Pacific current - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Saturday. 13/11/2021

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Saturday

Happy together

This Saturday dispatch includes trend updates, the latest marmalade-dropper of a story from Japan, a Q&A with veteran TV broadcaster Zeinab Badawi and some culture picks. But first our editor in chief has some Monocle news, thoughts to share and a highlight that boosted his week.

Opener / Andrew Tuck

Team building

We just made some promotions at the magazine. Josh Fehnert takes the position of editor, Nolan Giles is coming back to London from Zürich to be executive editor, Nic Monisse is stepping up to be deputy design editor and Carlota Rebelo will be heading to Lisbon in 2022 to set up our new outpost in the city. Three of these people – Josh, Nic and Carlota – joined our company as interns and all have been star turns. After Josh completed his internship, there was no immediate journalistic role to take so he ended up working on the front desk, answering readers’ calls, delivering the post, organising couriers. He’s since made a pretty impressive climb up the masthead, showing all the nimbleness of an alpine goat. And this is still a good route into Monocle (internships, not scree-covered paths): our new researcher, Carolina, started with us as an intern just months ago.

But how would we run an effective intern programme if nobody was in the office? How would you get people simply to learn by osmosis as decisions about editing or making a page are made? How could you make the process of training simple? And fun. And also one that leaves new hires with supportive friendships, sage mentors, networks?

Back in the mists of time this was also my route into journalism. I had no contacts, no experience, no fancy education, just a certain single-mindedness. I applied for every job going with no luck – I failed to get a foothold on a slimming magazine, a society magazine and also on Ro-Ro News, a title aimed at the roll-on roll-off freight operator (it seemed to come with the promise of regular travel to Singapore and I did get an interview for that one at least). In the end I went the internship route and was taken in by Time Out. I was a terrible writer and a poor editor but by watching, being around people and listening, I was able to get going. This is just one of the many reasons why I am pleased that Monocle is not a group of remote workers but a team that comes together in the office. Sure, every day lots of people are travelling, out reporting or finishing a story from home but it is a proper team.

This week there have been reports about the trouble brewing at magazine company Hearst’s operations in the US. The firm has told people to return to the offices to work for one day a week now, rising to three days a week in 2022 and this has triggered much anger and legal action from the union representing staff on magazines such as Cosmopolitan. After months of working from home, people don’t want to come back. It is also one of those stand-offs that reminds you of the downsides of working in a large media company – the utter lack of trust and general belligerence. But as an outsider you do wonder how any of these – mostly US – companies will manage to hold on to any company culture, to ever rebuild camaraderie. Let alone to open the door to people from ordinary backgrounds who want to find a job in the media.

Illustration: Mathieu De Muizon

This week I had my coronavirus booster. The vaccination centre was run with incredible efficiency and, even after all these months of delivering jabs, the team seemed full of jollity. Except the woman tasked with giving me my injection. “Have they warned you about the bad reaction you might get?” she asked. “No,” I said scanning for potential escape routes. “Yes, lots of people seem to be sick if they are mixing vaccine manufacturers – like you are. I was really bad after my booster.”

This was not helpful but I had another more pressing issue to clear up first: my phobia of needles. I explained that I would need to look away and would prefer not to see the needle at any point. “OK,” she replied before changing the topic and asking me where I worked. I explained that I was a journalist for a magazine and she asked what topics we covered and then enquired – as she went to jab me – how it was faring in the current market. I was just starting to run her through the accounts when she said, “No need to answer, I was only asking to distract you.”

As I put my jacket back on, she enquired where I was going next and I told her that I was en route to the office – “You know the one belonging to the magazine that you don’t care about.”

“Wow, you are confident. I made sure to book a day off. Good luck,” she said. I wondered, was this the woman we needed to be our tough, straight-talking foreign editor? She’d have Putin in a corner in no time. I was a fan. Although she might be disappointed to know that I had no side effects.

The Look / Waistcoats

All for the vest

If, on Monday morning, your colleague rocks up at work missing one part of their three-piece suit, don’t assume that they missed their alarm and dressed in a rush (writes Stella Roos). The opposite might be true; this autumn, donning the suit vest without the matching jacket, is a veritable style statement for corporate executives and runway models alike.

Image: Getty Images

The waistcoat-and-shirt combination has long been the territory of waiters and bartenders but it has seen a broader revival in recent years. For men in the UK, its popularity started growing thanks to Gareth Southgate, the England football manager who donned the look throughout the World Cup in 2018, causing a brief British mania for waistcoats (the Marks & Spencer’s number he was wearing promptly doubled). This coincided with the item popping up on womenswear runways in Paris and Milan. By autumn this year, interest in buying a women’s waistcoat – or, as they’re now marketed, a “shest”, often worn instead of, rather than over, a shirt – was up more than 30 per cent, according to fashion analytics company Lyst.

Going on terminology alone, we’ll wager that the shest trend will be short-lived. But for the gents, the suit jacket might well become merely an optional part of more formal work uniforms – just like the cufflinks, tie and pocket square. There are still some sartorial rules to follow, though. To ace the waistcoat-only look, opt for a neutral colour, avoid polyester and leave the lowest button undone. Oh, and we’re fairly certain that most corporate dress codes still require wearing a shirt underneath.

How We Live / Punctual punishment

Come train or shine

What price would you put on punctuality? If you’re Japanese train provider JR West, it’s ¥56 (€0.43) a minute (writes Lewis Huxley). That’s the amount that the firm docked from a train driver’s wages after a moment of confusion led to a service being delayed by 60 seconds. The cost of the “mental anguish” that the ordeal caused for the train driver was rather more: he has sued his employer and is seeking ¥2.2m (€16,845) in damages.

So how did this happen? The unnamed man was due to take over from a colleague at Okayama station but reportedly arrived at the wrong platform. He realised his mistake and rushed to the correct point of departure but the transfer with the previous driver was two minutes late, causing the delay.

Of course, it is admirable that the Japanese hold efficiency in such high regard but for those like me who commute by train in the UK, it seems as though JR West has, well, gone off the rails. The excuses for delays to British services in recent years – with nary a hint of apology, let alone a financial punishment for those culpable – include “a giant clown on the line” (an inflatable McDonald’s mascot blown off course), “strong sunshine” (at least that won’t last) and “the wrong kind of snow” (it was “fluffier than usual”). Thankfully, a potential solution to the dreaded “leaves on the track” is currently being trialled in Sheffield – dry-ice pellets, apparently, not topiary.

Still, JR West argues that no labour was performed during the minute that it took for the hapless driver to sprint from one platform to another, hence the docked wages. It remains to be seen whether the worker’s protests will hit the buffers. His defence rests on the notion that the saga caused no disruption to passengers: the train was empty.

The Interrogator / Zeinab Badawi

Radio frequency

Very few people on television inspire as much respect as Zeinab Badawi (writes Grace Charlton). Best known for hosting Hard Talk, a BBC programme that grills leading politicians and public figures, Badawi’s long list of achievements also includes hosting Global Questions and World Debate on the BBC World Service and founding her own production company, Kush Communications. This year she was appointed president of London college Soas. Here, Badawi tells us about dotting radios around the house, her favourite Italian baritone and growing up with the BBC.

What news source do you wake up to?
I always listen to BBC World Service. The world is a big place and this is the best station for comprehensive coverage. I was brought up on it. It is brilliant.

Coffee, tea or something pressed to go with the headlines?
Filtered water infused with cloves and ginger, and black lady grey tea. I never eat breakfast. And fortunately my four children do not either. This made life much simpler when I was bringing them up.

A favourite tune at the moment?
I love Italian opera and that has led me into listening to traditional Italian songs. My current favourite is an old Neapolitan love song “Dicitencello vuie”.

What’s that you’re humming in the shower?
I prefer a shallow bath, actually. I cannot – and do not – sing. But if I did, it would be something from a Verdi opera.

Which newspapers do you turn to?
I love the Financial Times. Their now-retired tagline of “No FT, no comment” is very apt. And I especially like the Saturday edition. It is better than the Sunday papers.

Any favourite bookshops?
My local bookshop, Marylebone’s Daunt Books. The staff are so helpful, knowledgeable and friendly. And orders arrive very quickly. I never buy books from the online arena whose name begins with “A”.

Is that a podcast in your ear?
I never listen to podcasts. I prefer live radio and have radios all over the house.

What’s the best thing you’ve watched on TV recently?
I hardly watch any TV – ironic given I have worked in it for so long. But I did see Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, which I thought was excellent and very original.

What’s on the airwaves before drifting off?
I end as I start, with the BBC World Service, followed by an aria or two by my all-time favourite opera singer, Italian baritone Leo Nucci. If I don’t hear him sing at least once a day I feel bereft. But sometimes I get carried away and stay up listening to him long past my bedtime.

Culture / Listen / Visit / Watch

Dance on

‘Follow the Voice’, Kraków Loves Adana. This duo, composed of Deniz Çiçek and Robert Heitmann, met in 2006 because they used to frequent the same nightclubs in Berlin: they look and sound exactly as their potted bio might suggest. Now based in Hamburg, and strutting their stuff in healthy amounts of leather, velvet and latex, they deliver powerful electronica with a 1980s tinge. There’s a slight new-wave sadness to what they do but these are dancefloor-ready bangers nonetheless.

‘Roni Horn: When You See Your Reflection in Water, Do You Recognize the Water in You?’, Pola Museum of Art. Roni Horn’s first Japanese exhibition is a greatest hits tour of the American artist’s work. The show is full of her signature glass sculptures: huge, almost liquid-like structures in pinks and blues that require incredible amounts of self-control not to touch. They look light as air but are incredibly heavy and helped cement her reputation as one of the most important contemporary artists today.

‘New Gold Mountain,’ Corrie Chen. The story of the gold rush in Australia in the 1800s is a familiar one to many but that of the thousands of Chinese workers who travelled Down Under to find their fortune is far less known. Directed by Corrie Chen, this ambitious drama by broadcaster SBS provides viewers with a realistic history of the era (mostly acted in Cantonese), while also delivering a more conventional and engrossing murder-mystery tale.

Outpost News / ‘Island Times’, Palau

Pacific current

Koror is the economic and social hub on the Pacific islands chain of Palau (writes Nyasha Oliver). With a population of 11,000, it’s home to more than half of the archipelago nation’s population. It’s best known for its substantial tuna exports and for copra processing, which is used to make coconut oil. Telling us about recent goings-on is Leilani Reklani, publisher and editor of the town’s paper, the Island Times. Published every Tuesday and Friday, with a circulation of 800, the paper plays an important role in keeping residents informed. And, according to Reklani, it’s even attracted some international attention from readers in the Philippines who like to keep tabs on the holiday destination. Here, Reklani gives us the lowdown on the island’s biggest stories.

Image: Alamy

Why did you start the newspaper?
I studied journalism in college and was interested in printing. In 2005 I had the means and started Island Times. It has been a passion ever since.

What are the big stories from this week?
Our president made headlines with drastic remarks at Cop26 in Glasgow, where he told world leaders that their inaction on climate change means that they might as well bomb us. Meanwhile, back here, paramount chief Ibedul Yutaka Gibbons of Koror state passed away last week and the island is still in mourning. For tourists visiting the island, it’s an opportunity to understand our cultural traditions and how we mourn people.

And do you have a favourite image?
It would have to be a photo from an article we did on the 2021 Olchotel Belau Fair, an annual event aimed at showcasing Palauan culture.

Any forthcoming events you’ll cover?
Palau was scheduled to hold the Our Ocean Conference in 2020 but it was cancelled due to the pandemic. It will now be held early next year. Lots of heads of state will be coming here.

Retail update / Dior in Dubai

On the beach

As the mercury dips in the northern hemisphere, it’s tempting to look for a hot (and quick) escape; a new opening in Dubai could offer holidaymakers the perfect combination of sun, sea and a little retail therapy. Dior has opened a new concept store-cum-beach club on Jumeirah Beach. And while you’ll be able to pick up the French fashion house’s seaside-inspired Dioriviera collection and pieces from the brand’s beach range here, it’s the shop’s structure that offers an even more appealing reason to visit.

Image: Mohamed Somji
Image: Mohamed Somji

Made in collaboration with World’s Advanced Saving Project, an Italian 3D-printing and design company, its two circular buildings are built from a combination of clay, sand and raw fibres, with Dior’s signature canework motif, a woven pattern found on its bags and clothing, subtly imprinted on the structure’s walls. The result is hi-tech construction with savoir-faire – and the perfect background for settling down in a lounger with a drink after a fashionable purchase.

What Am I Bid? / US Constitution

Paper trail

Despite celebrating the most important document in US politics, Constitution Day, which falls on 17 September, might not rank highly on many Americans’ list of favourite holidays (writes Nic Monisse). It’s why this year, in an effort to drum up interest in the annual celebration, Sotheby’s launched a travelling exhibition headlined by a rare first edition copy of the holiday’s namesake document. And, after a road trip passing through Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas, the show will wrap up this week with the sale of its headline piece at a live auction in New York. One of just 11 surviving copies of the first official edition and the last in private hands, the document is valued by Sotheby’s at more than $15m (€13m), providing a healthy return for its current owner, Dorothy Tapper Goldman, whose late husband, Howard, purchased it from Sotheby’s for $165,000 (€145,000) in 1988.

“I handled the sale of it all those years ago,” says Selby Kiffer, from Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department. “So it’s very exciting to see it return to the rooms more than 30 years later.” But, far from being a mere money spinner, the proceeds will be donated to Goldman’s namesake foundation which is, appropriately, dedicated to promoting active involvement in the democratic process in the US.

Purchasing the document then, could be seen as financial support for democracy but Kiffer says there’s more to it. “The appeal of living with, and being responsible for, a great historical document is every bit as real as owning a great work of art.” It might be worth putting a bid in for this rather than another boring, old Picasso, then.


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