Friday. 6/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Kieran Pender

Quick off the block

It was unclear whether the day would ever come. For much of the past week, the Olympic bubble at Tokyo 2020 has been abuzz with murmurings that the organising committee was going to keep Games stakeholders, including yours truly, in our quasi-quarantine indefinitely. But on Wednesday I woke up to an uplifting sight: the coronavirus app on my phone had turned from an angry red to a soothing green. With that, I was free.

Since arriving in Tokyo two weeks ago I have been confined to my personal Olympic bubble: a hotel room, the Olympic venues and, if I asked the security guard nicely, a daily 15-minute trip to a nearby shop. Day 15 promised freedom: the ability to catch public transport, dine out and go for a jog around Shiba Park. Of course, the demands of covering the Games mean that there won’t actually be much time to enjoy Tokyo’s culinary scene or indulge in sightseeing. But it’s the thought that counts. And when I returned to Tokyo yesterday after a brief trip to the Izu Velodrome in Shizuoka, I managed a walk in the park and some ramen from a nearby hole-in-the-wall. Noodles have never tasted so sweet.

Although the quarantine policy has caused unhappiness among some in the press, I would do it all again in a heartbeat – or even endure tougher restrictions if required. In these times of global uncertainty, the Japanese public has welcomed us here, despite much well-founded apprehension about staging these Games. It has been an immense privilege to watch athletes go for gold as one of the few observers permitted into these cavernous arenas. If the price to pay is a few weeks of confinement, of mini-mart cuisine and Uber Eats, it’s a bargain.

Pender is a freelance journalist who has been serving as Monocle 24’s correspondent in the Tokyo bubble for the duration of the Games.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Malaysia

Trouble at the top

Malaysia’s under-fire prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin (pictured) has agreed to face a confidence vote when parliament reconvenes in September. Muhyiddin told the nation’s king this week that he still commands a majority of support among MPs but opposition figures dispute this and have reiterated calls for him to resign. Doubts about Muhyiddin’s legitimacy stem from a decision to prorogue parliament for most of this year (ostensibly due to the pandemic) and govern with emergency powers. The leader has also appeared to ignore a royal directive to resume parliament and in recent weeks openly clashed with the king. Agreeing to a no-confidence vote might avert a constitutional crisis but a change in leadership still appears imminent. So who’s up next? Multi-party coalitions and backroom deals are a hallmark of Malaysian democracy. “We’re looking at a roulette table,” Ooi Kee Beng, executive director of the Penang Institute, tells The Monocle Minute. Toppling Muhyiddin could just be the start of Malaysia’s latest political struggle.

Image: Navid Linnemann

Culture / Turkey

Speaking volumes

Bookshops form a key part of a city’s urban fabric and many often cater to a culture or community that might otherwise be overlooked. There are 50,000 or so Germans living in Turkey and one institution that plays this role for them is Turkish-German bookshop and café Türk-Alman Kitabevi (pictured) in Istanbul.

Bookshop owner Thomas Mühlbauer describes his place as “a cultural meeting point”, even as the relationships between Berlin and Ankara have become increasingly contentious. Angela Merkel has often criticised Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as have the German media and many authors. Though you won’t find such scathing material in much of Istanbul, some of it can be found here – in German. According to Mühlbauer, he’s just supplying the materials. “I’m not starting any political discussions,” he says. “It’s the same in politics, religion and football: you will never admit that the opponent is right.”

Listen to a report on Türk-Alman Kitabevi by our Istanbul contributor Ruth Michaelson on the latest edition of ‘The Urbanist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Shutterstock

Transport / Bangkok

On the right track

Bangkok took a big leap towards solving its congestion problems with a soft launch this week of its Red Line commuter train service (pictured). The new elevated electric line, which was 14 years in the making, connects the vast new central Bang Sue Grand Station to the city’s suburbs, running 26km north to Rangsit and 15km west to Taling Chan. With further train lines under construction, Bangkok’s rail network has generated a lot of interest, particularly with its promise of three months of free rides for all Red Line commuters until the official launch in November. But the timing is not ideal: an escalating coronavirus outbreak this year, after only a small number of cases in 2020, has forced Thailand to reimpose passenger limits. That did not deter some Thais from braving the city’s lockdown to catch a glimpse of the shiny new red-and-white Hitachi trains – or perhaps it was to visit Bang Sue Grand, which is currently a key vaccination centre.

Image: Getty Images

F&B / Germany

Down to earth

Following the floods that devastated western Germany three weeks ago, 1,000 muddy wine bottles retrieved from cellars in the Ahr valley are being sold by the not-for-profit organisation Flut Wein (“flood wine”). The region, which is famous for its viticulture, was among the worst-affected areas in Germany and, as well as the tragic human loss, about 5 to 10 per cent of wine stored here was destroyed. The scheme’s founder Linda Kleber was struck with the idea as she was retrieving her own wine from her restaurant following the catastrophe. Prices for the retrieved bottles range from €45 to €500 and all of the money will go towards reconstruction of the region’s rich culture of wine, food and hospitality; more than €2.7m has already been raised from sales and donations. We’ll pop a cork to that.

M24 / Food Neighbourhoods

Recipe edition, Olivia Tsakiris

A recipe for an easy Greek starter that is sure to impress your dinner guests.

Monocle Films / Entertaining

Tokyo 2021: on top of their games

This year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are unlike any that have come before. In the run up to the event, we met the designers, planners and people behind the scenes.

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