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Bringing The Orient Express Back To Life – Again

Italian train restoration experts bring the legendary luxury railroad back up to standards to feed nostalgic travel buffs

Orient Express (D McG)

SANTHIÀ - The biting chill of Magliola di Santhià"s open-air workshop masks the warm and romantic interior. Here, encircled by the rice fields in this small northern town near Vercelli, the Orient Express — the famed train immortalized by Agatha Christie, with its signature dark blue cars and velvet seats —has rolled into Santhià to begin its return to former glory.

This slice of history – and nostalgia -- comes with several layers. In 1982, the Venice Simplon Orient Express gave new life to the legend of the Orient Express, which had carried the rich and powerful, princes and 007s across Europe in style since the 1880s. Having acquired and restored actual vintage cars from the heyday of the Paris-Istanbul line, the company offered the chance for taste the experience of bygone luxury train travel.

But now the fancy old cars are in serious need of new polish, and the London-based company has entrusted the restoration of the entire convoy to this small-town company. Magliola's team of local train technicians and furniture artisans will be working through February on 14 train cars with their white roofs and tobacco scented interiors. This is part of a larger restoration which will last from March to October of 2011 before the convoy returns to serving passengers seeking the nostalgia tours.

For the next three months, this firm specialized in the restoration of locomotives, will transform itself into a kind of beauty farm for the grand princess of luxury trains. "There is a lot of work to be done and it is going to require a skilled work force," says Giorgio Cabrio, who is overseeing the work for Magliola. "These are luxury cars that need to be treated with the utmost detail by highly trained technicians."

Beyond the trained mechanical engineers, the job requires experienced furniture restorers, who must bring the right sheen to the interiors of red and green tea colored velvet, silver finish and carriage embroidery. Around one dozen workers will be dedicated solely to working on the Orient. Magliola is set to replace all the pipes, adjust the furnishings, clean all the velvet and the carpets, refurbish the bathrooms with marble counter tops, wash the exterior coaches, polish all the badges and license plates that are gold and silver.

Specific mechanical work will be dedicated to the motors and the wheels. The motors will be removed and tuned up, while all the wheels and the rolling mechanisms of each car will undergo a complete check-up. "The train favors one side over the other, so we have to rebalance everything," says Cabrio.

The passion for restoring the past can be traced to James B. Sherwood, founder and chairman of Orient Express Hotels Ltd, who three decades ago tracked down the original 17 authentic cars for restoration. The usual itinerary these days is London-Venice, though once a year travelers can make the six-day trip to experience the original route: Paris-Budapest-Bucharest-Istanbul. The next departure is slated for Sep. 2, 2011, with a ticket going for 3,460 euros.

But for many it's worth it. This vintage train that was the setting for Agatha Christie's most famous mystery novel now carries a unique mix of history and charm, luxury, power and technology. Within each of the 50-ton cars, every minor detail counts: the carpet that climbs up the steps or the glint of light reflecting off the silver fixtures on the walls. There are the halls, the single bunks and the suites, the restaurants with renowned chefs but also room for tea and, of course, a good old-fashioned chat. What is currently covered by a wisp of dust is in reality counter of the shop where travelers can buy jewelry and luxury watches during the trip, to share a smile with your wife or girlfriend, or perhaps a glance at fleeting love.

Read the original article in Italian

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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