walls and the the 3m-by-2m room dimensions, I didn’t feel like being bébé Brûlé wedged between a shower stall and headboard so I made swift plans for an escape to my original hotel of choice. Why hadn’t I gone with my well-honed instincts? A year ago I would never have considered the chosen hotel. Is this what happens when you spend too much time out of your natural groove?

The next day, in the comfort of the hotel I would have instinctively booked in the first place, I found myself with a walk-on part in series six of Le Bureau des Légendes (yes, yes, it seems there’ll be some kind of follow-on to the best TV spy series ever made), in which I’m wandering back to my room in this large Saudi-owned hotel in the middle of some crazy pandemic that has brought not just France but the world to a standstill. Sounds crazy already, doesn’t it? Anyway, I’m walking through the long, winding corridors and there’s no one around – not a chambermaid, bellboy, trainee front-desk clerk from EHL or fellow guest. Nevertheless, the hairs on my neck are bristling. I’m being set up, non? At the next turn, surely a black sack will be thrown over my head, I’ll be shoved into a wheely laundry bin, taken out the back of the hotel and then bundled onto a plane (finally I get to fly long-haul!) owned by some unsavoury sheikh and then imprisoned in some glittery palace on the Red Sea where miraculously this pandemic hasn’t reached and the entire court only consumes products made in France.

Okay, it didn’t go quite like that but I was set up and imprisoned for sure. First, the only option for evening dining is to remain in your room (unless your Lebanese friends, who have nothing to do with unsavoury sheikhs, invite you for a business dinner) as the public spaces in the hotel are off-limits and you need a pass to venture out onto the streets. Then, on checkout, when you get the bill and see that you’ve been charged more than in normal times, you realise that your one night has paid for the electricity, wages and over the top bouquets in the lobby. I think I was so stunned by the bill that I couldn’t recall if I was still in the Canal+ spy series or if it was just a normal Thursday in Paris. No matter, I believe that it was all part of what we’re seeking these days, dear reader: an experience. On the upside, don’t let anyone ever, ever tell you that the French are lazy and have it easy. Over the course of two days I witnessed many full offices, met with execs keen to compare notes and saw lots of improvised tool kits used to open windows and keep overheated offices ventilated. No one knows quite how to behave in this melange of modern, in-person working but it’s human and entertaining. As we move toward global remobilisation I’m thinking that there just might be a business in retraining people how to dress, meet ‘n’ greet, dump the elbow bump and behave in settings made for conviviality and commerce. Let me know if you fancy signing up. Find me at


Number of the feast

The 87 in the name of this new opening on lively Amoy Street in Outram celebrates co-founders and friends Glen Tay and Alex Phan’s year of birth. But the cookery here shows wisdom beyond their years. The friends, who coincidentally grew up on avenues 8 and 7 of the residential Hougang area, are inspired by memories of the neighbourhood as they conjure up dishes and flavours of a bygone Singapore.

The duo’s pleasantly surprising tasting menu, which includes delicious numbers such as sambal octopus and beef-cheek rendang, shows how their approach adds up – rather nicely.


As one door closes...

Fans of Freda’s, the beloved Chippendale venue that unfortunately closed in November, didn’t have to wait long for another offering in Sydney from owner David Abram.

Cafe Freda’s is a bistro, restaurant, neighbourhood bar and working space – and still a good spot for a late-night boogie which, before you ask, is still possible in Australia thanks to its decisive early response to the pandemic. Here’s hoping it can help the city’s famed, though currently quiet, Oxford Street get its groove back.


Anecdotal evidence

Porntip Rojanasunan is the former director-general of the Central Institute of Forensic Science in Thailand. One of the nation’s most acclaimed civil servants, Rojanasunan is also a gifted writer and media darling, famous for her fearless exposés of corruption and unconventional fashion sense. Here she sheds some light on her healthy weekend habits, favourite dishes and peculiar appetite for unsettling news.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
It depends on the schedule. I often like to go on photography trips with my friends on the weekends. I’m not a professional photographer but it has been a hobby since my father gave me my first camera when I was a child.

Soundtrack of choice?
I went to a girls’ boarding school and everyone liked to sing and dance, and that has stuck with me. My favourite is Western pop – I also like that I can learn English from the songs. Lately my daughter introduced me to Sam Smith, who I love.

What’s for breakfast?
Usually I don’t have time to cook in the morning so I just make a light breakfast: tuna sandwiches and a three-in-one instant coffee.

News or not?
I like politics and crime news that has a forensic twist – custodial death, unsolved crimes and the like.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
My trainer joins me at the gym three or four times a week. I also love dancing, so I like to do a little Zumba.

Lunch in or out?
I cook at home to help watch my weight but if I’m meeting my daughter then we’ll usually have lunch out. I like Japanese food, especially sushi.

Larder essentials that you can’t do without?
We always have plenty of raw ingredients in the refrigerator. I like to make fried noodles, Thai curry or spaghetti. If it’s a special occasion, we’ll order some Korean or Italian food, which my daughter loves.

The ideal dinner menu?
I’ll normally have a light meal. My go-to is a salad alongside whatever vegetables I have in the fridge, drizzled with Japanese dressing.

Who’s joining?
Only family.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
When I wash my hair, sometimes I’ll do my own colour at home. Currently it’s all shades of red and sometimes I’ll add some blue and green.

Do you lay out your look for Monday?
Yes. What I wear depends on the schedule. It’s black and white on workdays and plenty of colour otherwise.


Baked aubergine with ‘dengaku’ miso sauce

Aubergines can be a pain to get right (just soft enough to keep their shape but seared enough for a little crunch), so our recipe writer suggests a swift sauté in a pan before adding a rich miso sauce and giving it a grilling. This works well as a snack or side.

Serves 2


1 large aubergine
2 tbsps vegetable oil
2 tsps sesame seeds

For the ‘dengaku’ miso sauce:
3 tbsps red miso (other kinds of miso are ok too)
2 tbsps mirin
½ tbsp maple syrup or honey


  1. Preheat grill to 230C.
  2. Cut the aubergine in half, lengthways. Score the skin with a criss-cross pattern.
  3. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan on a medium heat, lay the aubergine cut-side down and fry for 5 minutes. Turn it and put a lid on, then cook for another 5 minutes. Turn it again and cover with the lid. Cook for 3 to 5 more minutes until the aubergine's flesh is soft but hard enough to hold its shape.
  4. While the aubergine is cooking, mix the dengaku sauce ingredients in a bowl until combined.
  5. Place prepared aubergine on a baking tray, cut-side up. Spread the miso sauce on the flesh.
  6. Place it under the grill and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the sauce starts to bubble. Miso is very easy to burn so keep an eye on it.
  7. Remove from the grill when cooked. Sprinkle on the sesame seeds and serve immediately. Enjoy with spoons.


Pity the fool

Anybody who has ever been a victim of anything will confirm that it is horrible: frightening, debilitating, humiliating (writes Andrew Mueller). It is strange, then, that a voluble cohort at large in Western democracies aspires to the condition. The populist tumults of recent years – Trumpism, Brexit, their equivalents in other countries and on other segments of the political spectrum – have in common that their adherents enjoy believing themselves oppressed.

After Donald Trump encouraged a mob of delusional putschists to storm the Capitol in Washington, one pro-Trump congresswoman, Debbie Lesko of Arizona, took umbrage at new security searches at the entrance to the building. “We now live in Pelosi’s communist America,” she tweeted, whining. Breathtakingly absurd though this was, it was exceeded by Mark Finchem, a Republican representative in Arizona, whose state GOP has lately proceeded a distance around the bend. Finchem suggested that the decision by a Florida hotel to cancel an event for rabble-rousing Missouri senator Josh Hawley was a step on the path to death camps and crematoria – as opposed to a private enterprise deciding who it wanted to do business with.

These are statements as ridiculous as any of the Brexiter rhetoric that depicted the EU as a Fourth Reich. But the sentiment underpinning them – a melodramatic self-pity – is not, regrettably, uncommon.

If you’re not really a victim of anything – and, in this instance, Congresswoman Lesko and Representative Fichem assuredly are not – then the appeal of victimhood is straightforward enough to discern. Nothing’s your fault, someone else is to blame and it’s always easier, more exciting and, for some, more profitable to seethe and rage than consider your own responsibility for anything, least of all actual victims.

Congresswoman Lesko, an ardent gun nut, seems significantly less distressed by the metal detectors at US high schools, or the reasons why they’re necessary.


Stroke of luck

As a Brazilian, it comes as no surprise to me that my compatriots love pets above almost anything else (writes Fernando Augusto Pacheco). In 2020, Brazil became the second largest pet-shop market in the world (just behind the US) and it shows on the sun-dappled streets too. Walking around my hometown of São Paulo, it is no exaggeration to say that there is a pet shop on almost every block. As the country’s economy suffered because of its shaky handling of the pandemic, the market only grew stronger. According to Instituto Pet Brasil, the sector surged by a remarkable 6 per cent in the first quarter of last year.

So what sort of pet do my Brazilian brothers and sisters suggest? Well, dogs are far and away the most popular: there are 55 million of them across the country. Throughout my life my family always had a soft spot for larger hounds and I had a fun dalmatian and a sweet St Bernard as a kid. But according to recent reports, Brazilians are seeking out smaller breeds: pomeranians, French bulldogs and shih tzus are among the most popular. If you prefer a larger dog, don’t despair: rottweilers are an improbable favourite, too (one imagines as much for security as for cuddles). In a difficult year for many Brazilians, pets provided a little solace and succour – and the nation’s pet shops couldn’t be happier.


Better connection

Technology is everywhere but our acceptance of that ubiquity has costs – to our health, wellbeing, stress levels and the quality of our conversations (writes Josh Fehnert). Do we need to spend every minute glued to a screen, barking down the line or listening to tinny gibberish on a phone speaker? It’s time we all sought a better balance. There’s some irony in suggesting you rethink your relationship with technology in an online newsletter, but in a way it also proves a point. As such, we’ve created a manifesto for a more dignified relationship with all things digital. This means occasionally leaving our devices behind as well as being a little kinder and more cautious online. So take a read, then pop your phone on silent, take out those earbuds, ignore those emails and have a think about firming up our online social contract.

1. Have some perspective.
Just because you have an opinion (about the news, your neighbour’s haircut or the warranty of the lawnmower you just bought), it doesn’t mean you should broadcast it to the world. So much of what’s smeared online to shame people and companies could be as easily solved with a friendly note, a bit of patience or a deep breath and a tap on the delete key.

2. Have heart.
So you’re having your say – great. But did the person that you’re pursuing or decrying deserve the condemnation? Are they the problem or someone who can solve it? Would you have been so thoroughly and unsparingly rude in person? What if the person you’re haranguing knew your name and was standing in front of you? The anonymity of the internet tends to make interactions harsher at a moment in history when a little give and take is much more useful.

3. Forgive and forget.
OK, so whoever you were taking a pop at did deserve it after all. But will pursuing a point publicly prove much? Do you feel better? Remember that it’s a human on the receiving end of your indignation: often a college-fresh social media manager, a naïve young girl or boy, or just someone doing their best to wade through the bilge and ire of below-the-belt comments and trolling. Think twice and give people the benefit of the doubt.

4. Have some humility.
Those white lies once reserved for CVs or after a third glass of wine have seeped onto websites, posts and online proclamations. Maybe you are a Productivity Jedi or an Online Experience Gatherer – and here’s a photo of you swimming in a friend’s pool necking free champagne... Social media has inflated our sense of self but it’s possible that the world isn’t all that impressed.

5. Don’t overshare.
Secrecy is all too scarce a resource. Today, despite what most people tell you, you’re a person not a brand. Get a good night’s sleep and switch off now and again. No one wants to see too much – of you, your home, those dark unexcavated, barely formed opinions that you’re blurting out at the same time as you’re committing them to the public record. Keep a little mystery, have a little dignity, maintain some allure. Oh, and have a super Sunday.

For more of Monocle’s mooted Digital Decency Manifesto and 50 ideas on how to hit play this year, pick up a copy of our February issue. If you’re having trouble getting to a newsstand you can also access our journalism online with The Monocle Digital Editions.


A different view with Adrien Sauvage

The distinctive designs of House A Sauvage fuse elegant British tailoring with the laid-back lifestyle of Beverly Hills. We meet founder Adrien Sauvage, who takes us on a tour around this dazzling city that fuels his imagination and allows him to dream. Monocle Films has partnered with Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau to reveal hidden gems through the eyes of the city’s creatives.


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