Getting back to dance form with “Ballet Beautiful”

Dance is my exercise of choice since I’ve been dancing on and off since I was a child. To me, nothing can compare to stepping out of a dance technique class, all sore and wobbly, feeling tall and aligned. The technique classes that I’ve taken for Chinese dance are also based on ballet technique. I know my body responds well to ballet.

Something I’ve run into time and time again is changes after settling at a studio or with an instructor. I’ll settle into a good regime of dance classes and then life gets in the way: work gets really hectic; or the studio schedule changes. Somehow this always tends to happen right as I feel that I’m in the best shape I could be. The next thing I know, I find myself not taking classes and not working out.

This past time it happened, it took about six months until I realized I needed to work out again. So I started walking and tried some workout DVDs. But none of it made me feel the same way I felt after technique class. I thought about finding another studio, but realized the problem was the cycle of being in an out of classes and I needed to break that cycle first. I needed to find something that I could continuously do at home. I was stuck until I learned about Ballet Beautiful from this post from Adult Ballerina Project.

I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to ballet, dance, or Pilates based workout DVDs. I don’t like it when the routine is really aerobics with some dance moves, or pairing modern music with sort-of ballet. In my experience, I do not end up working the muscles I would work in technique class. To make it worse, I would feel my hamstrings tighten and feel less flexible after the workout.

I watched a few clips of Ballet Beautiful online, and liked the atmosphere it created: classical music, simple counting and cuing. The exercises looked along the lines of Pilates and ballet. I’m not a big fan of mat workouts, but I figured the atmosphere might keep me going. I went ahead and bought the first two DVDs: Total Body Workout (also called Classic 60-Minute Workout) and Body Blast (also called Blast Series).

I tried Total Body Workout first. The exercises were hard. I had to made the beginner modifications, but I could not do all the repetitions. My muscles were burning. My limbs were wobbling through the exercises. I was surprised when the workout ended since I didn’t think it had been an hour. Granted, I probably only exercised for half that time. But once I stood up, I was standing taller, my posture was better, my muscles were happy. I naturally stood with my torso pulled up and tail tucked under. I started dancing. I was happy. The workout was exactly what I needed to wake up my ballet muscles.

I was so impressed with this result that pretty much right after my first session, I completed my Ballet Beautiful collection and bought the Ballet Beautiful book and the two cardio DVDs: Cardio Fat Burn and Sculpt & Burn Cardio Blast.

A family friend I saw during the week I started Ballet Beautiful mentioned that I looked taller and was standing straighter. I see this friend almost every other week. This was only after attempting two sessions of Total Body and half of Body Blast. I knew my posture felt better, but I didn’t think people would notice.

I strongly suggest that people not familiar with ballet or Pilates buy the book. I believe the order in which items were released were: book; online videos; Total Body Workout; Body Blast; Cardio Fat Burn; Sculpt & Burn Cardio Blast. Between the book and my dance experience, I have been able to come up with standing modifications to make the workouts more like ballet class.

I found water to be super important with this workout. I drink water in between Total Body segments. And then I drink a ridiculous amount of water after a session. I’m not forcing myself to drink water – my body is just craving water. To me, it’s a good sign because it shows that I’m working out. It’s also a good sign because I always need a lot of water after technique class. It’s another sign that my body is reacting to Ballet Beautiful the same way it does to dance classes.

Ballet Beautiful is really good about guidance. There are posts on the website about the ideal rotation of the Total Body and Body Blast videos, modifications for pregnancy (also works for those trying to find low impact exercises), two programs that add the Cardio Fat Burn video, and adding the Sculpt & Blast video.

I’m really glad that I’ve finally found a workout that works my muscles the same way a dance technique class does. This is obviously not a substitution for dance classes. But, if I can keep Ballet Beautiful as my core workout, and treat studio classes as a bonus, I will finally break the cycle of relying entirely on studio classes for exercise.

If you want to give Ballet Beautiful a try, there are some clips from the DVDs from BeFiT.

Total Body Workout (all workouts except standing)

Body Blast (all workouts)

There’s also a playlist of videos exclusively from Net-A-Porter.

The new year is coming up soon – maybe Ballet Beautiful will be part of your new years resolutions?

台北調 (Taipei Tone) – 柯文哲 (Ko Wen Je) campaign album


柯文哲 (Ko Wen Je) won the 2014 election for Taipei mayor. He ran as an independent candidate, with endorsement from the DPP. One of the ways he raised funds for the campaign was through an album called 台北調 (Taipei Tone).

The songs for the recording began with an open invitation to submit demos. Songs were chosen through online voting and a selection committee. The demos are available on SoundCloud. The track info has the artists’ thoughts about Taipei and song lyrics. A total of 82 demos are available. The language of each song is also listed on the demo page: 英語 is English, 台語 is Taiwanese, 華語 is Mandarin, 演奏曲 means instrumental, and 客語 is Hakka. The artists include established independent artists, up and coming artists, and people from the community.

Twelve songs are on the final recording: eleven songs chosen from demos, and a campaign song that was already written. In addition to being available on Spotify, the album is also available on YouTube, iTunes, and kkbox. There were multiple concerts held to promote the campaign.

I’ve included some tidbits about the tracks and artists. The links in the track name are to lyrics at SoundCloud or kkbox, and links to artists are to FB or StreetVoice pages.

1. 台北天晴 by 嚴正嵐 (Vera Yen)
In Mandarin. A lovely voice. “A sunny Taipei, after the rain, is the prettiest.”

2. 寄望台北城 by 洪立 and 張詠承
In Taiwanese. A song about finding one’s wishes and dreams in Taipei. Taipei has long been the “big city” for many in Taiwan as a place where dreams can come true. There’s concert footage of their performance

3. 台北! 夢想起跑點 by 白芯羽 (Cindy Pai)
In Mandarin. 白芯羽 might only be eight years old, but she’s not a stranger to political events. She performed during the Sunflower student movement. The song continues the theme of Taipei being the beginning of people’s dreams. An upbeat song for a young and cute voice! She is the generation for whom we want a changed Taiwan.

4. 阮住佇艋舺 by 勞動服務 (Community Service)
In Taiwanese. A hip-hop song about 艋舺 (Bang Ka; Monga), the old name for the current 萬華 (Wan Hua) district. 艋舺 is the oldest district in Taipei. The song combines traditional instruments and describes the changes to 艋舺 that happened throughout history.

5. 我愛的台北 by 游景棠
In Mandarin. kkbox lists the artists as 游景棠, 曾翊維, 黃國晏, and 顧典晉, who are the members of 木眼鏡 (Wooden Glasses). A song about the many stories in Taipei. It encourages people to look down their own alleyway, and experience the warmth that people bring to the city.

6. 親眼目睹 by 楊宗翰 (Jerry Yang)
In Mandarin. A song about a different day, inspired by the words of 柯文哲. Describes a world where doing the correct thing is encouraged, and all live in good times with no hardships.

7. 我有一個夢 by 流氓阿德 (Ardor Huang)
In Taiwanese. “I have a dream, a small dream, I wish for a day, where there are no longer people who hurt. I have a dream, a small dream, I wish that people who love each other, can be forever, forever.”

8. 台北調 by 南西樂團 (Nasyy)
In Mandarin. A lively song that plays on the word 調. When pronounced 調(ㄉㄧㄠˋ), the word means melody or tone. When pronounced 調(ㄊㄧㄠˊ), the word means to mix or to adjust.

9. 從你我開始 by Dark Eyes Gypsy Jazz Band
In Mandarin. Very direct lyrics about the failure of the government. “Taiwan’s recovery, starts with Taipei; To save Taipei, starts with you and me.”

10. 站穩了 by Story Teller and 周照棠
In Taiwanese. A song about everyone, from the young to the old, working hard to make a living, despite the inequalities of the city. “There are many lovely things waiting for us to dream, there are many stories waiting for us to write. I will also stand firm, because I am a child of Taipei.”

11. Big City by 李振全 (Jeremy Lee)
In Mandarin. 李振全 has been paralyzed from the neck down after a car accident in January 2013. He was an up and coming artist – check out his performance at the 2012 Hennessy artistry competition. A song about gathering energy to continue to move forward, even while not being able to afford anything, and a sense of not belonging in the city. The original music video is on YouTube, and he performed at a campaign concert.

12. 白色力量 by 包子丸
In Taiwanese. This song was the campaign song. 包子丸 was a composer and lyricist and wrote many Taiwanese songs. He passed away in July 2014. Some of his works can be found at 包子丸的音樂 blogspot and Wang J.D (包子丸) G+. “Daylight slowly comes, what are you waiting for? A new day, or an unchanged past. The fear is that you are accustomed, to this city that never improves. Let us recover its fairness and justice.”

2014 臺灣選舉 | 2014 Elections in Taiwan


This election, more than any others, was really moved by young people and first-time voters. Spurred by the social movements from the past two years, an increase in participation from younger voters was expected. A lot of postings, like this one from the youth group supporting 柯文哲, introduced first-time voters to the regulations at polling places.

Earlier this year there was a movement for young people to change their home registration to their current residence, so they could make vote to make changes to where they lived. Voting is based on the place of home registration, which is not necessarily the same as place of current residence. Many people, especially students, need to go back to their place of home registration to vote.

Another movement encouraged young people to run for local positions. It is crucial for young people to take part in local government, and be a new voice. These people have become some our city representatives. It is so good to see the younger generation participating in politics so soon.

Many people used their skills to get the word out about candidates, or just voting in general. There was a series of student videos that encouraged people to go out and vote. I especially like this one that shows how many decisions in life are actually dictated by other people, but voting is a way to decide one’s future.

There was also a movement to get people involved in overseeing the election results. Community members are allowed to observe pre-voting and post-voting procedures. Voting is from 8am to 4pm. Before voting starts, the poll workers are required to show that the ballot boxes are empty and clean. After voting, the counting begins. Each ballot needs to be displayed as it is counted. This cartoon by nagee expresses the importance of overseeing the voting process.

One issue that still needs to be resolved is voting age. Voting age is based on age of majority, which is 20 years old. However, all males must do mandatory military service at the age of 18, unless he is in school. The drinking age is also 18. So why must people wait until they are 20 to decide one’s government? The voting age of 20 is one of the highest voting ages in the world. The change was suggested in the legislature earlier this year, but since the change requires a change in the constitution, it was unlikely to move forward. An NGO has been set up calling for the reduction of the voting age to 18.

“I Voted” Sticker in Chinese

On election day in the U.S., I saw this particular “I Voted” sticker online:

The sticker has “I Voted” in three languages: English, Chinese, and Spanish. The statements in English and Spanish seem very positive and upbeat, with exclamation marks. The Chinese translation 我已投票 comes across as happy as your computer telling you its virus library was updated. The statement 已更新 is used in software to mean that it has been updated. The use of 已 makes the statement rather formal and boring. It makes voting seem rather mundane, which is probably the opposite of what the sticker is supposed to project, given the statements in English and Spanish. 我投票了! also means “I Voted!” and sounds much more exciting. Plus, it also has an exclamation mark.

Finally caught up with BBC’s “Sherlock”

I know BBC started airing “Sherlock” in 2010. I know it made a Benedict Cumberbatch a much watched actor with a strong following. I know “Sherlock” has been well received. I just did not have the time to watch a single episode of the series. There’s only so much time in a day, and there’s so much out there to consume already. It was my pop culture blind spot. But it’s a blind spot no more, because I have now watched all three seasons.

To celebrate Sherlock’s 2014 Primetime Emmy wins, PBS announced it was streaming all episodes of Season 3 (until September 25, 2014). Thankfully I had time to finally experience the series. I found all three seasons on Netflix and started watching. It wasn’t until later I found out that even the episodes on Netflix were only made available recently. So I suppose I jumped in at the right time since “Sherlock” is now available where I can watch it.

I’m not sure when I first learned about the stories of Sherlock Holmes. I do remember my parents mentioning them when I was young. In Chinese, Sherlock Holmes is 福爾摩斯 (I know it sounds nothing like Holmes, but that’s for another post). I remember reading a few stories when I was young. I also remember watching some episodes of “Sherlock Holmes,” the series starring Jeremy Brett, on PBS. The only impression I have of that series is that it seemed rather dark.

I did watch some of the first season of “Elementary,” the updated Sherlock Holmes series on CBS. Unfortunately I lost track of it. Maybe the episodes will show up on streaming media so I can catch up. I did become a bit tired of the narcissistic version of Sherlock Holmes in “Elementary,” so it would be interesting to see how that developed.

I am completely enamored with “Sherlock.” It is witty and funny and a whole lot of fun. The actors and actresses are a delight to watch and really pull the audience into this particular world of Sherlock Holmes. I do like the socially awkward, but slowly becoming human, Sherlock Holmes. I also like the lively John and Mary Watson. I really like the caring, but still caustic, Mycroft Holmes. I’m completely terrified of the creepy Moriarty. This entirely updated version with modern technology is an absolute delight. I also really like the music and graphics. Ok, fine, I like it all.

“Sherlock” also gives me a glimpse of London. I was supposed to go to London on business around this time last year. The trip was canceled at the last minute so I didn’t end up going. Hopefully I’ll still be able to visit on my own at some point.

Now like everyone else, I’m waiting for Season 4. I’m not dismayed, as undoing this blind spot has given me a chance to go back and revisit Doyle and the original Sherlock Holmes stories. Digging through my books also resulted in a collection of Donne poems that I’m curious to revisit. It has also opened my eyes to the wonderful talents of one Benedict Cumberbatch. I’m particularly looking forward to “The Imitation Game,” which is scheduled for release on November 21, 2014.

I first learned about Alan Turing in my computer science courses. He is known for developing an early form of the computer and breaking the Enigma code. Although he died in 1954, his story continued this year when he finally received a royal pardon. I’m really excited to see his story brought to life through film.

Now, hopefully I have time to get through the first season of FOX’s Sleepy Hollow since all episodes are available on Hulu and a new season will be starting soon.

Yes, I know Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Mison (who portrays Ichabod Crane on Sleepy Hollow) were both in Parade’s End.

No, I haven’t had the time to watch it.

What is the real price of things in Taiwan (in U.S. dollars)?

I’m not an expert in economics, but I am aware of the economic differences between Taiwan and the U.S. Something that always concerns me is when I see people directly determining the price of an item in Taiwan by a simple exchange rate conversion. A shortcut for the conversion is that 1 New Taiwan Dollar (NTD) is equal to 30 U.S. dollars (USD). When someone buys a breakfast that costs 60 NTD, the common response is, “That’s cheap! It’s only 2 U.S. dollars.”

But that’s 2 U.S. dollars from the point of view of someone with an U.S. income and used to an U.S. cost of living. What does that 60 NTD breakfast really feel like to the average person in Taiwan? How do we figure out the price in USD so the average American would feel the same way about that breakfast?

We can compare incomes and find the price of that breakfast in U.S. dollars based on income. The median income in the U.S. is roughly 52800 USD. The median income in Taiwan is 39600 USD. The average Taiwanese earns 75% of what the average American earns. For 1 USD that a person in the U.S. earns, a Taiwanese person is earning 75 cents. Based on this income discrepancy, 1 NTD is equivalent to 22.50 USD. The price of that 60 NTD breakfast for the average Taiwanese feels like a 2.67 USD breakfast for the average American.

That probably doesn’t seem like a large difference, but that is based on median incomes. Now let’s look at a particular income bracket: college graduates. College graduates in the U.S. earn an average of 45327 USD a year. Taiwanese university graduates earn 26722 NTD a month, or 320664 NTD a year, or 10688.80 USD a year. Taiwanese college graduates earn on average 23.58% of what an American college graduates earns. For the 1 USD that an American graduate earns, a Taiwanese college graduate earns 24 cents. In this case, 1 NTD is equivalent to 7.20 USD. So to a Taiwanese college graduate, that 60 NTD breakfast would feel the same as a 8.33 USD breakfast for an U.S. college graduate. I’m sure most of you would think that that breakfast is rather expensive!

I know I’m probably missing some things. Maybe I should be comparing amount of disposable income instead of salary. I’m only comparing the price of breakfast, and not taking into account other items that contribute to the total cost of living.

It’s important to understand the local economic situation and not just base price comparisons on the exchange rate. Just because one thinks something is cheap relative to the exchange rate does not mean it is affordable to the average person in that country. Of course, when you’re on vacation, you can spend what fits in your budget, but some awareness of the value of items to locals may help you better understand a place.