Random weirdness for the week of Sept. 26, 2017

navyship

Hmmm…this week we’ve got the military strutting its stuff in our non-militarized haven, the mayor worrying tourism will soon be as unpopular as mining (at a time when many local pols are rooting for boom times in both industries) and outrage in Hong Kong about the exorbitant prices of our local “super premium” Svalbarði bottled glacier water. So which to lead off with? Well, since a real newspaper would go with the item most likely to significantly affect the most people reading this (and in this case the plural reference may be overly optimistic), we’re obviously starting with the water weirdness…

hkwater

This was a short-lived sight on Hong Kong supermarket shelves this month.

Especially “with the scandal reaching boiling point,” as the South China Morning Post reports. The newspaper obviously has a fetish for polarizing temperature references, reporting in an earlier story “bottles of water made from polar glaciers and selling for a cool HK$950 each have been pulled from the shelves of a high-end supermarket in Hong Kong, after an icy reaction online.” The 750ml bottles of water were about 19 times more expensive than a similar-sized S Pellegrino, the next most costly water in stock. “The product drew a frosty response from online commentators, with one posting on Facebook: ‘That’s totally environmentally unfriendly! And stupid!’ Another said: ‘Sad reality is that someone who thinks it’s cool to have this on their dining table will buy it. If there was no market for it, it wouldn’t be on sale!'” A store spokesperson went into full retreat faster than the glacier itself is doing here under climate change. “Great Food Hall respects the comments of our customers and has currently taken the Svalbardi polar iceberg water off shelf for review. We just started selling the product very recently. It was for a short period of time.” But the follow-up article referring to the meltdown as a scandal is headlined “Is Arctic or volcanic water Hong Kong’s new luxe menu item?” reveals the flames may not be doused yet. It profiles a man who is “the first and only certified water sommelier in Hong Kong and Macau, (and) he will probably pick a bottle filled with water – from the Arctic, or a volcanic area in Germany – rather than wine” for his restaurant customers. So be sure to check the cities’ Yelp (or locally-preferred OpenRice) reviews to see if the chilling criticism continues…

OK, we get it’s an intimidating-looking ship, but Enquiring Minds are wondering exactly how sending it or one of its siblings to Svalbard once a year will “ensure Norway’s sovereignty of the Arctic archipelago.” That’s why the navy’s KNM Helge Ingstad was docked at Longyearbyen Harbor for a few days earlier this month, according to The Independent Barents Obverser. It notes Norway generally sent Coast Guard vessels to the area during the Cold War to avoid provoking the Soviet Union, but in recent years one of the navy’s five war ships has been sent here annually. “The Svalbard voyage is important for many reasons, first of all for us to get acquainted with the waters and the area,” Commanding Officer Preben Ottesen told the online newspaper. “Svalbard is a part of Norway and we should be able to defend all of Norway.” No, it’s not a violation of the Svalbard Treaty since a military presence is allowed – it’s actual warlike activities that are banned. So while the “KNM Helge Ingstad was just before the voyage to Svalbard participating in surveillance operations together with vessels and aircrafts from other NATO countries in the Norwegian Sea,” there’s of course no chance this might provoke Russia which is already engaging in its most active military expansion/exercises in the country’s history…

Finally, speaking of hostilities involving large ships, Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen made the curious declaration that “if we do not stop talking down about tourism, the tourism industry will soon be as unpopular as mining is today” to about 120 attendees at the Coast and Harbor Conference in Honningsvåg last week. Radio Nordkapp, which reported his comment, goes on to state “there are many who are critical of the increasing tourist traffic to Svalbard because traffic affects the environment. Not to mention the cruise ships and emissions in case of an accident are the horror scenario for many.” We’ve certainly heard some grumblings about such impacts, as well as crowding and the behavior of some visitors during the busiest cruise days, but hardly anything to suggest there’s any large-scale opposition to the all-out effort to double local tourism income (meaning a tripling of visitors) in the relatively near future. But the other part that’s a bit peculiar is the comment comes shortly before the Norwegian government is scheduled to decide if it wants to spend nearly a billion dollars to reopen the two main coal mines here and, while coal mining in Svalbard has long been controversial, we feel pretty safe asserting the decision will be based a whole lot less on popularity than on economics – and perhaps even more so on the all-important sovereignty mentioned above.

 

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