Monday. 27/12/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Jimi Chiu

Opinion / James Chambers

No taste like home

While we’re all busy playing with our sparkly new presents, it’s worth taking a minute to remember the clutter from last Christmas. How many of those gifts are still in regular use? A Bill Granger recipe book definitely tops the pile in our household. My brother sent over Australian Food for my wife last Christmas, largely on the strength of its fetching orange cover (she’s an artist and it’s full of beautiful illustrations). Still, I’ve been the one who has consistently turned to it for inspiration before heading into the kitchen.

Working my way through the recipes has been an antidote to being stuck in Hong Kong and not being able to travel around the region. Australia might be politically wedded to the US and still have the British monarch on its banknotes but its modern cuisine has far more in common with Asia. Our Canberra correspondent Aarti Betigeri points out just how true this is in her lovely postcard from down under in Monocle’s December/January issue (subscribers can read it online here); apparently mangoes are an Aussie Christmas staple. It was news to me but I did get it verified by a trustworthy Queenslander in Hong Kong, who also assured me that the latest harvest was abundant. Mango sticky rice all round!

I have developed something of a coconut obsession this year and Mr Granger has kept my addiction well fed – and my cupboard well-stocked with tins of Thailand’s finest coconut milk. My brother and I were both brought up on our mother’s British-style rice pudding, so learning how to make this classic dessert using coconut milk on the hob, rather than burning cow’s milk in the oven, has been a revelation. One year on, Australian Food still sets the bar for Christmas gifts and I already feel nervous about our recently unwrapped badminton racquets, which are sitting idly under the tree. I’ll have to let you know this time next year if they find a place in our lives or a space under our bed – alongside a pair of rather dusty suitcases.

Chambers (pictured) is Monocle’s Hong Kong bureau chief.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / New Zealand

Unlikely contender

It’s not easy combatting “Jacindamania”. Perhaps the most unenviable job in New Zealand politics has fallen to Christopher Luxon (pictured), former CEO of Air New Zealand, who was voted leader of the opposition National Party last month. A hardline conservative, Luxon shares many similarities with his party’s last truly popular leader, former prime minister John Key. Unlike Key however, Luxon is vocal about his Christianity and while he pledges to keep faith and politics separate, his views on abortion – that it is tantamount to murder – aren’t likely to win many supporters. Jacinda Ardern is hardly invincible, though: approval of her handling of the pandemic dropped below 50 per cent last month as cases climbed and New Zealand remained largely closed off from the world. In one poll, the largest percentage of respondents said that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Still, to really chip away at Jacindamania in 2022, Luxon will first have to prove that he’s a viable alternative.

Image: Shutterstock

Elections / Asia

Key votes

With incumbents on their way out in South Korea and the Philippines, and a two-year-long political gridlock in Malaysia to be solved, 2022 is shaping up to be a busy year for Asian democracies. Here’s a rundown of the key races.

South Korea heads to the polls in March to replace president Moon Jae-in. The ruling party’s Liberal Democratic party nominee Lee Jae-myung (pictured) once said that he aspired to be a “successful Bernie Sanders” but there is rising support for Yoon Seok-yeol of the conservative People Power Party. Whoever wins, expect a shift away from the centre.

The Philippines’ May election docket includes boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao and more than one political dynasty. Just as in South Korea, presidents can only run for a single term but Sara Duterte, daughter of the incumbent, is running for vice president and has allied herself with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, the son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Malaysia has been embroiled in a series of political crises, with two coalition-government collapses and two prime ministers having resigned since February 2020. The next general election must take place by July 2023 at the latest but pressure is high on the current government to call the election next year and let voters sort out the mess.

Image: Shutterstock

Defence / Japan

Cost of friends

Japan hasn’t always had an easy relationship with US forces on its land but the rise of China might have reaffirmed its importance. Over the next five years, starting in 2022, Japan will allocate more than ¥1trn (€7.8bn) for US military forces stationed in the country (pictured). The omoiyari yosan, or sympathy budget, started in 1978 and covers various costs to host the US bases, which currently account for more than 50,000 personnel, including utilities and joint military drills. The new budget marks an almost ¥50bn (€390m) increase from the 2016 to 2020 period and stems not only from US pressure on Japan to pay more but also from the two allies’ shared commitment to security in the Indo-Pacific. A similar trend is also seen in South Korea, where about 28,500 US troops are stationed. Will the enhanced defence commitment deter China? Carrying a bigger stick is all well and good but greater regional dialogue could also help to ratchet down the tension.

Image: Noh Juhan/Netflix

Cinema / South Korea

Credits due

While films such as Parasite and the US-made Minari made 2020 a milestone year for the acclaim of South Korean-language film worldwide, 2021 was the year that cemented the country’s success as a global force of cultural exports. K-dramas were particularly well received by international audiences this year: Squid Game (pictured) became Netflix’s most-watched show, reaching an estimated 142 million households in 94 countries. That was until November, when it was knocked off the top spot by another South Korean fantasy horror, Hellbound. As well as the originality and high production value of these shows, the success could be down to our greater proclivity towards watching television with subtitles. Recent research reveals that young people are almost four times more likely than older viewers to watch subtitled television. It’s a shift that expands the reach of film and TV created outside the traditional Hollywood hub and an opportunity for other countries to follow South Korea’s cinematic lead.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

The best of 2021, part one

In the first of our host Daniel Bach’s favourite conversations of 2021, we meet Frank Cooper III, the global chief marketing officer at Blackrock, to hear how the world’s largest asset manager is tackling climate change and racial inequality. Plus: Shiza Shahid, founder of Our Place, discusses how she’s using the cookware brand to highlight food insecurity and the value of coming together to prepare a meal.

Monocle Films / New Zealand

Christchurch School: sunny modernism

We explore a New Zealand take on mid-century modern architecture that fused British brutalism with a Scandinavian aesthetic. The simple construction methods of the Christchurch School’s creative homes have endured changing tastes – and earthquakes too.

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