[Fragriver in Taiwan] Slow – 慢

During my very first days in Taipei, thing that kept me impressed the most should be the word “Slow” (慢) appearing on almost every street in Taipei.

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There is only one month left before I leave Taipei for Hanoi.

When I proposed my plan to take a three-month leave for Taipei to study Chinese, some of my colleagues congratulated me as I should have a lot of free time so I might spare some of my time here to do some preparation for application to Master’s Program.

Should I think so and do so? Back in Vietnam, I have a colleague, to whom I share my intention of pursuing  Master’s degree and my idea of living in Taiwan at least once in my lifetime and I was a little bit disappointed when witnessing her a little bit perplexed on hearing my three-month leave for Taipei. She asked me if I needed to go for Master’s Degree abroad if I went to Taiwan already and she asked me if I would spend my time in Taipei preparing for my application to business schools. I was a little bit disappointed as such a thought had never come across my mind. I wonder since when people make it complicated by trying to do lots of thing at the same time and spare time which should be fully or mostly dedicated to a task for another task that necessitates the same amount of effort and energy? Why cannot I just simply dedicate my whole time here to do the thing I love the most or just do nothing but relax (by studying Chinese)?

It is the possibility of being mono-tasking or doing nothing that I treasure the most during my two months living here in Taipei. Back at home, my current work required me to be good at multi-tasking almost all the time and I went frantic almost all the time. Sometimes, I did feel myself a piteous rat running in a labyrinthine without being aware of life above this labyrinthine. Bosses often told us to go out and get a life but it was a little bit difficult for me to really go out when in Vietnam for it is far difficult for us to be totally disconnected with our work. When in Taipei, I can have my phone muted all the time without fearing that clients or colleagues contacting me. Another thing about my time in Taipei that I treasure a lot should be my right to live originally and slowly. Why slow? A decent explanation required a long story which should be traced back to the time when I started school. I was 5 years old when I started elementary school. Since I was 5 years old, I have been taken my pride in being the youngest one of every batch that I happen to be a member. I am proud of being the youngest one among my classmates, being the youngest one among my colleagues. When I was a penultimate student at university, I happened to know some friends of mine who started their undergraduate study at 20 years old, three years later than mine. At that time, I just thought that they should be too old when graduating from university. My mother also said to me that it should be better to finish university in Vietnam on time rather than starting over again at the age of 20 at a foreign university. I felt that I had an edge over these friends for entering into university and joining the workforce one year earlier than my friend. Time passed by and these friends of mine eventually graduated from university and entered into workforce when I have already been there for two or three years. I happened to know more and more friends, both Vietnamese and foreigners, who started their work at their 25. Looking at what they have done at their 20s at universities, the places they have been to before graduating, I wondered if the idea or pride of “one year earlier” is a bitter trap that kept me from living my life to the fullest. At the age of 18, 2 years seem to be a long period of time. At the age of 24, spending one or two years doing something worth is more important than being ahead one or two years. Recently, I remember reading an article in which it is said that young Vietnamese people are subject to invisible pressure of reaching success as soon as possible. Media, while promoting many young millionaires at their 20s or ones obtaining PhD or doing something that is “amazing” at so young an age, inadvertently makes it a pressure for young people to reach success as soon as possible. We are expected to choose a right university, which also means to identify our desirable career to embark on at the age of 18, to land a good job at the age of 22 and to be happily married before 30. When I told some of my colleagues, my friends and my family about what I wanted to do with my life like spending sometime living somewhere, studying something or travelling to some places, people keep reminding me about the need of accomplishing all these tasks as soon as possible before I am getting too old for marriage. And when I made a decision of studying in Taipei for three months, which also means delaying my pursuit of Master’s Degree in some undetermined time later in the future, I knew that I somehow got rid of this vicious trap of time in my mind.

During my very first days in Taipei, thing that kept me impressed the most should be the word “Slow” (慢)painted on almost every street in Taipei. And I think this “slow” word should be kinda motto deeply rooted in the way people are living in Taipei. In Taipei, it seems to me that people here feel there is no need to be in a hurry. They feel no need to be hurry when lining up for buying a cake worth of TWD10 in a small food stall in the night market. The buyer does not feel annoyed when the seller shows no intention of cooking the meal quickly given a long line has been there for an hour. My Korean roommate said to me that such a thing is totally impossible in Korea and Korean will immediately complain if Korean sellers do the same thing as their counterparts in Taipei. Hardly could I see ones hurrying to catch the train in MRT station. Perhaps I have to force myself to stay in MRT stations at 7 or 8 am to witness such a scene but as far as I observe, I expect the pace should not exceed that I witnessed in Hanoi.

Yesterday, when I had an appointment with an old friend of mine, living in Singapore and going on a business trip in Taipei, she shared with me that in Singapore, there are always lots of construction projects taking place and it should be easy to identify the difference if I came back to visit Singapore after one or two years. Her friend added that it should be easy to see the growth speed of a city by seeing the number of construction sites in the area. They also commented that the trains in Singapore seemed to move at a higher speed than that of trains in Taipei.

This evening, when I went to Far East Hotel in Dunhua Street for a Coffee Chat with representatives of a business school based in Shanghai, China, I had a quick chat with some Taiwanese friends who are planning to apply for business schools in the Mainland China. These friends told me that life in the Mainland China runs at  far higher pace than that in Taiwan. A girl said to me: “It is so easy to figure out the difference in Shenzhen, China after one or two years. Life seems to relentless move in the Mainland while thing seems to be unchanged for ten years in Taiwan.” On my way back home, I felt pity for not asking her if she thought that it should be a good or a bad thing.

However, at the moment, while jotting down these ideas of “fast” and “slow”, I do think that there is no need to ask ones if they feel better to live fast or live slowly. Is it necessary? While ones enjoy a relentless changing life, the others may enjoy relishing life by moment. I thought about my own life story, is it necessary to reach success as fast as possible, to conquer all the life targets as soon as possible (even when some of the targets may be not my desirable ones but merely definitions of success set by other people)? Why not giving up being a multi-tasker during my time in Taipei, enjoying the state of being blissfully ignorant, enjoying nice conversations in Chinese with classmates in various topics, challenging myself in stuff like history, literature or culture, slowly walking under the maple trees, wandering around Taipei’s little lanes, lying on the green grass, looking at the sky for hours without doing nothing? The right to live slowly should be equally respected as the desire to live fast. And I do think it is also totally okay if Taipei remains its current state as long as its people feel comfortable with it.

A week ago, my close friend of mine at university asked me about my plan after leaving Taipei. I answered without hesitation that I had no plan but enjoyed this three-month sabbatical to the fullest.

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