my wireless weather station said it was 4° this morning, but sometime overnight the temperature dipped to -7°. temperature would steadily increase throughout the day, finishing in the teens, which seemed warm by comparison. i kept thinking about my shanghai guests: would they be able to handle this weather? i kept wishing they'd call me to cancel, it'd be the best for the both of us.
i made a kielbasa sauerkraut english muffin sandwich for lunch. mary was in her room but came out around noontime to make some food for herself. from the way my living room draft curtains were haphazardly arranged, i knew she'd gone out running again this morning, despite the record setting cold temperature. she said she only went only briefly and came back when her skin started to hurt too much. why even bother running? i think it's indicative of a mainland chinese condition, that to make an effort is as good as actually accomplishing something (quantity over quality). so even though she goes out for a light jog up and down the street a few times (making zero dent in her overall fitness), she can tell people she's been out running, which is technically true, but i wouldn't call it that. it reminds me of the time she went out running during our most recent snowstorm. i was doing a timelapse video so had the camera pointed to my front door. it caught mary going out for her morning run, and then coming back soon afterwards. the total elapsed time was only 7 minutes, but when i asked her about it the next day, she told me she was out running 30-40 minutes.
around 1:30pm i started getting ready, taking a shower then getting dressed. i wore my brown cashmere trenchcoat, which is the warmest jacket i own, paired with a hooded sweatshirt on the inside. i wanted to try the sherpa-fleece hoodie i bought a few weeks ago - the one that's unnaturally long but would be hidden inside the trenchcoat - but it was just too thick to be layered inside; besides, the collar didn't zip all the way up over my neck so i'd have to wear a scarf as well; in the end i wore the hoodie i usually wear. i left for harvard square around 2pm.
it was cold for sure, but walking around especially in the sun warmed me up to the point where i wanted to take off my hat. i began with the gloves first, but after a few minutes my hands began to hurt so i put them back on. i wanted to get to harvard square early so i could put some money on a pair of empty charlie cards, for when we ride the T. i didn't know how much so i put the bare minimum of $5 into each one.
coming back out of the station was when i got a call from my shanghai visitors. they said they were already here at harvard, but i could see them. after a bit of landmark triangulation, i realized they were waiting in front of the harvard main gate, so i quickly headed over there. when i arrived however, there was nobody outside. when i called to ask them where they were, i realized they were sitting in an SUV parked on the curb. i momentarily blinked in confusion, but they asked me to hop inside the vehicle. a man was driving, their local contact. we circled around the harvard courtyard, until we were at the other side of campus by the art museum. that's when the driver let us out so we could explore, the mother and the daughter. though they had warm jackets, they didn't seem to be dressed for the occasion. i took them to get their photo taken with the john harvard statue, but the mother was complaining the whole time, and a few minutes later decided it was just too damn cold and went back to the car, leaving the daughter with me. the whole time my brain was like a recalculating gps, trying to figure out a new course of action, since these shanghai guests were obviously not going to be able to handle walking for miles in this weather. i took a photo of the daughter by the harvard statue, then another one with memorial hall in the background, before returning to the car.
"what's next?" the mother asked, "back to the hotel?" she was already to call it quits, so why even ask me to come out in the first place? i briefly summarized my original plan of touring the rest of harvard square before heading into boston. but the man driver said it was too cold (which the mother wholeheartedly agreed), and volunteered to take us anywhere we wanted. as if you can experience boston by visiting just one! but if that place were to exist, then maybe quincy market would be it (being a tourist trap and all). so the man drove (guided by his in-car gps navigation), chatting with the mother about business, while the daughter was glued to her phone.
the man, who figured himself a local, told me he came to boston in 1996, as if i'd be impressed. i told him i've been here since 1980. he said he lives in lexington, i told him i grew up in belmont. occasionally i'd point to some famous landmark outside, the daughter would nod, and that'd be the end of it (not even a snapshot). every once in a while the mother would drop some business advice for the daughter, who would nod knowingly, and return to her phone. the mother talked about business opportunities, how canada was a dead end (they immigrated to vancouver in 2007), and she wanted to immigrate to the US where there was more opportunity, and that boston would be a great place, and she wants to buy property and whether boston was expensive, and maybe she and i can be neighbors (i hope not), and she wants to improve her english so she can study at the sloan business school. i said nothing while i listened, the whole time feeling slightly repulsed by this wave of new china bourgeois. this day couldn't end soon enough.
we finally arrived in quincy market. "did you eat?" i asked, knowing the answer already, and realizing i made a serious mistake taking them to a place with even more food. for lunch they dined at legal seafood, and were already engorged on new england lobsters. in fact, just saying "lobster" to them made them laugh over some shared private joke. but i was just improvising from that point on, stalling for time, trying to gauge their interest so i can figure out where to take them next after we walk down the length of quincy market.
the mother wanted to practice her english with me, breaking out into her broken heavily-accented english. i was fine with speaking english, but i wasn't going to go easy on her, and spoke to her as if she was a native speaker, so of course she could hardly understand me, and likewise i could hardly understand her english. after a few painful minutes we switched back to chinese.
quincy market was surprisingly subdued and relatively empty for a sunday, most likely due to the bitterly cold weather. the daughter wanted to get some postcards so i took them to a good place in faneuil hall. i was explaining to the mother about boston's history - how it was here the colonists first fought with the british and began a war of independence - but i could tell she either wasn't interested or just wasn't listening. i doubt if she knew much of american history at all. when the daughter went to go use the bathroom, i chatted with the mother some more. i told her taxes were lower here in boston, and clothing and shoes were tax-free. that piqued her interest, and i could tell right away where to take them. they could care less about the history or sightseeing; all they wanted to do was go shopping, and i was glad to facilitate them in helping our local economy.
i decided to take them to copley square, which was one of the places i originally planned on taking them before my plans were thrown out the window. we'd go by subway, which the mother seemed to have some hesitation, but i told her it'd take us 15 minutes to get there, so she agreed. we walked to haymarket station. there are green line trains but due to construction at government center, there was no green line from haymarket this weekend. so we ended up taking the orange to downtown crossing, then walking the underground walkway to park street, where we caught a green line to copley square.
we entered copley place through the westin hotel. it's been ages since i've been here. i never had a reason to, really, since i'm not in the demographics that would normally shop at a high-end retail establishment. the mother got a large green tea at the westin starbucks, just to warm up. then we went to moncler, a brand i've never heard of before, that seem to specialize in winter coats. there was an asian woman greeter who intercepted the mother and daughter and began talking in chinese. a few things of note: chinese are now such bigger spenders that stores hire chinese-speaking sales agents just to deal with them; the fact that the mother and daughter didn't find it unusual that there was a chinese-speaking sales clerk when i was completely shocked. i helped the mother hold her hot tea while she shopped, then went out front to chat with the hispanic greeter. i asked him if business was slow because of the cold weather, and he told me they get even busier when it's cold, since everyone comes here to buy a coat. the mother was trying on one particular coat, asking us if she should get it. when the clerk told them the price ($1000), once again it didn't shock them at all, while i was screaming on the inside, that's really expensive! i told the mother we should go check out some other stores before deciding and she agreed and we finally left.
next stop was tiffany, where a china friend asked the mother to help him buy some "buttons." she kept talking about them, but i had no idea what she was talking about. does tiffany sell special buttons? turns out she was talking about cufflinks. i ended up acting as a translator between the patient sales clerk and the mother, while the daughter was hovering about, texting on her phone, oblivious to her surroundings. i figured the cufflinks would be a few hundred dollars at most, but the one the mother selected - gold cufflinks with lapis lazuli stones - were $2600+ after taxes. again, money didn't seem to be an issue. what was an issue was whether or not gold cufflinks with clash with a silver watch. oh the rich chinese and their rich people problems! i almost laughed (i think i did actually). while the sales clerk was packaging up the cufflinks (and tending to the mother's tea, which had gotten cold; she wanted a refill - she seemed to forget that this is tiffany, not starbucks). we waited in the reception lounge, the mother and daughter engrossed in their phones, while i just sat there waiting for the clerk to return.
next they visited a christian dior, but only browsing. there were other customers in the store, all chinese, all young, all with that entitled smugness of the very rich. i wanted to fight them all, smash their expensive face in. the mother then wanted to visit a prada store, but i wasn't sure if there was one at copley place (i almost expected the mother to ask me "why not?" as if she couldn't fathom the idea that the store she wanted would just magically materialize on the spot). after checking on google maps, i saw there was a prada on 700 bolyston. so we used the skywalk to get to the prudential mall.
the prudential mall is nowhere as elegant as copley place. the prudential is cramped, crowded, and the stores are sort of meh at best, while copley is spacious with 2 floors with a fountain and less people. still, shoppers learn to adapt, and the mother and daughter still found some places to visit. the mother went into a locaste store looking for socks because "they have the best socks that don't fall down." they didn't carry the ones she wanted. then we went to a tesla dealership, where the mother got into the driver's seat while i translated for the sales clerk. the daughter was elsewhere in the store, sitting on a couch texting on her phone. the mother was doing the math, converting the price of the car into renminbi. "how far can the car go?" she asked the salesman. "300 miles," he said. "300 km? that's not very far!" exclaimed the mother. i explained to her that the distance was in miles, since she just naturally assumed everyone uses metric.
the daughter stopped inside a baby clothes shop to get something for a friend's recent birth, while the mother went to a card store. she wanted to buy a thank you card but was shopping in the valentine's aisle, where every card was about loving you this and loving you that. she also kept asking me to translate for her, even though i kept on explaining she wouldn't find what she wanted here.
we finally left the mall, and walked up and down the street in the bitter cold, looking for this prada. google map probably gave me bad information, because there was no prada anywhere, even though i asked a bunch of people. i think it closed, in its place a new gucci store had popped up. so we went back inside the mall to stay warm, and started thinking about a place to get dinner.
we walked all the way back to the westin hotel, where earlier we saw a brazilian barbecue restaurant (fogo de chão). cutting through copley place, all the stores were closed, except for an orogold cosmetic store, where employees were standing outside still giving out free samples to the few stragglers coming through this way. the mother wanted to buy facemasks, and went inside. i stayed outside, chatting with the pretty woman handing out samples. she had an accent that i couldn't quite place. she gave me a hint, that it was on the other side of the world, so not anywhere in the americas (i would've said maybe a latin american country). she told me to guess but said i would never get it. randomly i said albania. "close," she said, "in the mediterranean." turns out she's from israel, which totally made sense after she told me.
i helped the mother translate as she was trying to buy a box of gold facemasks and gold neck masks. the facemasks themselves were $1000, the neck masks another $900 on top of that. why so expensive? because apparently there were flecks of gold inside, which apparently (according to the store anyway) have some sort of cosmetic property, which seemed kind of sketchy to me. but the mother said she used something similar from japan, and it worked well. i reminded her facemasks in china cost just 10RMB a piece (about a dollar and a half), but she said the really good ones cost more. and apparently flecked with gold. but wasn't a simple matter of buying what she wanted. she also wanted to haggle the price. to his credit, the sales clerk dealing with the mother was extremely patient and had a good sense of humor about it. she wanted to haggle $1600 down to $800, but the sales clerk told her the prices are set and he can't do anything. but apparently in the cosmetic business haggling is allowed, because after he said that, he did lower the price, and the two of them ended up in a very lengthy negotiation, where she ended up buying an additional collagen lotion (also flaked with gold, retails for $800 or something) and getting a ton of free samples and only paid $1100. i acted as the translator between the two, while the daughter was off on the side texting on her phone, wasn't the least bit interested in helping her mother, despite the fact that she knew english and her mother didn't. it was also embarrassing, translating the mother's seemingly unreasonable haggle demands.
when we finally got to the brazilian barbecue sometime after 7pm, i realized something: today was valentine's day, and getting a table without a reservation would be a problem. sure enough, when we asked to be seated, the receptionist told us there would be a one hour 30 minutes wait. okay. so back inside the mall we went, where we found a shabumaru japanese hot pot restaurant. they were also all booked up, but there was an open table and the woman said as long as we don't eat longer than 8:30pm we'd be okay. while the mother was in the bathroom, i asked the daughter about her major. studying at toronto university, this is her last year, and she's currently on winter break. her major is industrial engineering, which deals with things like optimization.
shabumaru wasn't very good. of course it wasn't anything like chongqing hot pot, but it also wasn't like the japanese shabu shabu i'm used to either. the cuts of meat were very good, but the sauces all seemed incongruous: mayonnaise with a funky hot sauce, daikon radish paste, and chopped scallions. the soy sauce was also not the soy sauce i'm normally used to, but rather a sushi soy sauce with a vinegary taste. i made no effort to pay: the amount of money they spent today was more than the cash i currently have in my bank account. my only regret was we didn't go to the barbecue place, where i could've really gotten my money's worth of a free dinner.
afterwards i took them across the street to the copley fairmont hotel where i hailed a taxi for them. since the hyatt regency wasn't really in the direction i was heading, i bid them good bye and took the T home, which took about an hour. the subway was filled with happy couples, going home after a night of dinner, a few ladies carrying a single rose. naturally i wanted to fight them all. i got back around 9:40pm. mary was already asleep, judging by the darkness in her bedroom window.
my aunt and uncle gave me a $100 amazon gift card on my birthday. i used a portion of that money to buy a 4-port 40w wall charger and some premium usb cables. i have simple inexpensive tastes.