Around the world in six blurred days

Image of Tyler Brûlé

The week’s been something of a blur for the Fast Lane since this columnist scrambled to get to Heathrow last Thursday for a flight to Bangkok and the start of a six-day spin around the world.

On board the Heathrow Express the carriage was empty save for a well-turned-out young lady who was lacking a proper luggage strategy – she was struggling with too many saggy tote bags and lacked any structure to keep her purchases and panties in check. At terminal three there was a small flare-up among security staff who were making a very public fuss about a colleague not coming back from break and how there weren’t enough of them to run the X-ray machine. It is always surprising how over-tattooed Heathrow security staff (in my role as minister for transport there’d be a ban on hiring people with worrying combinations of letters and numerals on their forearms) think such amateur dramatics will somehow find a sympathetic audience. Fortunately, a pint-sized manager showed up and did his best to restore calm and get things rolling along the conveyor belt again.

On board Qantas flight QF2 to Bangkok and then on to Sydney there was something of a sombre mood. “This is one of the last QF2s out of London,” explained a jolly but jaded flight attendant. “It’s such a shame, but we’re hoping that our brilliant chief executive will soon see sense and restore it. Can someone explain to me how he still manages to hold on to his position?”

Nine hours later the well-worn 747-400 started its descent into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport and I was greeted by the Thai capital’s delightful Friday evening gridlock. After a long series of meetings I was very happy to hook up with the FT’s Bangkok correspondent for a round of drinks and late night snacks. Four hours later (after a very brief sleep at the Oriental) I was back on the road to Suvarnabhumi (no traffic at 6am) and made it to the check-in desk less than 20 minutes after I left the hotel.

On board the ANA767 to Tokyo the cabin was packed with golfers and honeymooning couples returning home from a week of putting and massages. After a tasty lobster curry and a splash of wine I did my best to catch up on a week’s worth of email, punctuated by the occasional nod-off for 20 minutes or so. As we made our approach to Tokyo the weather took a turn for the worse and we made a bumpy approach into a gusty, low-visibility Narita airport.

On the streets of Ginza it was impossible to move for all the people gathered to sample retailer Uniqlo’s new 12-storey super-store and the adjacent branch of Comme des Garçons’ Dover Street Market. Thanks to a bit of pre-planning with Uniqlo’s global PR I was able to skirt the cue and shuffled through the crowds politely jostling to get hold of some of the special collaboration garments the company commissioned from the likes of Jun Takahashi’s UnderCover label and Laura Ashley.

With the Uniqlo chief executive forecasting that the new Ginza branch alone might do more than a billion dollars in sales in year one, this superstore concept seems likely to morph into a new type of department store that could easily come to dominate cities on either side of the Pacific. Across a series of sky-bridges, Dover Street Market was a little more sedate, with legions of Comme des Garçons fans trying on special-edition Nike trainers, picking up Swiss graphic design books and packing into a huge branch of Paris-based Rose Bakery.

For dinner I decided to trade in the twinkling lights of Ginza for the calm of Daikanyama. As the neighbourhood is home to the new-ish branch of Tsutaya Books, I rounded off the evening shopping for CDs, books and vintage magazines – right up until 1am. My colleague Noriko commented that it’s rammed until closing time every night and is supposedly 200 per cent ahead of its forecast – dispelling the notion that consumers don’t like big bookstores or purchasing traditional media.

Sunday was devoted to getting my mop cut and then seeing friends and colleagues for dinner at Bernini before embarking on another trolley dash for books and mags at Tsutaya – this time the Roppongi Hills branch. 

Another week started with a marathon Monday – a full day of work in Tokyo, a flight across the Pacific and then another full day of work in San Francisco with a bit of fun in the form of some good shopping for some spring wardrobe essentials at Unionmade and an excellent croque-monsieur at Tartine. After a conference co-hosted with GE on Tuesday it was on to one of Lufthansa’s refitted 747s (I highly recommend the new first class with its separate bed) for the crossing to Frankfurt. Seven days later I’m almost back where I started – though the twinkling lake of Zürich is a bit more alluring than the reservoirs of Heathrow.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

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