After partying the night away in various clubs, we met at dawn in one of those milk bars that stay open all night. In Taiwan, this is often the prelude to something more romantic. We shared an omelette and each ordered a glass of sweetened soy milk. I said the party at the Pipe had been good, he replied that at the Final everyone had gone completely nuts.
I had only been to the Final once, many months ago, and that was by chance. I came out of some bar and then cycled aimlessly through the city. From a distance, I saw a large group loitering in front of the club. They all seemed intent on looking cool.
The girls were dressed in the brightly coloured and futuristic Y2K aesthetic of the early two-thousands, the guys wore dark designer brands like Prototype Formula, Fe3c or Remix Taipei. A group of tourists stood forlornly on the sidelines. I could feel the bass coming from the basement club on the street. I went inside.
It was like being at a high school graduation reunion party. Everyone knew everyone, only a few people were dancing, but everyone was celebrating the DJ, who obviously had no idea about music, but had the right fashion style.
“All the young people here dream of the future”
I have been living in Taipei for five years. All young people here dream of the future. The city is cool, the sky is wider than in the rest of Taiwan. But Taipei is also insanely expensive. An island within an island, isolated and self-centred. The people here are called “Tian Long Ren” (天龍人). They have no idea how hard life is for many Taiwanese in small towns and rural areas. They don't know about them, they don't want to know about them.
Sometimes loneliness overcomes me here. Then I go out into the night. In a club like the Pipe, where I was partying last night, I find a surrogate family. The club is in a former pumping station. In the courtyard there is a large outdoor area with various bars. It's much more relaxed there than in the Final, maybe even its antithesis.
I went to see Amazing Show (美秀集團), an indie band from Chiayi, my hometown in southern Taiwan. They played an experimental mix of melancholic indie rock with elements of folk music and punk that night, transporting us to a world of love and intoxication. Why I mention this: the band is part of the Taiker culture (台客), which expresses the feeling of living in Taiwan like nothing else. This geographical isolation in a politically very fragile situation.
In order to distinguish themselves from our overpowering neighbour, many people, especially young people, identify themselves as Tai (台). They channel their collective identity through music as well as through the pop-cultural play with historical quotations and symbols. For a long time, the term was meant pejoratively, but we have appropriated it, a “code-switch”.
A culture, the band's guitarist told me after the concert, which is tolerant and inclusive, an echo of our ethnic diversity: indigenous, Hakka, Fujianese and the many immigrants from Southeast Asia. In the Soy Milk Bar, it was now past sunrise and glistening with light.
My date seemed smaller than his portrait photo on Tinder, but had a good vibe, much better than the average guy you usually meet. A surprisingly pleasant breakfast date. We walked out into the light and to a nearby park. I asked him what kind of music he was into, he asked me which strain of cannabis I liked better, Indica or Sativa?
He was from Taipei but no longer lived with his parents, so we went to see him. On a shelf I found a collection of photo magazines, one of which was published by a friend of his.
“Because it rains all the time, girls expect boys to have their own car or at least be able to borrow one from their parents”
In a corner were some vinyl LPs he had bought in record shops in Berlin. It was almost noon and tiredness was slowly making itself felt. I yawned casually to signal that we should slowly come to the end.
He said it would be okay if I wanted to stay. I kindly declined. He had a sweet smile and wasn't boring at all. On the contrary, we had laughed a lot. So I suggested we do something together soon, like go to the cinema or a museum. We agreed in a very noncommittal way to go and see Wes Anderson's new film.
He said he would pick me up because it had been raining for weeks. That's what you have to know about dating in Taipei: Because it's actually raining all the time, girls expect guys to have their own car or at least be able to borrow one from their parents. Or let's put it this way, it would be desirable.
“I didn't expect us to share the simplest, most beautiful things”
However, if a boy owns a scooter, such as a Vespa, that's okay too. It may seem strange, but the girls of Taipei almost always just ride the underground. It's not uncommon for them to never ride a scooter or even a bike themselves in their entire lives.
So we met again. At first I had the stereotypical image of him as a superficial guy from the finals, and he felt the same way about me: for him, I was one of those hipsters who spent their lives in concerts and second-hand shops. The more time we spent together, the more I realised that it was precisely our differences that connected us and brought us closer together.
I didn't expect that we would share the simplest, most beautiful things: that on warm nights, drinking a bottle of wine together, we would walk home and watch a movie, play a round or two of Uno, curl up on the couch and tell each other about our dreams, then drift off to sleep, arm in arm.
I am 26 years old, have been writing my Master's thesis for a long time and have a job on the side. I am financially dependent on my parents, and of course they know that. They say I should move back to Chiayi after graduation to prepare for the civil service exam. Or, and they are only half joking, I could find a boy to marry in Taipei and start a family with him. The idea of having children seems absurd to me.
“The moment of commitment is like the blossoming of fireworks in the night sky, but it disappears just as suddenly”
How is that going to work? Party through the weekend, reek of alcohol and cigarettes at breakfast and bring the kids to school hungover in the morning? But seriously. Many Taiwanese ask themselves this question. They also do it because Taipei at least is insanely expensive: the low wages, the high rents and house prices, the extreme economic pressure. We have the lowest birth rate in the world in Taiwan - and not without reason.
Apart from that, my affair with the boy from the Final started to feel good. So, I thought, just let it come to you, don't name the story, don't call it this or that yet. But deep in my heart I had always had a good sense of when a relationship begins, when the first spark turns into something more serious - but never, really never do I notice when it starts to fail.
The moment of commitment is like the blossoming of fireworks in the night sky, but it disappears just as suddenly. It comes and goes and is hardly tangible. And after the fireworks, all that remains is pain, like choking for too long on an empty stomach.
Still there is no promise
All I know is: people change
You don't have to feel guilty
It's up to you who you want to go on a date with (Amazing Show, “Roll-Cigg”).
Then came the day I abruptly realised: he's ignoring my messages, stopped commenting on my Insta-stories, gone underground. He ghosted me. I spent the weekend watching soap operas and ordering junk food from Uber Eats. At one point, I forced myself to go to a recently opened bar where a friend of mine was DJing.
“Everything goes round in circles in Taipei. It's like picking up a pebble on the shore of a lake and turning it over in your hand for a bit until you get tired of it”
I thought for sure I would not meet my lost affair there. But then I turned around in the crowd. There he stood, the one I thought I could open my heart to, the one with whom everything could change, the one with whom the days we walked hand in hand felt endless.
I tried to ignore him. I had already revealed too much to him, sides of me that only he knew and no one else. Yet he kept looking at me. He seemed almost shy. That night I found out he was the boyfriend of a friend of mine. Maybe one day his best friend's ex-girlfriend would become the new girlfriend of my future ex.
Everything goes round in circles in Taipei. It's like picking up a pebble on the shore of a lake and turning it over in your hand until you get tired of it. You throw it back into the water. On impact, it causes small concentric ripples, a fleeting irritation on the glassy water, then it sinks to the bottom of the lake and blends in with the other stones.
I returned his gaze for a brief moment, a second perhaps. His eyes seemed as calm as the surface of the lake, completely expressionless and as smooth as glass.