Even though I grew up listening to my parents converse in Mandarin, there were a lot of phrases that I still had to get used to when I first moved to Taiwan. Take 不好意思 for example. I had no idea why everyone was apologizing to me all the time and thought that maybe it was because culture shock was giving me an even worse case of chronic bitchface than usual. 慢慢來 also confused me and I assumed that people were just reacting to my naturally nervous disposition (as in, by “Take it slow” they actually meant “Calm down! Just looking at you makes me jittery.”). After a little bit, I realized that “慢慢來” is a conversational nicety… but I think it’s a very interesting one. In high school, I spent a couple of summers in theater camp. One of the exercises our drama teacher made us do was to close our eyes and note every single sound we heard, from the thudding of our hearts to the whoosh! of cars on a nearby highway. It was amazing how all the different layers of noises gradually revealed themselves and seemed to slow down at the same time. I still do this exercise sometimes when I am stressed out or anxious and there is no one to bark “慢慢來!” at me.
Hsieh Hsiao-man (謝小曼) takes the same approach to her tea house Hsiao Man (小慢), but with tea instead of sounds. Hsiao Man means “little slow” and the interior has a cozy, home-like atmosphere (the space is the apartment Hsieh grew up in and retains its original stone floors and wooden beams).
You need to make reservations for lunch and dinner because everything is prepared in small batches. If you sign up for a lesson, you can learn how the taste of tea is influenced by the material of the container it is brewed in and the length of time it is steeped, along with traditional tea serving etiquette. Most of the tea served in Hsiao Man is grown using traditional seeding, harvesting and preparation methods.
Hsiao Man is a very interesting contrast to its location just a few steps away from Shida night market. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that the neighborhood has changed a lot over the past few years. Four years ago, it was filled with quirky shops, including a cafe where you could sit and order a puzzle to piece together while sipping on coffee or tea. A lot of those places have been replaced with stores selling the usual night market fare of trendy, youth-oriented clothing and accessories imported from South Korea (or “韓貨”). Neighborhoods in Taipei City are constantly in flux and I have a hard time keeping up with areas like the streets near Zhongshan MRT (中山捷運站) or the East District (東區), but, in my opinion, the change in Shida night market’s atmosphere is the most striking.
Hsiao Man seems like it’s a world apart from all the changes, however. The fact that it’s owned by Hsieh ensures that the space won’t be rented out and turned into a novelty underwear store or something equally terrifying, which makes me happy. Hsiao Man is located at 39, Ln 16, Taishun St, Taipei City (台北市泰順街16巷39號), tel: (02) 2365-0017. For more information, please read my article for the Taipei Times and visit Hsiao Man’s blog.