Wednesday. 16/6/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Courtesy of Airport Authority Hong Kong

Opinion / James Chambers

Sky garden

When overseas visitors finally return to Hong Kong they will be greeted by a huge array of upgrades at the international airport of Chek Lap Kok. Improvements range from new food halls and biometric boarding gates to digital screens in the loos and a giant two-storey Louis Vuitton boutique in the arrivals hall. Closed borders and a collapse in air traffic have even allowed the wavy ceiling to be properly cleaned for the first time since the Norman Foster-designed terminal was opened in the late 1990s.

But the most exciting change, at least for this former frequent user, will be the addition of a new outdoor roof garden (pictured). Once complete, it will top off a new extension that sits a few up-escalators away from the giant LV emporium. Although the garden itself is unlikely to win any landscaping awards, it is a welcome sign of where airport design is heading. Chek Lap Kok is an archetypal supershed: one big open space under a distinctive roof. Foster pioneered this design at London’s Stansted airport before airtight boxes went on to become industry standard around the world and lost any sense of place in the process.

Being exposed to the elements has typically meant landing at a dinky airfield that allows passengers to sweat or shiver in an uncontrolled local climate. Now major airport architects are being asked to break the hermetic seal and give passengers a breath of fresh air beyond passport control. Preferences were already shifting before coronavirus, so the pandemic will only accelerate this trend. Hong Kong’s five-star hotels should take note. Windows should be able to open when guests are paying through the nose for a view of Victoria Harbour. Fresh air is the new luxury. Now we just need borders to open up to the outside world.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Afghanistan

Outside chance

With the US planning to pull its troops from Afghanistan by 11 September, security officials from Nato’s 36-country support mission have reportedly approached Qatar in a bid to secure a base to train members of the Afghan special forces. The potential out-of-country training base is no doubt a strategic move by Nato to support Afghanistan’s broken security forces in their ongoing battle with the Taliban. Since Joe Biden’s withdrawal announcement, the violent insurgency group has taken over military bases and territory across the country. “Qatar is a very good choice,” Michael Clarke, former head of the Royal United Services Institute, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Clarke notes that Qatar has played an intricate role in the conflict since the Taliban opened an office there in 2013. “They stick their necks out,” he added. “At the moment, they look like the West and Nato’s most reliable ally in the Gulf.”

Image: Midnight Trains

Transport / France

Midnight special

High-speed rail and night trains are being revived across Europe as sustainable alternatives to short-haul flights but a new French player hopes to take the offering to the next level. Midnight Trains will unveil plans today for what is essentially a hotel on tracks: a luxury option for the European business traveller with the first routes to be launched in 2024.

Complete with private rooms and an elegant bar (pictured) and restaurant, the eventual plan is to include more than 10 European destinations, ranging from Edinburgh and Madrid to Copenhagen and Rome, with Paris at the epicentre. “Night trains are the only way to travel far while taking care of the planet,” Midnight Trains co-founder Adrien Aumont tells The Monocle Minute. “Because we want to make them truly competitive, we have decided to reinvent them – to re-enchant them.”

Monocle comment:
Midnight Trains is likely to be the first of many specialised overnight and longer-haul services to launch in Europe. Austria’s ÖBB might have taken the lead with its Nightjet expansion but Midnight Trains goes a step further by adding some key elements currently missing from the overnight rail experience: a sexy bar and elegant dining car. Just as not all hotel guests want to go to bed immediately after check-in, the same goes for a night on the rails. Monocle reckons it won’t be long before established hotel players start their own rolling franchises. We can’t wait.

Image: Alamy

Diplomacy / South Korea & Japan

Promised land

South Korea yesterday began a series of military exercises around the contested islets (pictured) known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan. And while the drills are biannual, they come at a particularly sensitive time, with a diplomatic spat still fresh in the public consciousness. Earlier this month a Tokyo Olympics map was released showing the islands as Japanese territories. South Korea demanded the map be altered but no changes have been made, fuelling requests for mediation by the International Olympic Committee and some politicians even suggesting an Olympic boycott. South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, was expected to quell these calls and show support for the Olympics at last week’s G7 summit in Cornwall but Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga cancelled their meeting, seemingly over the planned military exercises. Such diplomatic tit-for-tat between the countries’ leaders is unhelpful and hardly bodes well for a quick resolution.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Finland

Sweeten the deal

Dozens of charter flights from Kiev have started to arrive in Finland this week as thousands of Ukrainian workers start their summer jobs at farms picking strawberries. It’s estimated that as many as 10,000 Ukrainians head to the Nordic country every summer, attracted by higher salaries and the chance to get international work experience. Finland has continued to enforce strict entry restrictions for foreign citizens due to coronavirus but the country’s farms have negotiated exceptions. Their carefully crafted plans to minimise risks include using chartered flights and organising direct car transport from airports to farms. Finland is no stranger to foreign staff: for years the country has also welcomed thousands of Thais to work in forests picking wild blueberries. For the moment it remains unclear whether flights from Bangkok will be able to take off as scheduled this year but this week’s arrivals from Ukraine offer at least some sense of normality.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

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Monocle Films / Global

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