Monday. 22/8/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / James Chambers

Warm welcome

When a friend from mainland China passed through Hong Kong for a trip to the UK recently, I found myself warning her to be a little careful. London might not be the same city that we both remember from our last visits in 2019. The UK capital welcomed wealthy Chinese tourists before the pandemic but the Hong Kong media has suggested that an anti-Beijing sentiment has since taken hold. Horror stories have periodically made their way into the press about Asians being targeted on the streets.

Being wrong has never felt so good. She returned with glowing reports about friendly Londoners rolling out the red carpet; a salesperson at Selfridges had whisked her to the VIP room for champagne as soon as she asked about a handbag. He wanted to know when the rest of her compatriots would be coming back. It will take years for Chinese tourists to return in significant numbers but that’s down to restrictions at home, not abroad.

I have been back in the UK capital for a few weeks and I’m hearing Mandarin speakers everywhere, although that’s probably because my ear is attuned to the language. Still, London’s diversity is refreshing and striking after two-and-a-half years of being cooped up in Hong Kong. A Chinese tourist, student or migrant simply doesn’t stand out in this truly international city. A Cantonese friend told me as much when we met for coffee in Marylebone. Having spent the past three months here on secondment from Hong Kong, she was enjoying taking off her mask, singing along to West End musicals and chatting about the weather like a true Brit.

When I return to Hong Kong at the end of the month, I will be updating my UK travel advice. The sooner Chinese people start travelling to the West (and vice versa), the better.

James Chambers is Monocle’s Asia editor.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Angola

Hard road ahead

Angola goes to the polls on Wednesday for a general election that is unique for several reasons. The vote marks the first time that Angolans living abroad can cast their ballots, thanks to recent changes in electoral law. It’s also one of the tightest contests since the nation’s first elections in 1992. Over the past few years, Angola’s opposition has made gains amid a growing desire for political change; incumbent president João Lourenço’s MPLA party has been in power for nearly half a century. Adalberto Costa Júnior (pictured), leader of the opposition Unita party, has been gaining in the polls ahead of the vote. The election will be heavily monitored by national and international observers. Whichever candidate wins, the country’s ingrained problems, from corruption to high unemployment and poverty, will await the winner. If Costa Júnior does climb that mountain, victory might be the easy part.

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / USA

Street smart

Los Angeles council member Kevin de León has plans to make his city the Barcelona of the US. Last week he introduced a motion to trial a project in which neighbourhoods would be transformed into “super blocks”: streets would be closed off to car traffic, creating more space for pedestrians and cyclists in an initiative that echoes the Catalan capital’s superillas.

De León’s plan is highly ambitious, since his hometown is both geared towards drivers and less densely populated than Barcelona – a crucial element in the success of the Spanish city’s policy. When paired with other initiatives, such as the planned construction of more than 160km of rail, bus and bike lanes, the scheme could be a small but significant step towards reducing car dependence. And if the pilot proves effective in LA, expect to see similar projects elsewhere in the US.

Image: Ana Hop

Business / Mexico

Golden age

If the prospect of returning to work after your holiday has you feeling queasy, why not consider joining a beachside career boot camp? At 11.00 on Mexico’s Baja peninsula, 25 veteran consultants, former media chiefs and second-retirement CEOs gather in a kitchen around a loaf of freshly baked bread and a bottle of vodka. This is the culmination of five days spent at the Modern Elder Academy (MEA), a “wisdom school” aimed at businesspeople in the later stages of their careers. The average age of MEA’s 2,000-strong alumni is 54 and many of the weeklong courses, which cost $5,500 (€5,400), are geared to budding entrepreneurs with a business idea that they have long nurtured or a new venture that they are trying to get off the ground. The teaching mostly emerges from group chats led by speakers but MEA is also a place to relax, with home-cooked Mexican meals, sundowners on the terrace and, of course, yoga.

For the full report, pick up a copy of Monocle’s September issue, which is out now. Or subscribe today to support our independent journalism.

Culture / Switzerland

Performance politics

Zürcher Theater Spektakel, an internationally renowned theatre and arts festival, started last Thursday and will feature more than 200 artists all eager to travel to Zürich again after two years of coronavirus-related disruptions. The pandemic’s influence on the arts is ebbing but the fraught politics of our times remain ever present. Yesterday saw Russian band Pussy Riot perform at the festival. Commenting on the Ukraine war in a press conference just before the event, band member Marija Wladimirowna Aljochina (pictured) said, “Europe is financing this war by buying oil and gas from Putin.”

The coming days will see Argentinian performer Tiziano Cruz tell the story of indigenous subordination in Latin America with Soliloquy and Chilean feminist activists Lastesis perform Resistencia, calling for resistance and non-violence. Whether they’re political or not, festival-goers will relish the chance to once again appreciate performances by the lake as they savour the remains of the summer.

Image: Lesha Berezovskiy

Monocle 24 / The Urbanist

Ukraine report: part one

We travel to Ukraine to listen to the stories of its people and witness a nation that truly embodies the word resilience.

Monocle Films / Japan

Tokyo’s colourful community bus

An electric bus service has injected a new playfulness into a borough of Tokyo in need of a revamp. We hop aboard and meet Eiji Mitooka, its creator and Japan’s foremost train designer, who explains why he puts fun at the top of his list when designing public transport. All aboard! Read more in the June issue of the magazine.

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