Friday. 13/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty

Opinion / David Stevens

Foot in the door

A faint rustling of keys for New Zealand’s gilded cage could be heard in a statement yesterday by Jacinda Ardern (pictured). The prime minister announced the first cautious steps towards loosening the country’s strict quarantine measures introduced in April 2020. Pilot schemes taking place from October will see some vaccinated travellers swerving parts of the current managed-isolation system upon return, helping to inform the new measures to be introduced in the first quarter of 2022.

For New Zealand citizens living abroad, such as myself, with loved ones adrift in the South Pacific, this announcement is a welcome sign that the drawbridge will soon be lowered. Since last April, restrictions have remained unflinching. A trip home has required booking one of the limited available places in quarantine – think a public-health version of nabbing a ticket to Glastonbury – and two weeks of mandatory isolation at a hotel at your own, not insignificant, expense. That experience, coupled with recent reports that some have used online “bots” to snap up spaces, make my chances of joining the wedding party for a friend’s big day in January seem like a pipe dream at best.

While that particular dream still remains uncertain, yesterday’s declaration finally shows that reconnecting with the world is on New Zealand’s to-do list. There is a recognition that a future devoid of coronavirus is as likely as one without the seasonal flu. Despite the government insisting that they’re sticking to their “elimination” tactic, which has left expats feeling like collateral damage over the past 16 months, an exit plan in any form provides a welcome sign for the million Kiwis living abroad. Visiting hours might not be over for too much longer.

Image: Alamy

Economy / Cuba

Private starts

Following months of protests in Cuba as the economy spirals out of control, the communist government has announced that it is legalising private small and medium-sized businesses with as many as 100 employees. It’s a concession to protesters in a country where state-run companies rule. In the long-term, the move is “revolutionary”, says Christopher Sabatini, a senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House. But Sabatini is also keen to stress that it does not tackle Cuba’s immediate problems. “The protesters’ demands are about employment, better healthcare and inflation,” he tells The Monocle Minute. Until there are more resources coming into the economy for private businesses to play with, “this won’t address any of those issues,” he adds. The government has thrown its people a bone but it’s only a matter of time before they realise that there’s no meat left on it.

Image: Getty

Diplomacy / Turkey & Afghanistan

Meeting the militia

As the Taliban continues its rapid advance across Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that he is open to meeting the militant group. In a broadcast interview with CNN Turk and Kanal D on Wednesday, Turkey’s president claimed that he was prepared to “receive the leader” of the militant group for a summit.

After 20 years of operations at a cost of more than $2trn (€1.7trn), the US troop withdrawal has paved the way for an alarming surge by the Taliban, which has captured 10 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals in less than a month. Erdoğan is already in talks with Washington about the Turkish government’s proposal to run Kabul Airport with US support; an idea rebuffed by the Taliban. Though the Turkish president didn’t clarify who, precisely, he was expecting to meet – or indeed when – officials from various governments have shown an increasing willingness to sit down with the insurgents. This could be an early indication that, if the surge continues, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan might not become the pariah state some have predicted.

Image: Getty

Urbanism / Tokyo

Building block

The office-vacancy rate in central Tokyo has increased for the 17th consecutive month, according to the latest figures. This is, of course, mostly due to the pandemic, which has massively altered where and how people work. And the densely populated Japanese capital has suffered more than many from residents leaving in search of more space. But building sites in the city abound. The number of “mansion rooms” (high-end condominiums) in Tokyo was about 500,000 in 1986; today it’s close to two million. This is despite the fact that the city’s overall population is expected to drop after peaking in 2025. So what will become of all these construction projects? And why are more being planned? Tokyo’s ever-changing urban patchwork – new replacing old, high replacing low – has become one of its charms but the city could take this opportunity to put a brake on massive redevelopment and appreciate what it already has.

Image: Flickr

F&B / Hong Kong

Taste not, want not?

Hong Kong’s annual HKTDC Food Expo kicked off this week, after a pandemic-enforced hiatus last year. The five-day event showcases a buffet of culinary delights – including French coffee, Australian wagyu beef, Finnish rose-hip purée and South Korean Jeju black pig – from international suppliers with a presence in Hong Kong. But don’t expect to be able to try before you buy: organisers have banned sample tastings this year due to fears of coronavirus transmission. The event’s 900 or so vendors could see sales suffer as a result, which would be a tough hit after a fallow year. Aspiring chefs precluded from whetting their appetites during cookery classes might also find themselves disappointed. Nonetheless, rather than throwing in the tea towel, sellers should use this as an opportunity to be creative with their marketing: personal recipes and live demonstrations often go a long way towards tempting the hungry food lover.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Our Place

Shiza Shahid is the co-founder and co-CEO of Our Place. She launched the Los Angeles-based brand in 2019, hoping to create a line of cookware that would simplify home cooking, while catering to a wide range of culinary styles and traditions – a goal she achieved with the bestselling Always Pan.

Monocle Films / Global

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In our “secret to” series, supper club host Gabriel Waterhouse shares his tips on organising a friendly feast in your home with great-quality food and (just as important) an entertaining atmosphere.

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