Walking along my new found favourite, Taishun Street, canopied in shades of camphor and banyan trees and decked with the occasional designer apartment, I see a Hong Kong coupled whizz past me, looking frantically on both sides of the street with map in hand as if they were running late for an appointment somewhere. Intrigued, I follow them from a distance behind until we reach the end of the road, almost hitting the Shida night market. And there, even before the couple decided to step inside the small Japanese-style front yard, I see it. 小慢 Xiao Man… the Xiao Man I’ve been meaning to visit for a very very long time.
Xiao Man, literally meaning, “Little Slow” in Chinese, indeed exudes the philosophy of her lifestyle in every corner of her shop cum teahouse and restaurant, to the brim. Having studied and worked in fashion in Japan, Xiao Man tells me she used to be the Carrie Bradshaw of Taiwan, wearing gold-coloured hot pants and stylish wigs in what is then perhaps even more New York than New York– Tokyo. She was grateful for those crazy times, she tells me, because if not for all that glamour, she would not have been able to come back to earth and enjoyed the beauty in simplicity. Today, Xiao Man is the epitome of the same “slowness” that defines her name. Clad in a simple, linen tunic and matching pants, it is hard to imagine that this calm, soft-spoken woman was once slave to LV handbags and Louboutin stilettos. Her store, Xiao Man, exudes that same calmness with rustic mud walls mixed with hay and antique wood window frames, all remodeled and restored from the property which once stood in it’s place – the home which Xiao Man grew up in. Xiao Man kept only the original black and white marble tiling and stripped everything to create a Zen-filled space with a long wooden chado (tea ceremony) table, dim lighting, simply packaged teas on one wall, Japanese pottery on another, Japanese designed linen clothes on a rack near the counter, and the scent of Gardenia floating in the air.
The food served here also reflects that same ideology – a simple thousand year old egg on a bed of tofu and mountain yam, scallops with cauliflower and broccoli dashed with chilies cut so thin I thought they were saffron, and a seafood tomato risotto – an infusion of Chinese, Japanese and Western aesthetics and tastes, blended to perfection and all served on beautiful Japanese ceramics and paired with Taiwanese aboriginal millet wine.
“The traditional Chinese way of thinking and education wasted so much of our time forcing us to get one degree after another which we’ll probably end up hating. I’m not going to put this pressure on my son,” Xiao Man said, looking lovingly at her teenage son. “Owen, you suck at Math and English right?”
“Yeah, but I love Chinese,” the boy smiled. It was a beaming, innocent, and happy smile.
I was reminded of Three Idiots. Perhaps if we can all “slow down” a little, like Xiao Man, and begin to see the beauty in simplicity; if perhaps we can exchange our Louboutins for a pair of hand-woven straw slippers and feel the touch of the craftsman in our every step, for even just one day; if we can take twenty minutes of our time to throw together a simple dish of scallops on broccoli and cauliflower…. Perhaps then, we will begin to see that it doesn’t take that much to be happy. It also doesn’t take that much for your child to be happy.
As Rancho in Three Idiots said, you don’t have to chase after success. Follow your passion, and success will come chasing after you.
小慢 Xiao Man Whole Food Tea Experience is at 台北市泰順街16巷39號
tel: 02 23650017