When today is not your perfect day - like, you are sick, you face is stuffy, your LSAT score is on the decline, you forget the cell at your bf's so no goodnight kissy, your homework is due tomorrow - yeah, I mean a totally sucky day, what's left to do but envision a perfect day?

A perfect day starts early - ideally 6:30am on the dot. You have packed everything the night before, so by that first beep of the alarm you roll out of bed and storm into the bathroom - victoriously beating that annoying roommate who takes up an hour washing his face. 10 minutes later you rush out of the apartment, hastily run down the paved walkway of Stuyvesant Town just in time to catch a dewy L-train freshly rolling in from Brooklyn. Trust me, if you live in Manhattan, there's no pleasure equivalent to the joy of catching a train just in time.

On the train, you munch a favorite fudge brownie Cliff bar and chuck half a bottle of water (your pre-breakfast, pre-run routine) while flipping vigorously through credit meltdown and G-20 meetings in the Economist. Better yet, since it's your perfect day, the train is half empty. Thus instead of having your face squashed against the window like usual, you get your royal ass its own seat, next to a tall dark and handsome - wait for it - Asian guy with slanted eyes. You pretend to tilt your head 45 degree to check out an article on the opposite page, but in one full lash scan Tanned Asian from head to toe. Hmm - you smile professionally - not bad.

But you don't care to look again because you immediately daydream about your boyfriend, who holds forever grudges against waking up before 9am and does funny dances when his baseball team wins. And you giggle to yourself like an idiot. Tanned Asian seems startled and peeks a look over. Meh, you nonchalantly flips your Economist, he wears pop-collar, how preppy is that.

At The Gym, where muscles go on display and skinny flimsy bitches steer clear, you run 5 miles on the treadmill at 20-second faster pace than your comfort zone, sweating like crazy while watching your favorite show Charmed on the little TV. Exhausted and feeling accomplished, you treat yourself a long bath and sauna, knowing that the bosses are all out on a conference. Then you order the usual all nutritious shake, made especially in your honor by the proud chubby owner of the juice bar, stride out in your boots and feel like today will be perfect.

Something falls on your lashes. So you look up and see a flurry of snow - the first snow that hits New York this year. The corners of your mouth automatically pull apart into a wide smile, and you blink incredulously. You hastily pull out your phone to alert him of such beauty, but hesitant to wake him up. But before you could put the phone away, the phone rings its silly usual tone, and his voice is drowsy on the other end, "Good morning my little bed bug. It's snowing." 

You laugh but decide to sound stern, "I'm not little, I'm a giant bed bug!"
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Let me start off by saying I love Fatima to death. We met on my first day at NERA, at 5pm on the dot. "Hi mamma," she said in crisp Spanish accent, pushed the giant green tub by my cube to dump in my trash and recycling bins. "You new?" She nodded at me with a mischievous and patronizing air of a senior to a freshman. "Yes," I timidly replied. "No worry, I take care of you," she patted me on my back.

True to her words, Fatima takes the best care of me and my messy cube, as she does to everyone in the office. No matter how late I stayed, she circled the office twice or even three times to make sure all trash bins were empty the next morning - a deed I didn't fully appreciate until she left for a week-long vacation in Ecuador. Her substitute was not as dedicated, and being greeted by the faint smell of yesterday leftover was quite unpleasant.

Fatima has nicknames for everyone in the office. She refers to the Big Boss as "my best friend", and my Japanese Boss Charming as "tall Chinese guy." On Halloween, Boss Charming's girlfriend stopped by the office dressing up as a stewardess. Fatima promptly informed the next day, "Chinese guy's girlfriend, muncho pretty!"

I especially admire Fatima for her big bright smile, every time I see her, at 5pm on the dot. It's no question that she works hard - on weekday at MMC office from 4pm to midnight, all weekend at the Sheraton hotel. Apparently she also contracted with certain electricity suppliers, as one day she insisted on me switching electricity provider to save 7% on my bill.

One cold winter afternoon, as the sun hastily collected its purple rays, Fatima proudly told me, "Yesterday my son's birthday. I took him to Olives Garden in New Jersey, Manhattan too expensive. I buy him Armani Exchange jacket, $275. My son 19 year-old!" Her excited voice touched me, and I wanted to get up and give her a hug. But she might think it's weird. So instead, I offered the tiramisu I had ordered for dinner, "That's great Fatima. Would you like a dessert?" She did a graceful curtsy, "Thanks mamma!" 
In a fit of aspiration, I signed up for the Feb 2009 LSATs and went on a spending spree for Powerscore bibles and official LSAT tests. As a true NERoid, I drew up multi-tab spreadsheets to track my performance, saved all missed questions and reviewed them with Muggy at the end of each week. To my great annoyance (and beaming pride), Mugg proved much better than I on logical reasoning sections - unsurprisingly, as he often rambled on the beauty and linear regression of logic. I, on the other hand, was invariably left with a giant headache and no less giant frustration.

Based on the numerous law school admission predictions available (my favorite is, I would have a chance at the top 20 schools if I score at least a 172 on the LSAT. To have a decent chance, however, I'd need something around 175 - which usually gives room for missing max 5 questions out of 100, or an average of 1 question per section. Not impossible, but very hard to achieve within 35 minutes.

There are less than 2 months left, and a lot of work to do.

It was the end of  July, year 2007, smacked in the middle of summer. Somehow I remembered New York was particularly chilly. 

"Let's take a break" I messaged Mugg over NERA's internal chat system (basically IM, and off record, hence our preferred  mean of communication). This, of course, happened long before we started dating, back when Mugg and I were just two lost college grads eager to start our first job. We sat on opposite ends of a flat office, divided into even cubicles, one identical to the next. We frequented each other often for light-hearted laughter - Mugg over my silly comments, and I over his guaranteed one-lined sarcasm on even the happiest observations of the day.

"Fine. I can spare your whimsical head five minutes."

We met up downstairs. I had previously been complaining to Mugg about the waste of sunshine, as we were practically in the office from sun up to sun down, minus the two minutes of fresh air walking from apartments to subways. In this case, the grass was truly greener outside the office. 

"We can chase some sunshine down for you", he shrugged non-chalantly, striding towards Times Square where the sun had peaked through white clouds and shone brightly down the green roof of the classic Irish bar Connolly's.

We stood in the bright sunlight for a minute, in silence. I was impressed, incredulous that Mugg was capable of uttering a phrase so non-cynical. "Got enough vitamin D?" He asked after a few more seconds, impatient to return to messy hedge funds' transactions. "Just a little bit more," I pleaded, but resignedly inched my feet back to where we had come from, the towering black marble 1166 Avenue of the Americas.

"We should take more breaks," I almost sounded like begging.

"Maybe." He almost answered too fast.
The dreaded winter has made its way back to New York, and cast a depressing drizzle onto the pitch black marble wall of 1166 Avenue of the Americas. Esther walked by my cube everyday, peered out at the gray sky, and sadly declared that the next time we saw a sunny day would be next April - half a year from now!

To echo the weather, I was in a gray lousy mood. With the election closing in, Mary and I have actively talked for Barack: we have been making calls to swing states, hoping to sway voters. We convened on Monday in an empty conference room during lunch hour to call Pennsylvania. People on my calling list were, as a statement of fact, old. I talked to more than a dozen of 80 something crowd, who were exceptionally grumpy - due to the freezing rain or maybe because I had interrupted their afternoon nap? Usually I love older people and love how they remind me of a long future ahead, but the oldies in Penn state sucessfully lauched me a very very grumpy early-20's crisis. Ack.

To the least of my expectations, waking up early has put such a strain on me and Mugg. We have always been night-owls, staying up till 3am on a workday to blast guitar hero then crawling in to work at 10 (that's a particular thing I love about NERA). Our schedule, however, grew apart as I now woke up at 6am and went running, effectively waking Mugg up with my shuffling on his old squeaky wooden floor. He still went to bed at 3am, meaning that I would get no sleep from my new bedtime of midnight till 3 due to his loud baseball games and shuffling. As a result we were both haggard, cranky, and complaining that we didn't get enough attention from each other the next day.

Ack ack.

I'm glad that October is soon over, so soon I can cross off exciting activities that nonetheless have crowded out the more important things on my priority list. With winter blasting in, chances are I won't ever mutter enough motivation to run outside at the break of dawn, so that should solve our early rise vs. night owl problem.

As for Mugg, he promised to go running with me once a week at night, in exchange for a late late night of guitar hero and cuddling in the next morning. There are still much conflict of interest we have to work on, but I'm glad there's a compromise to be made.

I can't wait for November.

Another thing I love about the Wonderland Trail, how the road is long but definite. I only have to put one step at a time after the next, and after days and nights we will eventually reach the finish line (assuming maps are good and bears are full). The road of life, in the past 22 years, has been similar - long but definite: by high school I know I will go to college, by college I know I need internships and jobs. But now, supposedly well-equipped ex-post 22 times 365 times 24 times 3600 times infinite moments of wisdom, the road suddenly erupts into, in my mind, a convergence of land, water and sky. Or, in boring words, a convergence of possibilities. I could do pretty much anything now, unconstraint, free spirited (that was always the goal anyway, no?) Few thoughts that have entered my mind include (a) law school - that's a big yes yes but "a good time" for it is still ambiguous; (b) development studies program in Sweden - now that's enticing; (c) joining a dance troop and samba my way through rio - hmm nope, just a dream, I detest those carnival outfits.

By default of course I could stay at NERA, move up along the ladder and work the system. Funny enough, in the much warned cold corporate world, I've found warmth and love tugged in backup books, court briefs and the very impersonal, un-private white cubicles. And I'd like to think that my presence has made work a bit more tolerable for Mugg, Boss Charming, Esther, Craig, Jay, big Trang, as they have completely colored my world. So there is hope after all, of human interaction rising above silly quabble of stock frauds and messy hedge fund transactions. Like the dementor, I live for that, hunting restlessly for leftover hope in gloomy New York.

One sunny day in September, as we were visiting Berkeley, Mugg gasped at the revelation that I could not do a cartwheel. He promptly took off his shoes, dragged me to a stretch of green grass in front of Bloat Hall (the law school!) and tried desperately to flip my hips over my head. It turned out, I had no balance whatsoever, and could not sustain my body inversion for as little as a split second in the air. We had a grand time nonetheless, and I'd never felt more free spirited despite the fact that I was doing nothing more than hurting my butt.

So I guess the next step is exactly what it is, a tiny little inch, some time unrecognizable.

It was the most exhilarating feeling I've felt in a long time. The last mile of the 100-mile Wonderland Trail, as we had been warned, proved the longest. We were practically running, pressing our blistered feet and tired knees up and down hill, dusty and sweaty backpacks bouncing. It was September 12, 2008. We finally made it back to civilization after 10 days in the wild. It was, by far, the most physically arduous thing I've done in life. We hiked through snow, forest, mud, dessert, meadows; drank the freshest ice-cold water from rivers; slept under the stars; swam in lakes. Life was simple: we went to bed when sun set, wake up at sunrise. Biggest worry of the day included a nice spot to filter water, a flat ground to pitch tent, a bear pole to hang up our food. The first day proved the hardest for me physically, while mentally I was freaked out the last day - Mugg had a fever and almost didn't make it out. Thanks goodness he gathered enough will power to finish the trail. We hugged each other tight at the finish line. The trail has made us true companions.

The best spill-over effect of all, the hike has launched my body into a thirst of activities. Once getting used to hiking an average of 10 miles a day with a 45-lb load, my muscles screamed and itched in New York for something more rigorous than samba dancing classes. Before I knew it, I signed up for a half marathon and started running 4 times a week at 6am. At Mugg's dismay, I soon became a morning person and even sooner discovered my addiction to running. The half marathon is tomorrow in Staten Island, so I really should be going to sleep right about now.

I'm incredibly grateful for this twist of attitude, that I've somehow managed to become athletic which I always aspired but feared to be. I hope to complete the half marathon in 2 hours injury-free (much thanks of course to Yuko my running buddy).

2 more things to note:

1. My samba class is marching in the New York Halloween Parade, accompanied by the live band Samba Manhattan ( So come check us out on Halloween if you are in New York! The parade will start at 7pm-ish on Spring Street and 6th Avenue. We'll be having weekly rehearsal Thurs night out on the Westside Highway around 8pm - just follow the beat of drums and come join us on some hot samba steps!

2. I'm contemplating signing for a full marathon in Jan or Feb 2009 - leaving 3-4 months for training. Possibly the ING Miami Marathon in late Jan. My dream: to run a marathon on the Great Wall in China one day ( - maybe this May?

I'd like to dedicate this first long run to the Alchemist and what it has taught me:

"If you want something bad enough, the universe conspires to help you";

"You must understand that love never keep a man from pursuing his destiny. If he does, it's because it wasn't true love."
The big trip is almost here... only one more week! I am so incredibly excited and nervous just the same. In the past month, Mugg and I's weekends have been jam-packed with nothing but hiking, breaking into boots, loading backpacks. Slowly we eventually collected most if not all gears needed for the Wonderland Trail. Today I bought my final, but probably most important, piece of equipment - the Gregory Maven 50L backpack. I have had 2 other lined up from coworkers, but this little backpack is so comfortable and beautifully made that I couldn't resist. An internal frame, the pack has a sleeping bag compartment, 3-entry into the main load, a solid and sturdy hip belt that fits snugly around my waist. I was lucky to find a perfect fit - it was the last x-small backpack left at Tent and Trails. My only concern is that it's not big enough, though the sales man insisted that I should only carry 25 pounds, a quarter of my body weight. "Just make your boyfriend carry more!" he said seriously. We loaded the bag with 25-30 lbs and I walked around the store, amazed at how well the weight sat on my hip bones. Mugg will be carry considerably more with his 70L backpack - I grimaced at how he surely would laugh once he saw my tiny internal frame. Once Mary bring me her sleeping bag, I definitely need to load the backpack and see if it can hold 2-week worth of living.

The bulky items will be the sleeping bag, the tent (5 lbs splitting between Mugg and I), insulating pads, 5-day worth of food to keep us going till the next cache. Amazingly 5-day worth of food translates into about 10 lbs per person, meaning we each will consume about 2 lbs of food per day! I never thought I eat that much. Water too will be heavy - we each will carry about 3L, or 6 lbs a day. Most likely we will filter enough water supply for the group in the morning, then might do it again at night if someone runs out. We will need to be scanty with water, especially Mugg who drinks a lot, since there might be a stretch when there's no lake or river near us.

Unlike Mugg who is a light sleeper and is bothered frequently by blisters, my biggest worry lies with the fact that a shower might not be feasible till the few final days of the trip, when we hit a more-equipped check point. The prospect of not being able to wash my hair for 10 plus days sends me squirmish - luckily tickets had been bought at that time the thought finally dawn on me so there wasn't a possibility to back out. Baby wipes and dry shampoo are considered, though both are inconvenient. We will have to pack all trash with us, so I'm hesitant to bring anything that's non-biodegradable. And dry shampoo... apparently there's no need for water, just shampoo and towel dry - the concept of which is skeptical to me. More research has to be done on this.

It all started 3 months ago, when Ian, a phD candidate in Oceanography at UCSD and Mugg's buddy from Berkeley, sent out a rally call for a backpacking trip of 100 miles on the Wonderland Trail that runs around Mount Rainier, a snow-covered active volcano southeast of Seattle. To my surprise, Mugg enthusiastically signed us up. "I never know you are so into backpacking," I had asked skeptically. "It's a one-of-a-lifetime opportunity," he answered solemnly. He was right - it definitely is not a light matter to plan a long backpacking trip on which we will have to live with bare survival. The Wonderland Trail is open only for a month or two a year, since the rest of the time it's covered in snow. We were lucky that Ian took care of most the logistics, like planning out the route, acquiring permits, sending ahead food cache. There will be six of us to split the food and common gears: Mugg and I, Ian and his triathlon girlfriend, 2 more guys from UCSD. Daily menu includes mostly dry food - lots of trail mix, energy bars, beef jerky etc, with the more fancy freeze-dry food packs spared for dinner. I am most excited for the warm milk tea in the morning (thank goodness we are bringing a stove!)

As inexperienced in backpacking as it gets, Mugg and I had to buy/borrow most of the start-up gears. In fact, I haven't shopped for anything but hiking stuffs in the last quarter. After this trip, I might have to make hiking a life-long habit to worth all the investments made (not a bad motivation at all, mind you lol).

The packing list, so far, stands as followed:

- Gregory backpacks - 70L for Mugg, 50L for me
- Sturdy Goretex hiking boots - Merrill for Mugg and Vasque Sundowner for me
- 20 degree sleeping bags - borrowed from Craig and Mary the wonderful nature-loving coworkers at NERA
- Thermarest 4-season self-inflated insulating pads - rented
- Kelty 2-person 3-season tent - amazing piece at 5 lbs
- Hiking shirts and shorts - 2 each per person
- Rain jacket and rain pants - 1 each per person
- Long thermal tops and bottoms - 2 and 1 each per person
- Thick wool socks - 3 pairs each
- Silk sock liners - 4 or 5 pairs each
- Fleece jacket and fleece pants - 1 each per person
- Lots of hand sanitizer
- Sun screen, bug repellent, iodine pills to purify water, personal aid kits, moleskin for blister, duct tape, small towel, journal, camera

All of this (plus food and water) will add up to 30 - 40 lbs loads each of us will lug along the, so I heard, breathtaking trails of Mount Rainier.

I can hardly wait.
The last few days before vacation are long. Way too long. As Mugg has been kept in the office everyday past midnight for the last two weeks, I was appointed Chief of Packing and Investigator of Missing Items. The progress was good - yesterday I felt particularly productive between listening to Michelle Obama and packing up my sweet little Maven. To my dismay, the backpack is indeed too small, and definitely won't fit the giant synthetic sleeping bag a coworker had kindly dropped off at my cube. I will need to go back to Tent and Trails to exchange for a bigger size or return it. Good thing I still have Alex's backpack as a backup. But man, how I'm gonna miss those hip belts. Michelle Obama, on the other hand, was fantastic.

Mugg is justly the Chief if Misplacing Items. As if affected by a spell, two things can never match up in his apartment: socks always get their partners confused, and gloves strive in vain to find their better half. Well, I had to admit I played an active role in the chaos. In the last few weeks, I was often distracted by superb jumps and twist of gymnastics and other Olympics events while folding laundry, thus giving my share in mixing up socks. Next thing on our Sherlock Holmes list is a right hand winter glove, a must item for the chilly nights of Mount Rainier.

Jay called few nights ago and asked if I want to volunteer for the Talk For Obama campaign. A coworker at NERA and law school candidate, Jay took 3 months off to campaign for Obama in North Dakota. As he was outgoing and an avid bar hopper, I was curious to see how Jay coped with the god-forsaken midwest town. Apparently the campaign has worked him breathless. While there isn't many bars around, Jay has been well-entertained with tall blond girls in this German-Swedish settlement region. lol Good for him. About Talk for Obama, I enthusiastically agreed. After vacation, Jay will pass along to me a list of potential voters in North Dakota to whom I need to call and persuade them to vote for Barack. In preparation, Yuko promptly lend me her "Dream from My Father" so I could marginally be familiar with the man. Exciting stuffs!

Three more days till the big trip!
Lately, as Mugg - in the most exaggerated and ungraceful manner - pointed out, I had a tendency to shuffle up my English vocabulary. In shock I discovered that things I thought my whole life are A turn out to be B. It all started one casual weekend when we decided to make salmon chili, a recipe passed down by his ultra-health-conscious friend from school. I volunteered to get grocery, among which were scallions. Mugg's face turned stone when I showed up with pinkish tiny onions, "These are shallots, you know that, right?" We raced to Wikipedia, and to Mugg's amusement I sunk into a state of temporary disbelief, as if my childhood had just been robbed by the discovery that Santa Claus were fictional. "It's okay" he consoled as I kept knocking my head an hour later, "You are not native." To which I pouted indignantly, "I used to win spelling bees during a class full of American kids!" Obviously a spelling bee trophy can hardly justify my messed up English skills, but since I am a girl and I just lost my bet over tiny onions, Mugg chuckled and offered to clean the dishes.

To my horror, I soon discovered in subsequent weeks that the matter of shallots vs. scallions wasn't the only leak in my memory pipe. Yams turn out to be not sweet potatoes; people travel on a subway, not in; "If I was" is as acceptable as "if I were"; and a flurry of nuances that I thought I had mastered.

I soon develop a habit to make Mariam Webster my best buddy. Like now, just 5 minutes ago, before putting down the title of this blog as "cramp" I cautiously performed a quick check to find out that cramp (v) as in a tension in muscles is very different than cram (v) as in studying really hard for an exam. That, by the way, is what I mean to write in this blog: I am cramming real hard for my CFA.

Honestly - reeeeal hard.

One morning, I woke up and looked outside the window: sun rays had generously poured over the head of the Statue of Liberty, and the winding tourist line in front of Battery Park was especially long. Light green buds had, from nowhere, crowded on otherwise bare branches. Spring was here.

A few years ago, during a cold bleak winter night in the Bates library, Saif and I mused over the many recent break-ups of out friends and commented on how hearts grew cold due to icy weather. But, when spring came, we optimisted, the hearts would soon become warm and toasty.

Spring 2008 - I snuggled at Mugg's warm and toasty heart as we strolled down Seventh Ave, happily away from the office earlier than usual on a Friday night. We had talked the night before about "life correlation", a statistic concept based on the correlation coefficient we looked at on daily basis at NERA. "My life is correlated to your mouth. When your mouth goes down my happiness goes down, when it goes up my happiness goes up," he said grimly, pulling the two corners of my mouth down and up into a frown and a smile.

I had laughed brightly at such silly thinking, but was deeply touched and amused. "So it was a good thing, then, that our life correlation coefficient is positive. And statistically significantly different than zero."

And I thus felt my own warm and toasty heart.

It all started with Oasis' Wonderwall, which Itunes menacingly or unconsciously put on repeat mode, and I too disconcerted to resist.

Or it could be an hour and a half of sweaty samba, followed by another hour and a half of roasting and suffocating in hot yoga.

Whatever it was, by the time I got home at 11pm, downed a full glass of orange juice and walked around my room for the nth time, the phone rang. "So, are you gonna tell me?" Mugg sounded suppress-ingly excited. "No, don't worry about it, it's not important" I resorted to passive offensive technique. "Come on!" he insisted on for five more minutes, but gave up with a giant arrgh as I refused to bulge. "Fine. Bye then."

By midnight, after one more dose of Wonderwall, I resolved to pick up the phone, "Let's meet." "Now??" Mugg was a little shocked - I learned later that a giant basketball game was on TV then. "Hello?" "Yeah yeah, now" - I must have knocked my head till silly during the 3o-second conversation.

We walked around Union Square in silence for half an hour, then talked till 4am in Starbucks.

It all started one cold, cold night :-)
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Spring has lightly skirted around New York. The weather is still chilly, but couldn't prevent people to hop around in shorts and spring fashion. I was caught more than once shivering outside due to deceiving sunshine, but refused to give up my mid-calf tight and oversized bright yellow Saint Norbert sweatshirt. It just feels so good to shed off thick layers of winter clothes, and I'm already in summer-mode.

February and March have been two months of lightheartedly silliness. A week after Vietnam, a very special friend of Yuko and I, Xue Lor, came to visit us in New York. A Hmong immigrant, Xue spent many years at a overcrowded refugee camp in Thailand before settling in Green Bay, Wisconsin. With shaved head and broad smile, Xue resembles a bear-hugged jolly Buddha who often whole-heartedly bends his head over so we can rub it for good luck.

Xue was a big brother to me at Saint Norbert, as he was big brother to everyone who needed help. Most often it's the richest guys and most coquettish girls who demanded the most attention and most easily forgot. He'd help them out anyway.

On my way out of the library, I often stopped by, and we'd talk for hours about finding identities, finding love, keeping love. We still do.

Funny how life sometimes throws us such sudden and lovely treat. Xue in New York has giantly and dramatically altered my world, in the most unexpected way. It turned out, a little nudge was all I needed.

The flight was long, longer than I last remembered (I was too cheap to get a nicer route, lesson learned). Olya once told me she felt like she was always on plane rides back and forth from the U.S. and Russia - how terrible that must be, I thought sympathetically while experimenting restlessly with my legs to find a comfortable pose. Tough luck.

Tan Son Nhat airport was more beautiful than I last remembered. Turned out it was brand new, freshly finished by the Japanese a few months ago. I could felt the change of attitude the minutes the plane landed: pride sparkled in the eyes of airport workers; returners were more awed at their stylish outfits than they were at eager visitors' blond hair and blue eyes. A good sign, I guess.

Honestly I don't remember much from this trip home. I only remember one feeling: that of waking up with the sun fully shone onto your face. That of calm blessing, full happiness, heart-wrenching warmth, and terrible, terrible nostalgia.

Truthfully I couldn't even recall what we did, obviously tons of family bonding since it was New Year. I did remember grinning from ears to ears with my cousins, playing badminton at the crack of dawn with Grandpa, cleaning vegetables with Grandma, and standing numbly in front of my sister's jar of ashes wishing so bad for an alternative...

Frankly now it is rather painful to recall, as such sweet thoughts trigger a bad case of homesickness. I can say though, that I was refilled with much souls and sunshine.
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1. One time, at one of our check-on-each-other routine, Mugg told me a funny line from a movie: "You can lose money chasing after women, but you'll never lose women chasing after money." He then looked at me and laughed, "But you are different. You are a bum, so this might not work." I resented him outwardly, but secretly was content.

2. Random incidents from the office:

- Steve: What the hell are you guys looking for?
- Boss Asian Charm and I (intently looking out of the window with binoculars in our hands): The moon, Steve, the moon! (few minutes later...) Well, no moon, but that guy in the opposite building sure ate a lot!
(Note: Boss Asian Charm has a pair of kick-ass hiking binoculars that we often used to spy on the moon, random meteors, and people from other buildings).

- Esther: Did you hear? They SETTLED!
- Me, Craig and Asian Charm: What, awwww man!
(Note: My first and our favorite case settled for a tiny amount - a proof of our diligent work. The team however was bitter since we didn't get to work on it anymore :-(

- Asian Charm: I wanna get married, man.
- Esther: I need a marriage counselor, man.
- Craig and I: (contemplative silence)

- Thummin: Do you happen to know if doperman is a dog or a cat?
- Me: Huh?
- Thummin: Oh I'm working on a pet food case. Do you know they feed them salmon and lobster? Make me hungry!

- Boss Yum: The DOJ has very odd sense of justice.

- Me: (showing Yi the chart of law school acceptees) Well, acceptance probability is directly proportional with LSAT score and GPA. Except for this person right here (pointing at a low outlier) - how did he get accepted?
- Yi: (with casual sarcasm) He probably has only one leg.

NERA is a very lovely place to call home :-)

3. I somehow got along very well with New York cab drivers. Most of the time we struck up lively conversations, and many time I was given phone numbers for "in case you need a ride." I did even give my phone number (which I never, never do) to one guy - John - who gave me his green-leather-bound Bible and invited me to his church. "I will call to quiz you on the Book of Wisdom" - he said solemnly.

One time, I rode with an Indian guy who grew up in Guyana. He looked no more than 25; though during the 15 mins from 1166 Avenue of the Americas to StuvyTown, he was comfortable enough to confess he is actually 37. "How do you look so young?" - I was amazed. "Let me tell you the secret" - he smiled brightly - "No meat, no drink, no smoke." Hmmm - I thought seriously about those temptations, and had to confess I might never be able to quit meat.

Tonight, as I opened the door to climb in, the cab driver peered at me with his spectacle, "Remember me? I took you once back really late, around 1 or 2am. We talked about life in New York. I waited for you to get in your building safely before I drove away." He turns out to be from Togo, and we chatted heartily in French. I suddenly felt warm - like the City was a little less indifferent.

4. Sunday night, the Grand Boss strode in the office to catch me swinging around on my chair along the hallway. "Wish I could be swinging" - he shrugged.

"Go home, I can handle this." - Asian Charm urged sympathetically as my eyes turned blood red from analysis-saturation.

"Where are you?" - Mugg asked
"I'm at work, and the DOJ has odd sense of justice."
"Ah." - I can imagine his eyes squinting tight at the other end of the screen - "Such is life, young grasshopper."