Wooohoooo, law school! You know the thrill of bouncing on your tip toes at the start of the racing line? The adrenalin of your heart pumping itself, expanding and breathing for the winding road? The throb in your throat gulping down aching mouthful of hydrolites? And the pulsing muscles, dragging on, screaming "f$%! f%@*" while your brain tuned out in radio-like static? Well, that's kinda like law school.

Third week of law school in West Village, and word, I've never exercised my brain this intensely in life! I LOVE classes. There we witnessed a show of masterminded manipulation - cases, legal rules, common sense, life experience, pulled apart and thrown together, weaved and clashed, balancing and enlightening. Every single day, I walked out of class feeling dazed, wowed, bright-eyed, as if the wisdom of logics has flown down from the nine marble columns of the Supreme Court through a line of black robes, leather brief cases, hornbooks and treatises, through the professors' carefully crafted lectures, dropped into 90 confusing souls that is Section 4 of Class 2013, condensed into intriguing and fascinating legal idiosyncrasies inside my head. Here, emotion is meek, irrelevant, illogical. A good heart that goes out to the honest, hard-working men is hardly enough. Yet cold logic alone does not make a great lawyer.... or does it?

Mile 0.003. I had to stop tonight, closed the casebook, and took a long, purpose-less break (i.e., a whole season of America's Next Top Model). I had to remind myself not to get lost in law school, no matter how exciting the ride is. Because the race is long ahead, past law school, past Mile 26, past lofty amazing beautiful facts and reasoning...
I woke up everyday this week awed and confused, wondering if I were still in New York or already back in Hanoi. It didn't help that the transition was a wash: the McKinsey confirmation didn't arrive till the end of May, giving me just enough time to file a 2-week notice to NERA, pack up as much as many as I could of the apartment, and dash to the airport. Even the goodbye kiss was a rush. Supershuttle, for once, arrived early to our front door and was honking. Mugg squeezed my wrist till it hurt, and pushed me and the lone suitcase onto the van. The laden kiss lasted just a second; the sun was barely rising on Fifth Ave. And before I knew it, New York shrunk itself into a dot, retreating away from the cloud, as if a dream.

Today, on a twice-delayed flight from Hochiminh City out to Hanoi, I once again felt such haze. The camera attached to the front of the plane projected the view ahead onto a large screen inside the cabin. Ten minutes from landing, the city of Hanoi suddenly emerged from a veil of fog, scrawling over brown sands and green hills. It looked like a magic fortress from Lord of the Ring, or Alamuth from Prince of Persia... How is that even possible? It struck me for a minute that home has become such a mysterious place. Perhaps cities aged twice as fast as dog years. That five years away has left me backward at least a decade...

Living in Hanoi in summer of 2010 was a surreal experience. The irony is stark: while the internship submerged me entirely into the business culture of client, it at the same time isolated me completely from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. I will have to explain at a later post, but suffices to say that homemade meals and motorbike rides are still rare commodities. Good thing West Lake is just a step away, and a morning after the rain is perfect for an early run.

Till tomorrow, Hanoi!
The weather in New York this year was indeed like a moody woman. Spring was unusually hot, the beginning of summer unusually cold and rainy. Much to my woe, the weather swing and the overkill of VACC have negated any effort to train for an early summer marathon, like I did last year. A fall marathon also seems out of the question, as law school looms in the horizon. I've always wanted to run Miami in January, but the crisp memory of training in the New York winter immediately deterred my faint spark of motivation. On a good note, I found out that the Hash Harriers have chapters in both Ho Chi Minh City and Ha Noi! For those of you who are not familiar, the Hashs proudly call themselves "a drinking group with a running problem." Their runs, often organized as a treasure hunt with cryptic marks on trees and whatnots, always end in clashing beer bottles at a local bar. A coworker has many times lobbied me to join, but I never went in New York, simply because I was not that much into drinking, let along drinking right after a run. The Hashs' operations in Viet Nam however seem very interesting. Since the cities are unsurprisingly too crowded and polluted, they often take runners out to the countryside, about an hour away by bus, where Hashers are free to roam on paddy fields under the flawless blue sky. I know instantly that I will absolutely love to join. For those of you in Ha Noi this summer, check out their website: They meet every Sat at 2PM at the American Club on Hai Ba Trung Street.

And yes, you heard me right, I will be spending summer 2010 in Ha Noi, where I left 9 years ago and last visited 5 years ago. An amazing opportunity somewhat fell into my lap a few weeks ago: I will be one of the first interns with McKinsey & Company in Ha Noi. I'm not quite sure what the project and the team will be like yet, but nonetheless can barely contain my excitement. Next week will be my last time (knock on wood!) analyzing crazy auction rate securities at NERA, and that alone is a reason to celebrate. The great summer internship is only dampened by two inconveniences: first, my family is in Ho Chi Minh City, so I would have to fly back almost every weekend to visit. My grandparents for sure would not be amused by me living and roaming Ha Noi alone, though the fact that I will be staying with a trusted friend's family, working for a trusted firm, and working with a friend whose family they have met, should provide enough security. Second, I sadly will have to leave Muggy alone in New York for 10 weeks, spanning over our move to a new apartment in Columbus Circle. We were both quite bumped about the long distance. Mugg was supportive, and I am extremely grateful for that. Depending on his job, he might be able to make a trip to visit China this summer, when either I will join him and his family, or he will drop by Viet Nam for a tour. Yuko was also interested in coming, so we're trying to work out a Japan - Viet Nam trip, which turns out to be quite tough since tickets all ran out so I couldn't book a stop over, and the internship won't leave much time for travel afterwards. Regardless, it is gonna be a over-the-top full summer. On the way back, I will land in New York on August 24; and law school orientation starts on Aug 25. Now, the books I've read all recommended settling in at least a week before school starts to get a feel of the land. I know that the summer schedule will leave me tired and jetlag for the first days of law school, but orientation goes on for a whole week, so hopefully by the time classes start I will have regained my energy.

Talking about law school, the final decision is NYU School of Law, where I will be entering as a Mitchell Jacobson Law & Business scholar on full-tuition scholarship. That means I turned down the equally generous Darrow from Michigan, and the prospect of an UN externship at Columbia. I never expected to be in love with NYU (I live uptown and run in the park - the unmarked Columbia's territory, after all), but the wonderful professors who administer the Jacobson totally melted my heart. Not to mention the sparkling-eyed students whom I met at the Jacobson reception, whose enthusiasm for the greater good and positive experience at the law school and genuine happiness left me quite speechless. Since I insist on staying near Central Park - the center of calmness, Mugg and I decided to move down 10 blocks to Columbus Circle, where we both can take advantage of the express train that should get us to Washington Square and the World Trade Center in less than 20 minutes and half an hour, respectively. It has not yet dawned on me, but I get visibly more and more excited for law school each day. The only problem is that there is no way I could finish the summer reading load as planned, given the new internship which supposedly runs from 8AM - 7PM each day, excluding weekends. Reading however is a great excuse for lingering forever at Ha Noi's numerous, hole-in-the-wall coffee shops, where black drops of caffein drop at the slowest possible speed down to a glass shiny with condensed milk. Hmm, I can already imagine many hours wasted there, under the shade of a towering tree, consuming unhealthy amount of coffee, dosing in legal doctrines.

The first book on the list is "Getting to Maybe", written by two law professors, who liken reasoning in exams as "forks in the roads." Given its ambiguity, the road to law presents confused and nervous law students with many 'forks', to which a good student should point out yet choose the most likely one to elaborate upon. As such, the law is the opposite of a definite answer. Instead of trying to get to a definite conclusion like yes or no, students should strive to "getting to maybe" - where 'maybe' with its flexibility and gray shade might be the best solution. This summer, to me, was like a fork in the road. I pondered for a long time if I should stay put at NERA, collect my half-year bonus, be happy with Mugg, train for a fall marathon. Or I could attempt to work for the first time at home, in a city that has changed so much that I will most definitely become a stranger both in work culture as well as habit. Ha Noi in my hazy memory was a dusty one, where I paddled my bicycle daily in sweat on a six-laned highway parallel to the train track, packed with trucks and motorbikes. And dust from used bookstores, where I spent many afternoon and entire breakfast budget on classic novels of knights and secret corridors in the Louvre. Ha Noi was a great city for childhood. How that I am grown, I wonder if there is a place for me there. Just in 10 days, I will get an answer.

Today, I made Mugg's favorite sha jia mien, a Chinese noodle dish that I learned from his mom, while he pored over a pile of CFA books. We had dinner together, fed each other sweet black cherries, and watched our favorite sitcom According to Jim. The daily routine seemed such treasure moments, now that my departure date is approaching. We often found ourselves looking at each other, repeating an assuring statement, "It is only 10 weeks, and we will speak everyday." 10 weeks indeed can go be very fast...

The gypsy song returns to my head:

It's time to wake up
It's time to go
Hey little darling, pack your suitcase
I'm gonna find you another world...

Indeed, it's time to wakeup. And to start packing.

Happy 2010! Would you believe it, it's another year already. Given the fact that the Lunar New Year was just last weekend, I had an excuse for not turning the apartment upside down and taking care of all my bills by January 1. The Vietnamese believe that all old business needs to be settled in the old year; else bad luck ensued. Needless to say, on February 14, Mugg and I were furiously doing laundry, folding clothes, casting checks, wiping everything spotless. One thing I could not do was sweeping, since it's believed that I might as well carelessly sweep "luck" out. We then decided to... vacuum instead. I'm not sure what the consensus stands on this one, but technically since no "dirt" left the house, we should be okay lol

2010 promises to be an exciting year - Mugg has just started his new job downtown, I will be stepping a first toe into law school. Nonetheless, I was sad to see 2009 go. It has been somewhat of a watershed year for us. In the summer, Mugg and I moved in together after 16 months dating. It was my first attempt to cohabit with the not-so-neat sex, so I was of course terrified. I'm happy to report that the arrangement has worked really well so far. Being home and cooking for two has in fact become my most loved and peaceful moments.

Last May, Yuko and I ran out first marathon in Ottawa - the start of a running addiction. I haven't planned for a marathon this year yet, but am aiming for a 4-hour finish (9 minute/mile average pace for 26.2 miles). Two weeks ago, I finished my second half-marathon in 1:55'' - a 15-minute improvement from my first attempt. Speed training really does wonder. Only if it's less painful!

On the law school front, the latest news is that I'm in at Columbia, and have been awarded a full-tuition plus stipend scholarship (the Darrow) worth $150,000 from Michigan. UMich is flying me out to Ann Arbor during the last weekend of March for their Admitted Students' Weekend. I really look forward to the midwest's fresh air - certainly something that runs low in NYC.

On the first day of New Year, I took a long, relaxed run in the Park and entered the apartment with wet and muddy shoes. Just then, it dawned on me that I had just "opened" the apartment for us! This ritual is called "xông nhà" where the first visitor of the year is deemed to influence one's fortune that entire year. For this reason, the first visitor is often picked carefully. She has to be born in a good year, do well for herself, have good character and sometimes even needs a good-sounding name to make the cut. Given that the choice was between me and Mugg, and Mugg was still sleeping, I guess that qualified me :D

To "open" the kitchen for a year of good food and happy meal, and to celebrate Valentine's Day, allow me to introduce to you this amazing recipe for chocolate soufflé. As soufflé means "puff up" in French, you can imagine already that this dessert involves the ariest, prettiest, fluffiest cloud of dark chocolate, sprinkled with powdered sugar or dark cocoa. The rising of the cake is due to whipped egg whites, which incorporated air. When baked, those air bubbles expanded and rose, showcasing the amazing lift of the cake. Having heard many horror stories on deflated souffles, I had a nervous vision of introducing my kitchen to the New Year with a disaster. But no worry, as the trick to success lies with the whipped egg whites (which I have learned the ins and outs of during the macaroon class), I will be sharing with you some tips to make this a fool-proof recipe.

Chocolate Soufflé
Adapted from Eat My Cake Now, in turn adapted from Dori Greenspan's "Baking from My Home to Yours"

80 g (3/4 cup) of a good, dark chocolate, up to 70% cocoa - I used Lindt
90 g (1/2 cup) sugar

70 ml (1/3 cup) milk at room temperature

3 egg whites at room temperature

A pinch of salt

A pinch of cream of tatar
Butter (1 tbsp) + a dash of sugar and cocoa to coat the ramekins
Extra powder sugar or cocoa powder to sprinkle the tops

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Clean and pat dry 4 individual ramekins. Give their insides a thick coating of butter, then sprinkle them with sugar and cocoa.
3. Break the chocolate into small pieces. Put the chocolate and the sugar in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water; heat until the chocolate is melted. I simply put a ceramic bowl in the middle of a wide, slightly deep pan.
4. Transfer the bowl to the counter and add the milk.
5. In a deep, dry bowl, whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt and cream of tatar until soft peaks form.* Make sure that everything is dry, from your bowl to your whisk. Egg whites are super sensitive to moisture, and won't form peaks if exposed to so much as half a drop of water
6. Stir one quarter of the whites into the chocolate to lighten it. Then use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the remaining whites.
7. Bake for 20 minutes. You will see during this time that the souffle rise like crazy in the oven. Do NOT open the oven door to peek! If you must watch them (I know I did), just turn on the oven light and watch from outside. The tops will become crisp and might crack - it's not a bad thing.
8. Remove the soufflé from the oven, sprinkle the top with powdered sugar or cocoa and serve immediately. Warning: these things fall fast, so get your camera ready if you want to snap pictures. At any rate, they still taste heavenly after cooling down and losing some volume, so don't hesitate to save one for breakfast.

Bon Appétit!

*Tips on working with egg whites:

Egg whites are easiest to be separated from the yolks when the eggs are cold. In macaron recipes, the whites are whipped with granulated sugar to make meringue, a fluffy, glossy mixture. All bakers' attention: whipped egg whites absolutely hates moisture and fat. It won't fluff up if there's even a drop of water on your whisks - so towel dry everything before starting! Similarly, it won't fluff if there is oil.

I always have a hard time telling whether my whites is soft, medium or stiff peaking, until an ICE student shared a tip: the meringue is soft-peaked if it draws out a long 'tail', and the tail is pretty bendy when the whisk is tilted right and left. A medium peak means a shorter tail and much less bent. A stiff peak, it follows, means a curt tail if any; when lifting the whisk, the egg whites peaks can stand up on their own without any bent (see picture below, courtesy of Joe's Bake)

Soft peak and medium peak