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Lanterns at the newly-opened Bellavita shopping center in Xinyi District (you know, home of some of Taipei’s best macarons?). I love the embroidered ribbon flowers on the bottom.

1. I started the Couch to 5K program a week ago. It’s designed to gently ease people like me (mostly sedentary, hopelessly uncoordinated, scared of pain) into running three miles (or five kilometers) on a regular basis within two months. I’ve been exercising in Da An Park (大安森林公園), which has a special track covered with red dirt. According to the handy dandy signs posted at each entrance, the running track is about 1,600 meters (the actual perimeter of the park is 2,000 meters, but I shy away from that course because it is paved in cement and vulnerable to wayward cyclists and moped riders).

The running track is lined with beautiful, tall, arching trees. Running at dusk makes me feel like the “Twilight” vampires as they stalk their prey. It reminds me of that one scene in “New Moon” where Alice envisions Bella after she becomes a vampire, running barefoot through a forest in an ethereal gray dress, Edward by her side. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Anyway, I’m grateful that I have such a great alternative to a boring track or treadmill. There’s always something to see while I’m jogging, like kids staring at big fat black squirrels (they are hard to find in Taipei, so every time you see a squirrel there is invariably a crowd around it, cameras in hand) or worshippers bowing to the giant statue of Guan Yin at the northwest corner of the park.

When I run, I listen to a mixture of electronic dance and rap. Sometimes I mouth the lyrics to myself to make sure my pacing and breathing are OK. I was muttering Jams Deans‘ “Chicago Girls” when I realized that I could also listen to Taiwanese hip-hop performers like Kou Chou Ching (拷秋勤), Tripoets (參劈) or Soft Lipa (蛋堡) and practice my Mandarin pronunciation as I exercise! Hmmm…

2. It turns out that we’re not going to Miaoli for Lunar New Years because a few things came up. I like seeing my relatives, but I’m grateful for the chance to spend time with Ron. He works evenings and I’m often busy during weekends, so I feel like we have to take advantage of every moment we have together. We plan to cook for Valentine’s Day… and stare for hours at our cat:

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Taroko George is mesmerizing.

3. I’m happy that Lunar New Year basically forces me to take a break. Everyone I would interview is on vacation and the newspaper is publishing a reduced number of articles this week. I hope I will use my time off wisely. I already have some plans, including a dust bunny search-and-destroy mission and reading “Flea Market Style” in Chinese (it’s Chinese title is “個性混搭裝潢術,” gè​xìng ​hùn​dā​ zhuāng​huáng​ shù​, or literally “Personality Mix-and-Match Decorating Skill.”).

4.

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The sample smorgasbord today at Breeze Super in Breeze Center (微風廣場) was excellent. A lot of people were doing last-minute shopping for food for New Years or to bring to their relatives (Lunar New Years is the ultimate eating holiday. You can’t show up without food!). Their rotisserie chicken is especially good. Ron and I bought one for lunch tomorrow, when most restaurants (and a lot of stores) will close up for at least three days.

5.

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We had a few days of lovely weather last week. I love turning the corner and seeing a view like this. I hope these apartment buildings aren’t torn down and replaced with “luxury” condos (there’s been a lot of remodeling and building in our neighborhood recently and some of the results are aesthetically unfortunate. There’s currently a trend for gilt rococo ornamentation in Taipei, combined with shiny gray or dusty pink marble surfaces. Ugh.).

祝你新年快樂! 恭喜發財
Happy New Years!