Taipei, Taiwan: A Small But Certain Happiness // 小確幸

Places, Thoughts

Yeah… life sucks, we agreed and sighed, longing for an answer to life’s absurdity.

It was a breezy winter evening in Taipei when I walked home with my roommate Yayoi.

I remember our routine, awkward Airbnb introduction followed by the first night of an eerie silence in the 3-bedroom apartment. It was so quiet that even my slow breathing seemed like a disruption. I had just been back from Tainan, where people frequently laughed, chatted, and gathered for hot pots. Taipei instantly seemed much more aloof in a stark contrast to the cozy nights down south.

Strangely enough, I came to appreciate the tranquility in the new apartment rather quickly. Yayoi was a translator who always worked long hours on her laptop, and another roommate was barely home. Having to work late nights as well, I always chose to work in bed instead of sitting properly at a desk. But through my window, I could tell if Yayoi was still working. There was a soothing comfort in seeing a warm orange hue coming from the lamp, knowing that someone was just a doorstep away.

In the morning, or rather, at noon, I often strolled through the empty streets in Shida to look for food. Many of the stores would still be preparing for the day’s business or just opening their doors. Shida Night Market used to attract many food lovers and tourists alike, but through a neighborhood restructuring, now Shida is more of a peaceful residential area. The convenience was kept intact, though, with a variety of restaurants, convenience stores, clothing retailers, and hair salons. It was everything I loved about Taipei in one place, minus the crowds, which equaled perfection.

Yong Kang Street Taipei
Strolling around Yong Kang Street

My quarter-life crisis definitely crept up on me since 2018 struck. Nonetheless, the slow-paced city living in Taipei was a saving grace to my looming depression. I lingered in bookstores and coffee shops to pass time and think about where my life was heading. In the physical sphere, there wasn’t much to worry about besides my clothes being eternally damp from the neverending rain. I walked a lot slower and spent a lot of time just breathing in the atmosphere.

There were so much creativity and personality instilled in everything I came in touch with: local coffee shops run by weird owners; street markets that had different stalls every day; an independent bookstore owned by a rambling old man; antique stores that were filled with literal trash, etc. All these little corners of life gave me yet another vision of what my future could be, or should be. I’ve been living a rather comfortable lifestyle, but why couldn’t I look as happy as the little old man who sat in the same chair every day?

In Taiwan, 小確幸 (“a small but certain happiness”) is a prevalent life philosophy, especially among the millennials. It’s a term popularized by Haruki Murakami in his novel Afternoon in the Islets of Langerhans, where he wrote: “without this kind of small yet certain happiness, life is but a desert in drought.” 小確幸 can be anything found in mundanity: an iced coffee on a hot day, a butter-filled pineapple bun at 2 pm, Yayoi’s lamp lighting up my window at 3 am. The lesson of a small but certain happiness was a souvenir from my stay in Taiwan. It’s a steady flow of minor contentment, hard to be felt after leaving the environment that breeds it, yet ought to be practiced regardless.

A coffee shop on a quiet street in Jiufen.

On one of my last nights in Taipei, I was walking home with Yayoi, just chatting about random things as usual. We had spent a late afternoon in an artist-owned coffee shop and had a delicious meal at a Thai restaurant next door. Having been a pessimistic person lately, I complained about how dreadful it was to live life on a daily basis. How we worked our asses off for the sake of nothingness. How meaningless chores consumed most of our energy. And I said it all in a rather flat tone as if I was just reiterating a common fact.

Instead of giving me pep talks, Yayoi just casually agreed and said: 對啊 生活真的很麻煩 / yeah, life is really annoying. We shared a long sigh, a brief pause, and at last, a giggle of relief. What a petty complaint about the pettiness of life. What an irony that we found a fleeting second of joy in lamenting the dreadfulness of it.

Perhaps that was it — at the very end of an unanswerable question of life only comes an apathetic laugh. Then, we simply move on and live the questions without attempting to answer them again.


Daphne K. Lee

Daphne K. Lee

I travel nomadically and word vomit sometimes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *