Thursday. 5/1/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / James Chambers

Return of the year

Every January, Hong Kong packs away the Christmas baubles and prepares to hang up the red-and-gold motifs of Chinese New Year. Market stalls shift from selling Santa hats to fai chun – the decorative paper banners that adorn doorways with traditional messages about good luck and prosperity. With the Year of the Rabbit only a few weeks away, fluffy bunnies embellish the Chinese script and residents are preparing for the first celebration this decade when Hong Kong’s families will be able to gather without restrictions on numbers. Many will be joined by relatives from the mainland.

China is preparing to reopen its borders to the world this Sunday and Hong Kong will be a popular destination: before the pandemic, four out of every five of the city’s visitors came from the mainland. Hong Kong’s appeal is likely to be boosted by the growing number of countries reimposing coronavirus-testing requirements on arrivals from the mainland, which is currently experiencing a surge in cases.

After three lean years, Hong Kong’s beleaguered hoteliers, restaurateurs and shop owners are gearing up for an influx of mainland money. Residents, however, are viewing the forthcoming reunion with mixed emotions. For all of the hardship, Hong Kong has felt more liveable during the pandemic and, inevitably, the return of four million monthly visitors from “up north” (or anything approaching that number) will mean less space, fewer seats and longer queues for everyday essentials.

This can already be seen in pharmacies. Painkillers have disappeared from shelves, with residents either sending care packages to coronavirus-stricken relatives in China or hoarding drugs in anticipation of a surge in sniffling mainland stockpilers. Such headaches are the price of economic recovery: without unfettered access to China, all the fluffy festive phrases about prosperity and good fortune are not worth the paper that they’re written on.

James Chambers is Monocle’s Asia editor.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Japan

First line of defence

The town council of Yonaguni Island in Okinawa has requested that Japan’s government build an evacuation shelter due to fears about worsening relations between China and Taiwan. The subtropical island (population 1,700) lies just 110km from Taiwan and has become a focus of Japanese anxieties about spiralling tensions in the region. When China conducted a military drill last August, six ballistic missiles landed in the water near Yonaguni. Those persistent concerns have led a group of representatives from Yonaguni’s local assembly to book a visit to Tokyo next month in order to ask for a protective solution for its people. The national government has been monitoring the situation: in its annual white paper last year, the country’s Ministry of Defence doubled the space it devoted to covering Taiwan, casting its eyes over China’s assertive moves in the region. The year might be young but it never hurts to prepare for the worst – even in moments of optimism.

Image: Getty Images

Fashion / USA

Sock in the dock

Fashion designer Thom Browne began 2023 in Manhattan’s Southern District Court, fighting a trademark case with Adidas over his use of stripes. The three-parallel-stripe motif has been an Adidas staple since the 1940s, while Browne (pictured, second from left) created his own signature by adding stripes to his popular short suits. As Browne’s label, which is backed by Ermenegildo Zegna Group, grew beyond its luxury niche, Adidas took issue with its use of the sportswear brand’s trademarked stripes and is seeking damages of about €7.5m.

Browne, who appeared in court wearing a pair of his label’s striped socks, says that Adidas’s claims have little weight since he had already agreed to switch to a four-stripe motif after an initial approach from the German firm. Whether it’s stripes or the tweed jacket in Chanel’s (now resolved) dispute with Saint Laurent, there’s an ongoing debate over the ownership of design staples in fashion. Over the next two weeks, the Thom Browne-Adidas trial will be a referendum on whether a brand can ever own a classic motif.

Image: Shutterstock

Urbanism / Bangladesh

Track in action

Residents of Dhaka, one of the world’s most congested cities, are starting to enjoy a new metro line – the city’s first. Bangladesh’s capital and largest city is densely populated and plagued by traffic jams. The new line (pictured) runs non-stop between northern suburb Uttara and government offices in the city centre, and will eventually extend to the south. City authorities plan to develop a six-line network by the end of the decade.

The system offers several economic advantages: traffic congestion wastes more than three million working hours every day and costs billions of dollars a year. An electrified alternative to private transportation will also cut emissions – a fact that won’t be lost in a country threatened by rising sea levels. The cost of the project comes to a hefty 334.72 billion taka (€3bn), which was largely provided by the Japanese government. But the payoff will be substantial and long-lasting.

Image: Dan Flavin

Art / UK & USA

Double date

American minimalist artist Dan Flavin, who is known for his use of white and pastel-hued fluorescent lighting installations, will be the subject of two concurrent exhibitions organised by David Zwirner Gallery in New York and London next week. For art enthusiasts of a certain vintage, the shows might evoke a sense of déjà vu: the London presentation recreates Flavin’s 1976 exhibitions (or “situations” as Flavin preferred to describe them) of coloured fluorescent light, which took place in Leo Castelli Gallery in New York and Galerie Heiner Friedrich in Köln.

A near-simultaneous transatlantic exhibition in New York will mirror Flavin’s Kornblee Gallery installation from 1967. These displays are an opportunity to enjoy an established artist’s early work. In reviving the shows, David Zwirner Gallery, which has represented Flavin’s estate since 2009, is allowing exhibitions to travel not only across space but time too.

Image: Alamy

Monocle 24 / The Urbanist

Palacio de Aguas Corrientes

Lucinda Elliott visits a palace in downtown Buenos Aires originally designed to provide safe drinking water for the city’s residents.

Monocle Films / Global

Meet the photographers: Rena Effendi

In our latest film series, we meet and celebrate some of the people behind our iconic photography reportage. In our first episode Istanbul-based photographer Rena Effendi talks about her process, why she shoots on film and her assignment to Libya in 2021. She had never been to Tripoli before but was soon won over and captured a mesmerising mix of full-blown glamour, oddness and a perhaps unexpected order and calmness. Discover more with The Monocle Book of Photography, which is available to buy today.

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