Tuesday 21 May 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 21/5/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Opinion / Clarissa Wei

The inauguration of Taiwan’s Lai Ching-te is marked by a flamboyant display

Lai Ching-te was sworn in as Taiwan’s fifth democratically elected president yesterday, marking a historic third consecutive term for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The inauguration festivities kicked off with processions outside the brick-clad Presidential Office Building. There were marching bands, a military helicopter flyover and, in true Taiwanese fashion, some cuteness – namely, a 10-metre-tall rainbow horse that spewed fog. It was accompanied by a troop of performers dressed as traditional Taiwanese pastries, all singing a song called “Peace and Happiness, Resilient Taiwan”.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has not ruled out bringing it under control by force. Beijing has previously labelled Lai a “stubborn advocate” for Taiwan’s independence but since his election campaign he has adopted a more pragmatic approach. This shift was evident in his inauguration speech. He proposed resuming tourism with China and increasing the enrolment of Chinese students in Taiwanese institutions, and also urged bipartisan co-operation on domestic issues.

Taiwan's president Lai Ching-te (centre) waves at crowds during his inauguration

Image: Getty Images, Alamy

Traditional performers usher in Taiwan's newest president

Image: Getty Images, Alamy

On regional stability, he alluded to the destruction caused by other conflicts across the globe, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the war between Israel and Hamas. He put the onus on China, stating that he hoped that it would “respect the choices of the people of Taiwan and choose dialogue over confrontation”, which drew thunderous applause from the crowd.

After the speech, the music came back on and performers flooded the stage. Lai and his vice-president, Hsiao Bi-khim, danced along. At one point, the former raised his hands above his head to form a heart symbol. Despite the fanfare, however, the new president will be aware that his first term won’t be all sweetness and light.

Clarissa Wei is a Monocle contributor based in Taiwan. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Briefings

Economy / Japan

Japan’s cut-price shops feel the pinch

As inflation continues to bite in Japan, the popularity of the hyaku-en shoppu (¥100 shop) is growing. From stationery and snacks to homeware, everything sold at these budget outlets is priced at ¥100 (€0.58). There are now about 9,000 of these shops across the country and the sector is valued at more than ¥1trn (€5.9bn). There are challenges, however. Many of the goods sold in ¥100 shops are imported from China or Southeast Asia but the weak yen is making it increasingly hard to offer everything at such a low price. Daiso Industries, which has more than 4,000 shops in Japan, is expanding into the ¥300 (€1.80) sector with chains such as Threeppy and Standard Products, which focuses on Japan-made products. Perhaps it’s time to wean consumers off unrealistically cheap imported goods and put more focus on low-cost goods that are made at home.

The short-term rental market has huge untapped potential

Image: Mikael Pettersson/Bob W

Travel / Finland

The Finnish operator spearheading a reinvention of short-term rentals

The concept of short-term holiday rentals has become synonymous with Airbnb. Yet there’s no shortage of companies that are keen to challenge its market dominance. One contender is Finnish operator Bob W. Unlike Airbnb, the company manages and operates its apartments. The firm’s CEO and co-founder, Niko Karstikko, says that its services are aimed at the “Airbnb generation that has grown up and expects more”.

The brand’s name is short for “best of both worlds” and was chosen to reflect the company’s goal of combining the consistency and standards expected of great hotels with Airbnb’s “live like a local” approach. Launched in 2018, Bob W now manages more than 3,000 apartments in 17 cities in 10 countries and its revenues for 2024 are expected to double year on year. The company has also secured more than €70m in funding. “Only about 1 per cent of the short-term rental market is commercially branded,” says Karstikko. “The potential is immense.”

Read more about Bob W in Monocle’s upcoming June issue, which will be available this week from all good newsstands and online.

Image: NGV Melbourne

Design / Australia

Melbourne Design Week returns this Thursday

Australia’s largest annual design festival, Melbourne Design Week, returns for its eighth edition on Thursday. The 11-day programme, which runs until next Sunday, will include more than 300 workshops, tours, talks, exhibitions and film screenings. Events and shows will be held at various venues across the city.

Among the highlights is a keynote speech from Nigerian architect Tosin Oshinowo, whose essay on building with scarce resources featured in The Monocle Minute last week; the piece is also part of our paperback book The Monocle Companion: Fifty Ideas for Building Better Cities, which is out now. Other events to look out for include a symposium exploring riverside designs for Birrarung and presentations of work by Visnja Brdar, Jessie French, Sruli Recht and Ross Gardam.

Beyond the Headlines

Defying convention: Jenny Berggren (left) and Ulf Ekberg of Ace of Base

Image: Karin Tornblom Viaplay

Q&A / Ace of Base

Always have, always will: looking back at the 1990s with the Swedish pop icons

Swedish pop group Ace of Base were unavoidable in the 1990s, reaching global stardom with hits such as “The Sign”. In Ace of Base: All That She Wants, a new documentary from Nordic streamer Viaplay, they reflect on their legacy. Monocle meets Jenny Berggren and Ulf Ekberg from the band in Copenhagen to find out more.

Music documentaries tend to be quite sanitised but this one feels deeply personal. Was that your intention?
Berggren: Yes, one of my main goals was for it to be personal. I have developed a thick skin in anticipation of audience feedback. You can feel our pain and sorrows and the joy of who we have gone on to become. It’s a good story to tell.

What was the secret of your success in the 1990s?
Ekberg: We tried to do what we liked. In the beginning, labels were puzzled by our techno-electronic-synth-reggae-pop sound. At one point, we ended up on grunge lists with Nirvana because they didn’t know how to categorise us.

Do you see some recognition for the band’s legacy today?
Berggren: The younger generation is discovering us. “Happy Nation” blew up on Tiktok and other social-media platforms. It was amazing. Our melodies are still out there and they still work. We weren’t wrong when we thought that we made music that people wanted to listen to.

For our full interview with Jenny Berggren and Ulf Ekberg, tune in to the latest episode of ‘The Monocle Weekly’ on Monocle Radio.

A vessel from Russia's Black Sea Fleet

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Foreign Desk

The Black Sea

Russia celebrated its annual Black Sea Fleet Day with a notably smaller fleet in Sevastopol than just a few years ago. How has Ukraine managed to win in the sea? What has Nato learned from that success? And how does Turkey exercise control as the gateway country to the Black Sea? We speak to Hanna Shelest in Odessa, James Bergeron of Nato Maritime Command and Turkish-American political scientist Soner Cagaptay.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00