Thursday 28 December 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 28/12/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Image: Getty Images


Same old?

As the world gets ready to ring in the new year, Asia has plenty of reasons for good cheer. The East will account for the vast majority of people expected to join the consumer ranks in 2024, with millions of newly-minted, middle-class Indian, Indonesian and Vietnamese families shopping and dining in Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok. The one dark cloud that could spoil the regional party – a war to end all wars between the US and China – appears to be less grey. Indeed, top brass from the US military are going out of their way to play down the prospect of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, an impressive U-turn in Washington given that next to nothing has changed in Beijing. Go figure.

The inauguration of a new president in Taiwan requires plenty of tough talk but another win for the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party seems likely. Across Asia, continuity rather than change will be the overarching theme. Elections in Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh will probably do little to redraw the existing political map. The most consequential swing, however, could be in China. Talk about “peak China” will soon be forgotten as the world’s second-largest economy shows signs of recovery. Beginning 2024 as the world’s largest car exporter will be another major milestone for the country, which dominates the global market for electric vehicles. It’s good news for all of our lungs, not just brand Beijing.

Traffic heading in the other direction will also increase. As part of a trial, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Dutch citizens can now travel to China without a visa. It’s a significant step in the country's opening-up project and a sign that president Xi Jinping values ties with Europe, not just an awkward friendship with an isolated Russia. While Myanmar, North Korea and the South China Sea will continue to keep headline writers busy (short of El Niño devastating rice production), the US election in November might end up being the most destabilising event for Asia in 2024. There’s no accounting for Mother Nature – or Uncle Sam, for that matter.

James Chambers is Monocle’s Asia editor based in Bangkok. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Defence / USA

Sub culture

At Naval Base Kitsap in Washington State, 2,000 workers are putting finishing touches to the USS Maine, a 170-metre-long Ohio-class submarine. Known as “boomers”, these vessels are one of three legs of the US nuclear triad, which also includes land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and strategic bomber planes. Once thought of as Cold War relics, nuclear deterrence and doctrines such as mutually assured destruction (MAD) are back in vogue.

‘USS Maine’ Commanding Officer Travis Wood and bell to signal the presence of important persons

Image: Kyle Johnson

Rising from the depths

Image: Kyle Johnson

Congress’s Strategic Posture report, released in October, warned that the US and its allies now face two nuclear peer adversaries: Russia and China. “We are the deterrent,” the Maine’s commanding officer, Travis Wood, who has spent seven years of his life underwater, tells Monocle below deck. “If deterrence fails, we are the tip of the spear.” Life onboard the Maine requires extreme minimalism. Crew members sleep in bunks tucked between metal tubes, 30cm of steel separating their heads from a nuclear warhead.

To read more about life on a nuclear-armed submarine and the US’s nuclear deterrence, pick up a copy of Monocle’s December/January issue, which includes our first security survey.

Image: Alamy


Viennese whirl

In the middle of Central Europe, Austria is geographically well-positioned to be a night-train hub, which might be why Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) chose to keep its after-dark offerings at a time when other national rail companies were axing theirs years ago. The company is betting on the affirmative from climate-conscious travellers taking advantage of the night-train revival to comfortably get around Europe without having to fly and aims to double its overnight passengers by 2030.

Following on from its new Hamburg to Vienna route via Innsbruck, ÖBB (with German state rail) is bringing back the Paris to Berlin night train after a nine-year absence. Over the next four years, it is also looking to phase in more night services to take you anywhere from Poland’s charming Old Towns to elegant French wineries and azure Croatian coasts. The Austrian trend is already evident in other recent European offerings, such as the night service between Berlin and Stockholm run by Sweden’s SJ railway company and European Sleeper’s route between Berlin and Amsterdam or Brussels. All aboard!


Meeting in the middle

Founded by Jeanne Signoles in 2014, French bag label L/Uniform now offers a collection of canvas and leather styles in more than 100 variations. Japan is its biggest market, so expanding its footprint here was a priority. The brand’s new shop in Tokyo’s Minami-Aoyama district is its second flagship shop in the country.

New Tokyo flagship

Image: Yoshitsugu Fuminari

Japan merchandising director Takako Asakura and shop interior

Image: Yoshitsugu Fuminari

Wanting it to feel like a Japanese house from a French perspective, Signoles called on Masamichi Katayama and his studio, Wonderwall to install paper lanterns by Isamu Noguchi and pieces including armchairs by George Nakashima and Katsuo Matsumura. “Materials such as brick tiles combine with chevron-pattern flooring, a European-style desk area and more to create a mix of Japanese and Western,” says Katayama. Bags remain at the heart of the brand but the shop’s line-up also includes a folding stool with a canvas seat, cushions and dog leads. A suitcase called No 40 combines canvas with Spanish calf leather. Travel has never looked so chic.

For more business-driven stories on new designers, buyers and entrepreneurs, pick up a copy of Monocle’s December/January issue, which is out now.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Luc Goidadin

Q&A / Luc Goidadin

Book smarts

Luc Goidadin is the creative director of Smythson, the celebrated British retailer of stationery, diaries and leather goods. Here, he tells Monocle about the importance of paper as a signature for the brand and why it is still appealing to both old and younger audiences.

Tell us about the importance of stationery to the Smythson brand.
It became important very early on in the history of the brand. When we created the first Panama notebook in 1908, it was the first time that you could get a whole year’s worth of paper into something that fit in your jacket pocket. It became a runaway success. Even though we make a lot of other things, including leather goods, bags and small accessories, paper remains the brand’s signature.

Are notebooks still relevant to younger customers?
We have seen an increase in the number of younger customers who are interested in tangible things that you can keep. With notebooks – and the world of paper in particular – there is a sort of magic alchemy that happens when someone takes a handmade object and then starts putting notes in it. We have many customers, old and young, who send us photographs of the rows of notebooks and diaries that they have. They keep them as archives of their lives.

What does the winter season mean for the brand?
There’s something very special about giving a notebook or a diary to someone of any age. They’re gorgeous gifts that you know someone would use but many people buy them for themselves, especially at this time of year. It’s their diary from the beginning of the year, so it’s really special for a lot of people.

For our full interview with Luc Goidadin, tune in to episode 590 of ‘The Stack’ on Monocle Radio.

Monocle Radio / The Entrepreneurs


Alli Abdelal talks about founding her luxury bag brand in 2015 after a chance encounter with a farmer introduced her to the rare Herdwick sheep of the Lake District. Abdelal shares the importance of creating products with lasting integrity and collaborating with Italian artisans, as well as how customer feedback is actively incorporated into her design process.


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