Ah, the French macarons - a baker's Everest. Those tiny little cookies, made from barely four ingredients, are deceptively cute. Their smooth top, and surrounding mysterious 'feet' in fact summon utmost care in technique and countless crossed fingers. The shells, as you might be able to guess just from looking at the picture, are extremely fragile, and absolutely hate moisture and uneven heat, unfortunately two things that bakers have minimal control over (the weather and the oven's temper). We try nonetheless, shoving off alarming heeds, sticky fingers and rising fear - for what a slap to the ego it is to be defeated by tiny little cookies! But we simply can't resist, we must whip those egg whites fluffy and grind our almond flour, because what a heavenly moment it is to bite into a perfect, colorful little macaron, through the soft, crunchy shell, into a chewy texture of meringue, into a bittersweet mocha ganache with a hint of orange zest. It's the one supreme moment of satisfaction and accomplishment that justifies the toil, frustration, and sweat (really, a lot of sweat!)

My first attempt with the macarons came one bored weekend browsing Tastespotting, a haven for wanna-be cooks. I stumbled on the macarons queen, Tartelette, a French pastry chef who made picture-perfect desserts. Not knowing any better, I decided to give it a try, pulsed my almond silvers in a blender (gasp!), hand-whipped my freshly cracked egg whites (double gasp!), and of course failed miserably. The products, which I didn't bother taking pictures of, didn't taste bad. In fact, they tasted a dream for the sweet-tooths. But alas, the macaron experience is at best half in taste; a heavenly moment is consumed by devouring by eyes first those beautiful creatures, only after that by taste their layers of textures and flavors. Without the oohs and aahs of admiration at their round dome and spreading feet, well, it's just not the same.

My chance to conquer the macarons finally arrived. Upon learning about ICE's upcoming macaron class, I promptly signed up. It was AMAZING! If you are a serious amateur cook, or a beginner looking for more refined technique, I highly recommend their recreational courses. My chef, the formidable Kathryn Gordon, who left a Wall Street and consulting career to pursue her passion in pastry, is a the utmost enthusiastic and patient instructor, not to mention years of producing perfect macarons with the Rainbow Room and Le Cirque. With her help, my chef-partner Jaqulin (an art history professor at St. John) and I produced these little mocha-flavor caps, soon to be swooned over by classmates and pronounced "best and picture-perfect!" by Chef Gordon:

A closer look at the pretty domes and feet:

Yummy! The best part of class is always the sharing at the end. Among the 12 participants, we made hundreds of those little sandwiches. My partner and I made two batches using two different recipes - one mocha-flavored shells hugging chocolate ganache fillings (above), and one ginger-flavored shells with caramel fleur de sel fillings. I freezed a dozen of those goodies awaiting Mugg's return, and will be bringing the rest to the office for a sugar-high Wednesday.

Can I let you in a secret? I am actually not that crazy about eating macarons (!!!) I know, I know... I'm just more of a creme-caramel kinda girl. I am, however, crazy about making these handsome and tasty French desserts. So if you are ever in New York when I'm rapping those macaron pans, count on having a lot of them to bring home!

Wow, can you believe it, two days till Christmas! Unfortunately this year I didn't make it out of the city. The lack of vacation days, my cousins visiting and law school stress resulted in zero planning for the holiday. Given my blank 250-word essay for Yale, and the many scholarship essays in need of being written, I tried to convince myself that it would actually be a smart choice to stay in the city and get some work done. Wishful thinking, of course. It isn't easy with so many visitors dropping in and out of my apartment. I had a hard time saying no to traveling college students, who reminded me of my homeless self not so long ago. As a result, three teenagers now occupied my couch, gobbling up all the food in the fridge and talking "xi` tin" 9-X dialogues I'm too old to understand. Ah, youth.

Last weekend, New York was stranded in a snow blizzard. Mugg was so extremely lucky to jump on a plane to Miami at dawn on Sat morning, as a heavy veil of snow crashed down on the trees in front of my windows that night. The said teenagers, who had never seen so much snow in their lives, got considerably excited, and we went out for a quick snow fight. The trees lining Columbus Avenue, leading all the way up west from Columbus Circle, have all been lit up. A few houses have adorned Christmas decorations; laurel wreaths with big red bows are everywhere. As the kids raced one another into snow piles, I wiggled my frozen gloved fingers, and sang to myself the favorite tune of Love Actually: "I can feel it in my fingers, I can feel it in my toes..."

By the next morning, New York has been turned in a white, slushy spinster. Now I really regretted declining the open invitation from Mugg's parents to join them in Miami. Argh! This year, we decided to get Mugg's parents Christmas gifts together - an endeavor more rigorous than I was prepared for. After endless hours of brainstorming and debates, we finally settled for two awesome gifts - Shiseido's cream for mom (my go-to product for female giftees which has earned raved reviews from my mom, grandma and aunt), and an elegant two-time-zone watch for dad. Mugg said they opened the gift today and were smiling a lot - which, seriously, is a huge expression practice for Cultural-Revolution-era Chinese lol

And surprise surprise, I finally realize today that I am so consummated by law school admission! I guess the moment came when I looked at my Wish List for Christmas, and behold, they are ALL law school books. Books that I'm actually so looking forward to reading! It was a rather funny moment when Mugg - the more academia-cultivated of the two of us - refused to buy me any book and instead get me a gift certificate to the best Pilates studio ever. Yes, I am a proud Pilates addict, ever since a few classes fix my back pain and prep my legs for distance runs. I guess Muggy knows me best :-)

Back to law school obsession: make no mistake, everybody is obsessed. It's like being admitted into a cult-like, egocentric club where people half worship, half yearn to devour one another. Somehow the mindset reminded me of schooling in Vietnam - there are simply too few shining stars for an overcrowding class. Only this time, the language is one that I don't understand, the readings are a hundred times thicker, and the debt - no comment necessary on the debt.

Good news nonetheless: I received a super nice phone call for UPenn welcoming me to the class of 2013. The paper letter came today, accompanied by a thick, colorful viewbook tooting UPenn's great-looking professors and faculty. I like how nice it is, but wish they go green like UMich with an USB. Being unsentimental, I don't keep things for keeping things' sake. Even pretty viewbooks.

More good news: I was invited today via email to apply for the Darrow, UMich's most prestigious merit scholarship which provides up to full tuition AND a stipend. Wohooo! As excited as I am, I'm seriously overwhelmed with the essay ass-kicking to do in the next two weeks:
- 500-word Darrow scholarship essay for UMich
- 500-word Dean's scholarship essay for Cornell
- 500-word International Law essay for NYU
- 250-work (evil) free style rant for Yale apps

Notwithstanding, I can't wait to go to my macaron class tomorrow at the Institute of Culinary Educaton! You see, those cute little sugar-heaven sandwiches have driven me crazy in the last month, after a miserable failed attempt that resulted in my bitter and eager for revenge zeal. We'll see how it turns out tomorrow. I have promised my mailman and Fatima some macarons goodness, so those cuties better turn out perfect!

Time to sleep. Merry Christmas everyone :-)
I love the first week of December! December 7 features me dragging home at 10pm drained and stressed - what can you do, when your boss is freaked out, it's your duty to also sweat - to find a big, very purple envelop hovering under Mugg's giant grin. "It says NYU", he did a little dance. I hungrily tore the envelop apart, then did a long ridiculous dance myself.

In at NYU!

What a great relief, since this means that I have an option to stay in the Big Apple, keep my perfect apartment, breathe Central Park air, and well, enroll at a top-5 (US News ranking) law school in the nation! NYU is also ranked 2nd nationwide in International Law, which is a field I am interested in pursuing. Woohoo!

And today, my status checker changed to "Decision Rendered" at Cornell. The admission office was nice enough to tell me the decision on the phone - I'm in, and invited for the Dean's Scholarship! I have been scared multiple times by Mugg's endless snow storms tales from his undergrad years in Ithaca, but still am extremely happy. Cornell is a beautiful place, and has much to offer with its small class size and a liberal-arts-ish environment.

Five down - still 10 more to go, including one visible elephant i.e. the Yale apps. I definitely plan to finish it before the holidays, before the flurry of visitors will keep me breathless. Where I end up next year will largely depend on where Mugg will be, so crossing fingers for us both!

And on a non-law yet amazing note: a good friend of mine told me yesterday that she is pregnant! I can't even describe how happy I am, for I know that this baby will be in the best hands for all his/her life. My friend used an expression that I've never heard before, that she cannot wait to fall in love with her child. Wow. I feel like we take for granted that we must love our family, yet know fully well that it sometimes is the hardest thing. But to be truly fall in love with your child, your mom, your dad, how amazing that must feel like. I'm planning to stop by a baby store to get the expectant mom a present, and also a gift for the new-born son of my middle-school friend. She was the first to get married, and the first to have a kid, pioneering the 86-ers rite to adulthood. The new lives of my friends make me feel a bit more grown up, and definitely put my trivial stress on work and law school in perspective. Yes, it is a soft and gentle reminder - there are more important things in life.

I felt bad dashing out of the office early on a busy Friday night, but gosh I was so glad that the hellish November weeks are over! Muggy and I are heading to Miami, where we will be spending Thanksgiving with his mom - an awesome cook and lovely lady whose cozy house and big, open kitchen I've come to love.

Miami still awes me with its sense of space. Every night, Mugg and I take a walk along the surburban neighborhood of Pembroke, whose concentric circles of houses interlaced into a sort of maze. We'd walk for hours, talk about our future, stop to observe a cute wandering cat, chase each other through the high neatly trimmed trees lining down the road. It feels funny to be in surburbia.

On Thanksgiving night, we joined a party with another Chinese family at their house. The husband is an amazing cook. My eyes grew in bewilderment as he glided his big, iron chef knife across the cutboard, twirled home-grown vegetables into neat stacks and molded pearl-white buns. I sat with the parents, listening amorously to their tales of the early days in the US, while Mugg engaged in a Wii battle with the family's kids, a 6-year-old and a teenager. The Chinese lady nudged me with her elbow, "Your boyfriend is so playful!" Mugg's mom nodded, "He grew up a good kid." I suddenly felt warm from the inside out. It has been too long since I last rocked in a comfortable chair, listened to small talk, and stuffed my tummy with a delicious family dinner.

The next day, we went to South Beach, where the warm sunlight and light breeze immediately knocked us into a long nap on the sand. I woke up dazed, staring straight into the immensely open sky above, and blanked out for a full minute before remembering that I was still on Earth. It's the oddest feeling to realize that - oh right, I'm human.

At midnight, we went with Mugg's friend to catch the first show of Ninja Assassin - a bloody, anime-esque action saga that features very real six packs from, guess who, the girly Korean singer Bi/Rain. Albeit the (always) unnecessary Hollywood violence, I was pretty amused, especially when an Europol agent snidely commented that "This guy [Bi] looks more like he belongs to a boyband than in a ninja club" - right before being slashed in two, of course.

At 3am, as the battles wore off the screen, we walked through the empty arches of the Miami mall and drove home. I rolled down the window, so the wind blew my hair into a mess and scattered Gun N' Roses "Take me down to paradise city, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty..." along the highway. The smell of the night was intoxicated.

"Why is the sky blue?" I turned to Mugg, "Just imagine if it were some odd colors - like bad-cheese yellow."

"It's the way molecules in the air reflecting light. It just happens to be in a spectrum that our eyes can see. And it just happens to be in the blue range of the spectrum."

Seriously, it is but a stroke of random luck that the molecules float around in the right way, so that I get the mood-lifting joy each time I look at the sky?

I took a deep breath and held tight to Mugg's hand, floored with gratitude. Oasis came on the radio. And I suddenly felt like I could live forever.
Seriously, all I want for this Christmas, and next year, and the next ten years to come, is a JR1.

For 0L-wanna-be-1L, "JR1" has suddenly become the holy grail of our life-long quests. The famous "JR" is Josh Rubenstein, the brand new Dean of Admission at Harvard Law and a graduate of class of 2006. Being paid to research, I quickly found out that he had worked briefly on the Hill prior to HLS, and joined Bain for 3 years upon obtaining the JD. So this guy, in my guess, is probably in his early 30's. Is it not scary, that someone so young holds entirely in his hands the power to guide my career, life, and happiness?

JR1 is the phone interview made by the Dean, a prequisite for a follow-up acceptance call (coined the "JR2"). While a JR1 doesn't guarantee a JR2, the absence of one decidedly leads to a rejection/waitlist. Words on the streets are about 1,000 applicants out of 7,000-8,000 files were offered a JR1. And of these 1,000, about 750-850 were admitted. Since late October, the online 0L have shrunken to a bunch of neurotic, nervous wrecks as the first JR1 trickled out. Based on last year's statistics, JR2 will start coming out the few days before Thanksgiving for those who have had their JR1.

My endless wait, and the agony of each minute during such wait, has knotted my mind in a frenzy. Thanksgiving is coming in a few days. I'm hoping that the Miami sunshine and the delicious home-cooked meals of Muggy's mom will ease my sore disappointment. But oh I know it is gonna hurt, long and throbbing even after decisions have all rolled out next spring.

To quickly summarize the season's yield so far:
- Acceptances: Duke (giant envelop), Georgetown (tiny envelop), UMichigan (a big package with an USB and hand-written note from the Dean complimenting my work at NERA)
- Schools who have rolled out acceptances but haven't made decisions on my file: UCLA, UVirginia, Berkeley
- Schools I still not complete: Northwestern (pending interview), Stanford (oh Dean Reese, will you ever fax my form?), Yale (if I ever muster enough wit to write the infamous 250-words essay)
- Endless wait: NYU, Columbia, BU, UPenn, Cornell, Harvard

When I was a kid, I thrived at reading. I was that kid who picked the thickest book on the shelf, who pored through the classic novels (The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, White Fang etc) before hitting puberty. I pretty much spent all my allowances renting books at the many used bookstores around Hanoi. Do you remember those, with musty smell and stacks of uneven volumes protruding from their fading shelves? The novels I read were published in the early 20th century, on yellowish paper so thin that there were always holes on them, and bind together with thread. I would buy book covers and neatly wrapped them up to preserve their fragile spines. Books were my great friends; they were magical, joyous, and never failed to transport me to their magical worlds.

In high school, I moved on to more serious subject matters: race (Mark Twain's books on Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are a must for a New Orleans education), death (Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury - so far still the hardest book I've ever read), love (A Streetcar Named Desire, another Southern favorite). The literature influence of Ben Franklin High made me more somber, sadder, I guess a necessary rite of passage to teenage-hood and growing up. I did enjoy tremendously English classes, and absolutely loved creative writing classes where I got to relive the long lost dream of being a writer through silly poems and rambling prose. Sadly, it was probably the last time I read for the pure joy of reading.

College was different - I was enamored with political science theories and disillusioned by economics promises, so subsequently I was devoted to Hobbes, Malanczuk, Waltz and half-hearted towards Hull, Scholes, Fama. Reading slowly drifted away from being whimsical and creative; it was the bread and butter of my liberal arts education - to dissect the hypothesis, spot the argument, question the data, propose alternatives. By senior year, I was necked deep in theses and reading for fun had sounded as ancient as the ice age.

Post-college, I dwelled immediately into court documents, litigation trends and analyst reports breeze at NERA. My attempt to read fiction stumbled on a wall, as evident by the one year it took to finish Dostoyevsky's The Idiot (granted, The Idiot is next to The Sound and The Fury in the difficulty scale). I was horrified that I had forgotten how to read. But before I could do anything, there was the LSAT to study for. As I started subscribing to the Economists and the NewYorker in preparation for the test, surprisingly I found it - the lost joy of reading I had left behind years ago in Hanoi's old bookstores. Not from the monetary policy section of the Economists - please - but from the weekly beautiful Fiction of the New Yorker. It was both nostalgic and comforting.

Now that the threat/dream of law school is closing in, I know that this is my last chance to catch up on the forever growing pillars of literature. Once 1L falls on my head with its monstrous reading load, I will probably have to take another three years of refuge. So on top of the law reading list, the candidates for this summer are:
- Kurt Vonnegut. I always wanted to read him but somehow never got to. Shame!
- The brothers Karamazov. I bought it with the Idiot at a small cozy shop in East Village, but shy away from the time commitment.
- Milan Kundera. My favorite after Dumas. When I was in Prague, I read several of his books, including the infamous Unbearable Lightness of Being, but there are still many good ones to explore.
- A confederacy of Dunces. A gift from a high school friend, Kat. A Putlizer-winning satire on the beloved New Orleans life.

I probably will get some of these books on audio, now that I decide to sign up for a second marathon in March. It will be nice to have a running company again :-)
Last weekend, I met up with Yuko for a 5 miles race to kick off the famous New York marathon in Central Park. The air was crisp and cold; the leaves have started turning colors. I haven't seen Yuko in a while - she was busy with the new job and I with applications. It was good to catch up - we talked about a friend's upcoming wedding, Stuyvesant Town and the East Village life I have not frequented since moving out. We of course talked about Yuko's love life and a recent disappointment. I tried to encourage her but knew that when one was waiting, any wait no matter no short was excruciating. We talked about the loneliness of the city - one easily got lost in such a big place. But it will be okay, we consoled each other, because we are young, and the night is young.

The next day, on my way to lunch, I saw an old man collapsing on 5th Ave. He was old, wearing a beige jacket and a casket that reminded me of my grandfather. I immediately ran over and tried to help him up. But his legs were weak, so another passerby and I lay him down on the pavement. Another passerby called 911. We took off our coats and layered them on his panting chest to shield away the October wind. "I'm okay, I'm okay", he kept repeating in weak voice. He was waiting for the bus to go back to Brooklyn, he said, after getting a root canal done at the dentist. His wife had insisted that he brought the cellphone but he forgot, he shook his head regretfully. His wife was always right. He was eighty-five and was wearing a pace maker to support his heart.

The lady who had called 911 kneeled down to keep him conversing, her hands holding his fragile fingers. I waited with her till the police and ambulance came, yet didn't know what else to do other than watching his gentle smiles and flock of white hair ruffling in the wind. A few minutes later, a firetruck arrived with medical workers and a load of equipment. Seeing that the old man was now in good hands, we gathered back our coats and slowly departed.

Ten minutes later, when I circled back to 5th Ave after getting lunch, the crew was gone. I hoped they had taken him to a hospital and that he was okay. They probably had called his wife, an old lady somewhere in Brooklyn, waiting at the lunch table for her husband. My chest gripped at the thought of her hurrying down the subway to come to him, her unsteady steps and white hair in the wind.

By the time I told Mugg the story, I was half in tears for no reason. Old people often have that effect on me and my easily teary eyes. They remind me of endurance and wisdom, at the same time fragility. And how strangely, as I thought of the old man, I was instantly thinking of speeding down the Lower Loop of Central Park towards the finish line, with golden leaves and spots of sunlight shining over my head. I often wonder, aside from the endorphin, why New Yorkers are so obsessed with the run. Now it is clear to me - the run is to commemorate the fleeting joy of youth, to hold it in your feet just a panting breath further, and to feel it expanding in your chest at the finish line.
October 2, 2009 - I am officially in law school! The first acceptance came today, while I was in California to visit Stanford. Duke did wonder to my mind with its 2 weeks turnaround decision. The JD/LLM looks quite good, including a 1L summer head start and a 2L seminar in HongKong or Geneva. The degree focuses on comparative and international law, with a language component. I'm still waiting on other schools (1 more application to go!) but it certainly feels great to have a fallback option. And even better to have a fallback option that is a top 10 law school in the US.

I met Dean Hoye, Duke's Dean of Admission at the LSAC Forum in New York. The man is super nice, and said he remembered my name from the application pile. He was also quick to assure that after the 1L summer seminar, Duke will help place the JD/LLM students in organizations in Hong Kong and Switzerland. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? I've started to like Duke more and more after each encounter.

The big question for the next 11 months of 0L is: to read or not to read? The 'gunner's route', as recommended on TLS, has comprised of a series of books - which I immediately obsessed over:

1. Law School Confidential - done reading. a good overview of the time line for law school. The lag time is amazing. According to the book, to secure a judicial clerkship after graduation, I will need all materials ready at the end of 2L year. And to be competitive for the crucial 1L internship, I should be arriving on campus armed with a polished resume and 6 volumes of study aids. Good to know.

2. Getting to Maybe - bought, but haven't touched yet. A must-read by everyone.

3. Delaney's Legal Reasoning - bought, but haven't touched yet. Recommended as a good peek into 'thinking like a lawyer'.

4. Planet Law School - hmm maybe?

5. Commercial outlines - 6 volumes for all the common legal topics. I need to research more the edition and the price before getting them used off Craiglist's. Each book is huge (300 pages) and dense, but it would be a good idea to skim over the big picture of the law, given my limited knowledge of the system here.

6. 'For-me' books: several that I want to read just because the topics are interesting
- Letters to a Young Lawyer by Alan Dershowitz (crim law prof at HLS, and defense attorney in the OJ Simpson trial)
- Law and Society in Vietnam by Mark Sidel (leading legal scholar on Vietnamese law, according to the coolest law prof I've met - Bill Alford at HLS)
- Raising the Bar: Legal Profession in East Asia by Bill Alford (Chinese legal prof at HLS)

It will be a full summer!
I followed Mugg to Boston to visit schools today. The trip was long and tiring, especially after a long day of work. But Harvard Law School totally makes up for it. I started out visiting a Contract class - which ironically was cancelled. Luckily, another class took place in the same room, so I was fortunate to be able to sit in Torts, taught by Prof. Morton Horwitz. I surprisingly enjoyed Torts and the personal stories that served as the backdrop for the cases. Today's lecture focused on negligence, and how the charge centered around the concept of foreseeability - basically how probably it is that an accident based on these particular circumstances could happen. The burden/ liability aspect of the lecture appealed to my economic background. And just in case this ever comes back in m future, the formula is B = PL where B = the financial burden that the defendant should take on, P = the probability of the accident happening, L = the liability incurred by the accident. So if B>PL, i.e. the burden to insure that prevention of the accident is greater than the $$ damages caused by the accident, and the defendant didn't take the preventive measures, he is NOT liable. Otherwise, he is liable if the burden is less than the liability.

After the class, I met Shaud (ex-NERA coworker) and his friend, Charlotte, for lunch. We chatted for about 2 hours and took a tour around the law school. I never got to know Shaud very well at NERA, but we had a really good time. I love how chilled and down-to-earth both of them were, and love to listen to their experience in class and during their first summer. HLS law library is THE bomb. High ceiling, flooding light, wood panel, spotlessly clean, the smell of prestige and antique law books. I love it. I totally love it. I totally want to be here, more than I've ever wanted most things.

Yi was equally impressed by HBS and kept talking about how Harvard is what the rave was about, and even more. Beyond the Asian dream, it promises an education more amazing and opportunities more that I ever fathom. As Bill Alford put it, my LSAT is "healthy" but my GPA is potentially trouble. Now Mugg and I just to put together polished, coherent applications to set off who we are, and hope for the best!
The past few months have been, no doubt, the busiest months I have had in the past two years in the city. After the marathon at the end of May, things were unraveling so quickly that I barely had time to catch a breath, let alone blogging. As a result, nothing has been written in a long while. But now that the sun has found its way back over the green foliage outside 70th street, and summer has made it bright albeit late appearance over the city, life has finally mellowed down. This morning, after a round of egg benedicts topped with salmon for breakfast, while waiting for a loaf of banana bread to brown in the oven, I suddenly found myself out of inspiration for the law school essays. What better to do, then, than blogging.

After a near frantic experience in February, I took Mug's advice - the best yet - to sit in the Feb LSAT anyway and cancel the score, for the sake of a practice run. I reluctantly complied, though the thought of wasting $130 did not sit well with my third-world upbringing, especially on such a luxury, unnecessary concept as "a practice run." But in hindsight, that was probably the best decision I have made. When June rolled around, I was ten-fold more prepared, logic-wise and pressure-wise.

The three weeks period of waiting for the score went by extremely quickly, mostly because it was packing time. Right before heading to Canada for the marathon, Mugg and I found the perfect apartment for our first attempt of cohabitation. Located on the second floor landing of a townhouse, the one-bedroom was two studios combined into one, featuring two bathrooms, two lofts, two doors and big bright windows looking out to the three-lined 70th street. Best yet, it is half a block to Central Park, half a block to the B and C train which drops us right at the door of NERA, and two blocks to the 1, 2, 3. The rent was well within our budget, so we were willing to sacrifice the fact that the kitchen was teeny, no dog allowed and no laundry in the building. I guess when it comes to housing in New York, you really can't have it all.

The packing process was, at best, a pain. At worst, it cost us some heated arguments over what constituted as "functional" furniture (he: a table that works) and what is just plain ugly (me: a table that wobbles, has uneven legs and stained surface). We eventually made peace and compromised - the god-awful table had to go, but Mugg can keep three out of his four red, identical t-shirts. I mean it, identical!

Thanks to kind friends who came to help (Yuko, Luan, Binit, Denis), the moving was much less of a nightmare than I had dreaded. We picked up my stuffs first from Stuyvesant Oval, which only took up a third of the 10x10 UHaul, filled it up with half of Mugg's suitcases, went to pick up a coffee table, then unloaded the truck in front of the new nest. When Luan, Yuko and I moved the first load inside, Mugg drove Binit and Denis back to his apartment to pick up the more bulky items, i.e. bed, mattress, couch, two glass-top desks. We started out at 9am and were done moving furniture by 3pm, at which point Yuko and I carried our broomsticks around the city to clean up the apartments we had left behind. It was a bit emotional. I was excited for the next step of my relationship, but sad to leave my housemate of two years. We of course made a promise to run together every week, and hang out as much as we can.

After a whole week of unpacking, organizing and cleaning, I have finally figured a way to make my tiny kitchen functional. The secret is rather simple - clean as you go. The magic organizing tool - sticky hooks which line neatly under my cabinet and along the wall, holding everything from the utensil rack to my slotted spoon. I even bought a kitchen cart with extra counter top, which has been unnecessary yet.

On a peaceful Saturday - fourth of July - I finally made my way to the park, promptly took off my shoes and stretched out in Sheep's Meadow. The sun was bright, birds were chirping and the moving machines of Manhattan were spotted napping under shades, playing frisbees, making out on the green grass. The extra oxygen of the west side seems to make us human less antsy and more dreamy. I will never cease to miss the holes-in-the-wall of East Village, but now that I experience this, I wouldn't trade this neighborhood for anywhere.

As for the LSAT, I got the score that I want, the fruit of 6-month labor and two boxes of practice tests which were promptly given away. Life is falling neatly into places. And of course the road ahead is winding, but I know that it is the best road I yet to walk on - because Muggy is here, looking down at me when I wake up, turning off the light when I go to sleep. And calling out to me from the living room, where he has firmly planted a refuge on the couch, "Honey, is the banana bread ready yet??"
The fair young man with blond dreadlocks leaned over his guitar, striking a soft, sweet melody that I only knew too well:

Hey I remember... when we used to sit 
In the government yard in Trenchtown 
Oba - obaserving the ypocrites 
As they would mingle with the good people we meet

On the front steps, two young girls were swaying in the delicious and smooth spring air of the Canadian capital. Next to them, Martin, a short and gleeful Canadian with perching Gucci glasses on a tanned slender nose, lazily scratched his purring cat. Inside, someone was barbequing sausages in the kitchen, from which the distinct fragrant of burnt grease tickled our senses.

The Ottawa Backpackers' Inn, with its brightly paint walls, named beds and no-shoes-inside policy, was the exact peaceful refuge that I didn't expect to find in the Western hemisphere. Martin, the owner, set a hippy and relaxing model for his staffs, which in turn translated into an easy, charming mood for the hundreds of low-budget travelers passing by Ottawa every week. I met two men who had made the inn their semi-permanent stay; both were in "transition periods" to find a place in Ottawa. One man, a guy in his forties, had became so naturally integrated in the routine of the inn that he often offered his car to take everybody shopping, or his service to walk around with visitors who were clumsy with maps. The other, a younger man with deep-set eyes, seemed less happy here. I saw him hanging out in the lounge most of the days, browsing the internet with headphones on. He must have been quite lonely, as he scrutinized each new visitor as if looking for someone to converse. He told me that the dorm-like atmosphere of the inn was irritating, and that he had spent three months here and could not wait to move out. I was amazed that anyone could last that long at a place intended only as a rest stop for the restless.

Ottawa is easily the prettiest Canadian city I have visited, much more serene and elegant than how Montreal or Quebec was in my memory. As always, the consulate trip was painless and fast, and had become standardized - from the long wait outside the fortress-like gate to the tiny waiting room to the 2-minute interview. While waiting for the visa, I made arrangement to work from a Mercer office in the financial part of town, and found myself surprisingly joyous to walk half an hour to work everyday along the famous Rideau Canal that curved through the city. Celine, the bubbly lady across the hall, raved about the skating break that everyone took most afternoon in the winter to skate down the canal and grab a hot chocolate from a booth on ice. The work life balance here is, wow.

As the weekend rolled near, I grew increasingly anxious about the first marathon, knowing that I had only trained half as dedicated as recommended by the guidebook. On the other hand, my soleus muscle (the big muscle in the back of the lower leg) had healed from its last overtraining, and the inflammation surrounding my big left toe had also subdued. I consoled myself with a claim I had read somewhere, that an under-trained runner is (apparently) in better shape than an over-trained one. As it turned out, that statement is absolutely true.

More about the actual race in the next post. But to make a long story short, I finished, in good time and injury free. My legs completely shut off for the next three days, but after a week I was happily racing Muggy up and down the East River with zero soreness. Yes, what they said was true, the last 10k (6 miles) were long, dusty and painful. No, they lied about the toenails - all 10 of mine came intact, none lost and no blister found. Pace bunnies were my savers. The cheering crowd was my wind. And Muggy waiting with hugs and kisses at the end of it all was touching and adorable.

After the race, we celebrated by gulping down glasses of water and ordering giant portions of steak to replenish the torn muscles with protein. Sitting down was hard; it seemed our legs had done their work for the day and refused to bulge any further. But how relaxed the mind was, and how strangely warm and calm beating the heart... 

My feet is my only carriage,
So Ive got to push on through.
But while Im gone, I mean:
Everything is gonna be alright...
Everything is gonna be alright...

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I'm singing in the rain - Gene Kelly

Last week, New York suddenly sparked light. Some wise organizers at the NYRR had decided to cancel the Moore Marathon due to the temperature approaching a dangerous 90 plus degree. Too excited for the sun and not as wise, I dash out in haste for the 7-mile stretch along the Hudson River, which very soon resulted in two scorching red shoulders that still ache under my shirt no matter how much aloe vera was applied. Apparently I've taken the majority of advices from the Suncreen song to heart, but ignore the foremost and most famous of them all:

"If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

But trust me on the sunscreen."

As the burnt skin slowly peeled off, spring rain pushed the sun back into the clouds and spent hours drizzling puddles down on the sloppy pavements of Stuy-Town. Waking up on a gloomy Sunday, I was instantly grumpy-fied by the gray and indifferent sky outside of Muggy's blue curtains. I waited, but the rain refused to stop. Quite angrily I put on my sneakers and stormed out, unable to fight the running bug and the rather annoying beeping of MLB the evil video game. 

As usual, the first three miles were hard. My fists and face were wet and cold, yet my back and thighs sweaty. Central Park felt like a deserted track, on which each footstep of runners was amplified off the cement and sent echoing along the big loop. The rain eased the heat off my back, and felt surprisingly refreshed on my steaming cheeks. Soon, my toes were soaked and wiggled uncomfortably in the muddy shoes. I ignored them and kept running. Half way down the second round on the big loop, I accidentally engaged in a race with another runner, a big guy in blue t-shirt. He didn't seem to move on very fast, so I thought I should just overtake him. Big mistake! Perhaps his long stride and relaxed shoulders gave off the wrong impression. I felt my legs quicken to fix the distance between us, yet unable to gain ground. It took me almost 2 miles, from 100th Street down to Columbus Circle to pass him. He, too, was indignant and sped up. I could hear his whizzing breathing along my side for at least half a mile before dropping off behind. At Columbus Circle, I gave up the temporary victory, stopped by the sidewalk and stretched out my shaky knees. Blue t-shirt guy happily zoomed by into the distance. Thank you for making the last two miles so fast!

Leaving Central Park, I ran as fast as I could back to the cozy little apartment on 52nd Street, where I knew Mugg was waiting so we could go to dinner together. My heart was literarily flying as I hopped up the stairs, snapped open the door and jumped onto his arms, triggering long howls of protest as my wet and cold face snuggled tightly into his chest. He lifted my messy chin up and smiled down kindly, "You look pretty." 

And standing there with my puffing and huffing heart, throbbing calf muscles, growling stomach, I felt all of it at once - love, blessing, magic.

Sunday - 14 miles, 2 hours 20 mins.

The sun gotta be my most favorite thing in the word. Well, the most non-Muggy related favorite thing to be correct, because he has the same effect on me as the sun does: they both manage to make my cheeks pinker, my shoulders loose,  the tightness in my calves relaxed, and my mood high all day long.

After many months of long cold winter, the sun has finally returned to New York, perching ambiguously behind the shiny top of the G.E. building at first, but slowly sneaking out and beaming through the shaded windows behind my cube. Taking advantage of a slow Friday, I waited impatiently for the clock to strike 6, slipped on my running shoes and bolted out of the door before any watchful boss could catch up. The pavements of 6th avenue were flooded with people, particularly girls in colorful dresses showing off bare long thighs and freshly-painted toes peaking from open sandals. In Central Park, runners crowded the paved roads, snaking around lazy horses and tuk-tuk drivers. The cement glistened under the sun, and I felt my feet lighter, my calves excited, my thighs ready for a good work out.

After the first two miles, the shin splints kicked in and it became quite unbearable to keep going. The gatorade fortunately helped, and by mile four the pain faded away. As the training goes on, I have started to feel more and more of my body. With every strike on the ground, I can feel now the vibration it sends upward through my legs which swing like a pendulum in the socket of my pelvis, and the twitching quad muscles striving to keep up. I can feel the pores on my face opening, releasing sweat, breathing, panting. It is as if the whole body aligns in its motivation to move forward and swallow the miles. There are, of course, times when I feel my body succumbing under fatigue, and falling out of alignment. My pelvis sit back, creating a kink between my lower body and the rest of the spine. I have attempted to fix my posture unsuccessfully, until taking a Healthy Running workshop with Julia Pak of Balanced Runner ( The exercises though simple worked like a charm. As she puts it, sometimes we unknowingly disalign our bodies, creating cross-motivation which impedes the overriding movement of running. Think of our arms and legs as pendulums, swinging from our hip and shoulder sockets. We want the pendulums to swing most efficiently. That means eliminate any unnecessary weights and movements by curling the arms up rather than down, tilting forward rather than backward, landing on the middle of your feet rather than the heels. I cannot wait to try out the new running form tomorrow!

April sun is here. The city is warm and glowing, like a girl in love. 

I have recently found my fix for red-eyed days at work, and a very cheesy one at that - the Wedding and Celebration section of the New York Times. It started innocently. I was browsing the 'Bates Alumni in the News' bulletin one day, and tumbled on an article of a Batesie girl who proclaimed herself a free spirit, left her college love to explore the world, came back years later and eventually got married to the high school sweetheart. Finding myself surprisingly happy at her tale, I frequented the section a few days later to read about an oldies couple who got married for the second time after they had divorced over growing apart. From then on, I make a point to visit the Happy Page once a week. Marriages of all types, between all sorts of people, were reported. Many have met online. Many have broken up multiple times. Many have been threatened with break-ups and succumbed. Those stories never fail to delight me with their sweet endings. It is a comfort, after all, to know that romance is alive, out there, achievable to normal people of all sizes and shapes.

I turned twenty-three year-old a few weeks ago, on a crisp and sunny Wednesday. Throughout my childhood birthdays were never big deals, but since moving to New York they have become better and better each year. I suspect it has to do with the increasing appreciation of little things that matures with age, particularly the freedom of being adult, exemplified by everything that New York has to offer. Of course, having Muggy and Yuko with me here are like having birthday presents everyday, 365 days a year.
Albeit short, the 4-mile loop from Stuy-Town to midtown east is my favorite route. Past the UN, there is a small steep hill to climb, followed by a rewarding downhill stretch. I love that the route is easily adjusted, using the rule of thumb that about 18 New York streets make up 1 mile, and an avenue length-wise is about 3 streets. The real kick of the run, however, is the midway stop I always make at Mugg's to grab a gulf of water, drop off a sweaty layer, or most of the time solely and happily just to steal a kiss.

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According to the training calendar, I'm due to run 6 miles tomorrow morning. Luckily the route to Brooklyn Bridge roundtrip provides just the mileage plus the great view of East River. In the earlier weeks, when the medium route reaches only 5 miles, I usually run one-way to the bridge, cross it to Brooklyn and return, then catch the subway back home.


As we dreaded, the morning rush before the client meeting at 2pm was chaos. Luckily, Asian Charm and I had spent considerable time in the office last weekend to reorganize our files and line up our macro, so this morning we cranked out numbers as smoothly as a pasta machine. As true proteges of industrialism, we exemplified the conveyor belt concept in damages calculation: each inflation series was born from Alex's SAS program, then looped into the fancy equity cushion model handled by Steve B (justly labeled the most efficient man in the office), before it was plugged twice into the monster that is our damages models, which Asian Charm and I ran parallel to check each other. Each number was then touched up prettily with footnotes, heading, colorful graphs and placed in a clean-and-clear (conceptually) exhibit, before being sent off to the VPs.

From there, the chaos began. D.H., despite her pleasantness to work with personally, was a tough VP to please. Nothing escaped her mind. Amid the hundreds of analysis and files we produced, she could always be counted on to remember a remote, barely related point from a light year ago that contradicted some assumptions we had made. Each exhibit that went through her hand came back beaten, naked, shivering, weak, begging to be strengthened. We would furiously snatch up the weakling, remodeling and reproducing while our Seamless orders turned cold, until all little loopholes were sealed, each comma pored over. Only then off the exhibits went to counsel.

Today, at 1:30pm, burried in piles of print-outs, I could not help laughing when I saw Alex sprinting down the hallway, a stack of binders spilling over his arms. We hurriedly shuffled the exhibits in order, snapped them into each binder, attached a good few inches of backups and stuffed them into Asian Charm's brief case. As he and Esther rushed out to client's office (luckily quite close by in Times Square), Alex and I sunk back into our chair and heave a relaxing breath. It was finally my favorite time of the day. The morning rush was over and calmness had returned to my cube.

I wonder if I will miss this when I leave the world of consulting - the endless excel sheets, tell-tale price series, damages calculation that makes and breaks corporations, and the people like us behind the scene, our eyes and our backs getting worse from staring and hunching in front of the computer. Not that going to law school and becoming an attorney would improve my eyes and back, but I stubbornly hang on to the faith that the law will have an answer to the mystery of this system. Mugg has insisted that the green bills will make the world go round, evil or good. I guess the competition is on.

Before the calmness could settle, D.H's emails peppered up my inbox - more emergency damages calculation needed! More hours billed, paychecks deposited, people going to work. Indeed, the world goes round.

The crisp New York morning was bitingly cold. 28 degree - said the temperature billboard at one brownstone corner in Midtown East. Random patches of sunshine scattered on Fifth Avenue, polished shinny store banners perching on top of the impeccable glass windows of Abercrombie, Gucci, Apple, Tiffany. Few passerbys wandered happily along the cobblestones surrounding Central Park, alongside tourists in decorative carriages, whose eyes opened wide with excitement like those of children. Unlike the passengers whom they carried, the horses decked up with bright red pompom meekly clucked their steel shoes at the driver's nudge, their heads hanging low, their jaws sluggishly grinding some leftover straws. It was a normal lazy New York sunday.

The cold refreshing air stung my bare lower calf as I jogged hurriedly towards the park. "Hitch" playing on TNT, and Mug's warm embrace, had - like always - kept me at the cozy apartment longer than expected. The timing however worked out perfectly. Just like me, Yuko was often running late. As an implied code, we had learnt to show up 15 minutes later than the agreed time.

As I reached the park entrance, Yuko emerged from the nearby subway station, shivering slightly. We had layered up with long-sleeved thermal shirts and fleece jackets, but none were wind-proof. Since our muscles were already stiff, we decided to skip the traditional stretching warm-up at a park bench to prevent muscle tearing. Instead, we jogged slowly for the first mile and exchanged small talks. As I now spent three to four days a week at Muggy's, I didn't get to see Yuko as often, and was glad to catch up on our weekly long run. Her boss had warned all employees of the company's unstable financial situation; a mutual friend had just been laid off; another mutual friend was eight-month pregnant. We agreed to call the first friend to express consolation, and wondered if the second was planning to get married to her long-term boyfriend. Soon, the talk trailed off as we needed to concentrate on our own breathing. While the cool air swept off sweat quickly and prevented us from steaming, its dryness made breathing quite difficult. Not many runners or bikers ventured out today, allowing us ample room to pace ourselves. I counted the usual marks - a sign East 90th street, an entrance to the Jackie Kennedy trail that circumnavigated the Reservoir, the steep curve leading to the west side. After two miles, I started to feel the tightening of my inner thighs, the mild ache in my left rib, the soothing numbness of my toes. I could feel my calf muscles quenching at each landing, and the balls of my feet striking the hard cement in monotone beats - one... two... one... two - like the counting of a ballet exercise. The endorphin instantly kicked in. My mind suddenly went blank, focusing on nothing but the faint smoke of my breath and the winding miles ahead.

At the fifth mile, I reached for the ipod shuffle and turned on "Atlas Shrugged". Beating my expectation, audio books had turned out to be a great blessing. Much better than music, they distracted me with the narrator's warm voice and the novel's intriguing plot. I had picked "Atlas Shrugged", partly thanks to Mugg's enthusiastic recommendation, partly due to its 60-hour length, which I figured would last me till marathon day. As I was engrossed in the Taggart's railroad empire, Columbus Circle soon appeared, marking the final curve toward Sixth Avenue where we closed the six-mile circumference of Central Park for just under an hour. Though the time was short of spectacular, I felt a sense of relief that we could still run six miles with relative ease even after a two-month hiatus. I made a mental note of my 12-mile inventory this week, and projected a 15-mile goal next week.

We walked slowly to our favorite Egg Benedict restaurant (whose real name Mugg and I never bothered to learn) on Second Ave for a much-deserved hearty brunch. Amid good food and lively conversation, Mugg reached for my hand under the table and gave it a slight squeeze. Today was the first day of our second year together. My heart felt warm. It was a peaceful New York sunday.

(picture courtesy of

Sáng thứ bảy, một tia nắng lẻ loi đâm xuyên qua tấm rèm nặng trĩu trên cửa sổ nhà anh, hạ cánh nhẹ nhàng xuống những thời báo kinh tế của anh, những quyển sách luyện thi của tôi, nằm ngổn ngang trên sàn nhà gỗ. Tôi tỉ mẩn đếm những vết rạn trên trần nhà, đợi chuông báo thức rung để nhanh tay tắt máy trước khi anh kịp giật mình tỉnh dậy. Gỡ tay mình ra khỏi tay anh, tôi nhón chân chầm chậm đi qua sàn nhà cọt kẹt, luồn vào chiếc váy thoải mái nhất, vừa chải tóc vừa sao lãng quét mascara lên mi mắt. Tóc tôi đã dài đủ để kẹp lên gọn gàng sau gáy, những dải tóc nhuộm đỏ ngày xưa đã phết đi gần hết, chỉ còn đuôi tóc đâu đây hơi hoe vàng. Trong guơng, một gương mặt nghiêm trang nhìn tôi chăm chú, vạt nâu dưới mắt, hướng mày xếch, khoé môi cong. Rất lạ lẫm, không giống gì con bé tóc ngắn, toe toét, luôn bồn chồn thời đại học.

Như thể từ trong một màn sương loãng dần, trên đầu tôi bỗng hiện ra đôi mắt nheo ngái ngủ của anh, nửa lo lắng nửa trìu mến, "Trang, sao em chưa đi? Em sắp muộn rồi!"

Tôi nhìn sững anh, như thể vừa chợt nhớ ra điều gì. Chợt nhớ rằng tôi không còn là con bé thời đại học cần sải chân đi khắp thế giới để tìm hạnh phúc nữa. Đơn giản bởi vì hạnh phúc... là đây.
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I feel like I'm having an anxiety attack... One more week till the LSAT and my head feels like it's exploding. A sure sign that it's time to put down the book and go dancing. Or drinking.
Three more weeks till the LSAT! I've increased my practicing dose to four sections a night, twice as many as recommended by McKnight's wife. The result has been encouraging, at least on the reading front where I averaged 2-3 missed questions. Yet logical reasoning is still a giant headache. While my mean and median wrong question have lowered to 4 instead of the usual 6, it's still not good enough to break the PR of 172. And that's assuming I made no mistake in Games - where I'm most confident yet most subject to the tiniest panic. Good news is, as demonstrated by recent LSAT tests, two questions are offered as freebies - test-takers can usually miss two and still score a perfect 180.

Last week, when Mugg committed his first step in studying for the GMAT by buying a load of books, we came to the somewhat sad realization that we won't be doing much as a couple for the next half a year, possibly more. 2009 is devoted for graduate school applications, CFA level II and marathons. Luckily, that we can do all of those things better together is a real comfort.
Oh yes, man is a fool
And he thinks he'll be okay
Dragging on, feet of clay
- "Happy New Year", ABBA -

On the eve of 2009, I declined an invitation to join middle-school classmates to opt for a peaceful night cooking at Mugg's. Not because I disliked any of my middle-school friends; in fact I was eager to see them again and curious to gauge their changes. They have all stayed much more connected to home than I did - a realization so poignantly revealed when I was the only one unable to remember the Vietnamese term for random words like "equator" or "lava." We had met the night before to muse over Vietnamese food, dirty jokes and old memories. I found the moments fond, but rather painless. The craving for familiar cuisines, humors, and semantic expressions of early New Orleans days has, for better or for worse, completely vanished. In a way, the self-identity quest has simply been resolved. This feels like home.

As soon as that night, as I labored over dense reading passages and logical nuances on the LSAT, I felt again the glass ceiling of the American Dream. After seven years of teenage angst and college transformation, words still do not register. I couldn't feel it: images, lyrics, flow that I once internalized from reading Dumas, Nam Cao, Hugo in Vietnamese hopelessly slid off my mind, like water on a duck's head, without even a trace of recognition. All of my neurons desperately try to rebuke the idea. After all, I've studied the language since I was five, and have completely submerged in it since 15. How long does it take to internalize a language, for something a bit complex but not terribly sophisticated like the LSAT? I feel like dragging on a long, solidifying clay track.

On the eve of 2009, Yuko, Mugg and I cooked, watched Kathy Griffin annoying the hell out of Anderson Cooper on CNN, and toasted champaign in paper cups for yet another year. Despite economic downturns and unsolved problems of the world, life has been specially kind to me in 2008 - runs were finished, tests were passed, laughters were brisk, and hands were held in sleep. I am nervous and excited for 2009, a busy year to come:

- Jan: a jampacked month of studying
- Feb: taking the LSAT
- March - May: run run run, Bollywood dance recital
- May: trip to Canada, visa renewal and first marathon
- June: Mugg takes CFA, Yuko takes exams in Japan, time to start law school application/ retake the LSAT if need be
- July - August: law school research and essay, law seminar in The Hague, home (?)
- September - October: sending out applications for law school
- November: New York marathon
- December: ... relaxing time?

Thinking about the year head, I felt a rush similar to my feeling at the start of the Staten Island Half Marathon last October. The race has begun, the clock is ticking, the miles are closing in. I anticipate the pain to kick in, and welcome it. For I can only think of, and want so badly, to cross that finish line, even if I have to drag on feet of clay all the way there.