An old friend taught me a valuable lesson about life one Friday afternoon at a brunch spot in Tainan, Taiwan.
I waited, with equal parts anticipation and nervousness, under the collective shade of some trees outside the gated entrance of an all female high school in Tainan. We had agreed to meet here, but with sweat steadily running down my back under an unforgiving midday sun I wondered why I didn’t think to suggest somewhere indoors, and preferably air conditioned.
A white sedan turned the corner and made its way to the gates. A girl small in stature, sporting a black top and a navy blue skirt, stepped out of the car, and with one sweeping motion shut its doors, threw a quick wave and a radiant smile in my direction, and strode swiftly across the street.
“Hi, it’s been a long time,” I blurted out as I went in for a hug. There was a slightly hesitant, awkward vibe, but then again, we haven’t seen each other in seven years, and it’s been twice that time since we’ve talked or spent time together with any substance.
“Come on, let’s go check out this great brunch place I found nearby,” she gestured for me to follow her.
We made our way through a few alleyways, occasionally making the odd turn, until a two-story building, whose recent renovations were made evident by a paint job too fresh and some questionable gate installments, came into view; it was situated next to a plot of unused land that looked like someone’s neglected garden project.
The entrance to the brunch shop was tucked behind a tall stone partition shielding it from the streets, with a meticulously adorned stone path leading to its doorstep. The wind chimes perched on top of the glass doors rattled as we entered the tiny store.
Inside, an employee greeted and directed us to the seating area on the second floor. The stone steps leading upstairs were steeper than the ones I was accustomed to back home and I almost tripped on my way up. But I survived, and soon we were surrounded by low wooden desks and chairs; the atmosphere was reminiscent of a casual, folksy teahouse, if you’ve ever been to one.
“I love old buildings like this,” my friend said as she drew one of the wooden chairs next to the windows and sat down. “They don’t really build them like this anymore.”
After much deliberation, we both ordered a set meal that was more Western in influence than I expected—scrambled eggs, sausages, toast, and the likes—and made some small talk, or as much casual dialogue as one could muster to someone with whom you lost contact since fifth grade.
“So what are we doing after? How long are we going to be here?” I asked as we cleaned up our plates.
“I don’t know. Let’s just sit here.”
“Till you’re happy.”
“Wait, so you just sit here until you’re done?”
“Yeah, exactly. Sometimes with friends, sometimes by myself. We Tainan people call this slow living.”
She went on to explain that she loves coming home to Tainan because she found the pace in Taipei, where she studies, to be too demanding, too hectic, for her to appreciate the nuances of everyday life.
“Kind of like New York City,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, you can say that. In Tainan, people stop to smell the roses, to drink afternoon tea and to relish time spent in the company of others. It’s sad how we kind of lost that way of living in other parts of the world.”
As we sat there continuing our conversation, at times marked by quiet yet welcoming pauses, I started embracing the message she was trying to convey, about living life more slowly. There’s a peace in the mundane and the silence and the immediacy of the moment that brings about questions I never thought to ask myself, having always been caught up in the hustle and bustle of modern life. I stopped making time to take life more slowly, to see things more clearly, to spend time more casually. I stopped living at the cost of my happiness. Why do I always need to be going somewhere? Why do I always need to be doing something? Why is it that I never slow down every once in a while to enjoy my life?
I realized that everything she had us do that day—our rendezvous at a deserted high school and the long walk to the idyllic brunch spot that stands as a nostalgic remnant of a slower time—was a lesson in practice. In an afternoon, she taught me how to live slowly, to live better. And in a way, I wrote this as a reflection of that very lesson.
“Come on, let’s go for a walk,” she said as she grabbed her bag. I furrowed my brows, though more out of curiosity than concern, and followed her out the door.
It was a day better lived slowly, and it was a good day.
Have any thoughts or comments? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @wikichen.