My Melody ankle socks

I think it’s unfair how when you have a group of characters, one character always becomes more popular than the others. One example is on children’s television show, Sesame Street. Elmo monster, who made his debut in 1985, has become more popular than the other puppets. Personally, I dislike the Elmo character. I don’t like Elmo’s high pitched voice or the way he talks in the third person, and I can’t understand why he is more popular than other (in my opinion, better) characters. I prefer older Sesame Street characters, like Grover and Bert and Ernie, who have been on the show since the start in 1969.

An autographed photo of Grover, Shih Yen’s favourite Sesame Street character.

It’s the same with Sanrio characters. Sanrio is a Japanese company that manufactures lots of cute things, and Sanrio is the company that brought Hello Kitty to the world. Sanrio also has many other characters, not just Hello Kitty. But the other characters are not as popular as Hello Kitty.

I don’t have any problem with Hello Kitty, and I personally own many Hello Kitty products, including shoes. But I think it’s unfair that Hello Kitty should get all the glory. There are other Sanrio characters, which I think are equally as cute as Hello Kitty, and they seem to have faded into history. Hello Kitty made her debut in 1974 on a coin purse. There are other Sanrio characters from that same time period; and when I was young, I liked those characters more than Hello Kitty. These characters are My Melody, a cute rabbit and Little Twin Stars, twin brother and sister Kiki and Lala, who are stars and live in the sky.

Sanrio characters – My Melody, the rabbit with Little Twin Stars, Kiki and Lala.

A friend who knows that I like My Melody gave me a pair of My Melody ankle socks. I love the socks, but when I first saw them, I thought there is no way these socks are going to fit me. These ankle socks are meant for the Japanese market only, and they are probably meant to fit the average Japanese woman. Unfortunately, my feet are not the size of an average Japanese woman. On me, these ankle socks are more like heel socks! I still love the socks, even if they don’t fit.

Shih Yen’s My Melody ankle socks.

Attempting to wear My Melody ankle socks.

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Cute socks and towels

Towel cakes have become a recent trend. This is where small towels are presented as if they are food. So for example, a face towel or a hand towel could be folded and made to look like a slice of cake. If the towels are brown, they could be put into a mug to look like a cup of coffee, or made to look like chocolates or muffins. I think it’s just a way of marketing boring towels to make them more attractive and interesting to customers.

I had only seen this trend in small towels until I saw these cute socks recently. The socks were packaged to look like popsicles and they are super cute. One pair had an ice cream design and the other a watermelon design. This could be called fun things to do with ice cream sticks, as I also had little face towels that had been packaged to look like lollipops.

Lollipop face towels, with a pair of ice cream socks.

Shih Yen’s pair of ice cream ankle socks.

Lollipop face towels with a pair of watermelon popsicle socks.

Shih Yen’s pair of watermelon ankle socks.

When I saw the watermelon design socks, I knew the perfect pair of shoes that would go with those socks. That would be watermelon shoes by Hot Chocolate Design. Hot Chocolate Design is a shoe label from Venezuela, and it is one of my favourite shoe labels. This label was started in 2004 by Pablo Martinez and Carolina Aguerrevere.

Watermelon shoes by Hot Chocolate Design, from their chocolaticas range (in style patilla).

Normally I limit my blog to just footwear and socks, but many things surprise and shock me about Venezuela, so I thought I would write a bit about Venezuela, the country where these shoes are designed.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. Yes, Venezuela has more oil than Saudi Arabia! And yet, the country cannot feed its own people. Venezuela is currently in social and economic turmoil, with widespread shortages of basic goods, like lack of food, medicines and toilet paper. Hyperinflation is a major problem, with inflation in triple digits.

Lucky then, I guess, that Hot Chocolate Design shoes are designed in Venezuela, but made in China.

The hypothetical quinceañera

The day before my 15th birthday I wrote, ‘A decade and a ½ seems old.’ 😀 It has been many, many years since I was 15, and I now find that statement to be quite funny. I never had a 15th birthday party, and since I didn’t have a party, I also don’t have any photos from my 15th birthday. This is because 15 is not a particularly special age in Asia, or in many parts of the world.

However in Latin America, the 15th birthday is a very, very big deal for teenage girls. Quince (pronounced keen-say) means 15 in Spanish. The birthday girl is called the quinceañera (pronounced keen-sa-nye-ra) , and the 15th birthday party is called fiesta de quince años in Spanish, or festa de quinze anos in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, and it is celebrated in countries all over the Americas. In the past, the 15th birthday party was a way to present a girl to society, much like a debutante. It signified that the girl was ready for marriage. These days, it’s more of a celebration of the girl like a princess.

When I say that the 15th birthday party is a big deal, I mean it is a seriously big deal, like a wedding. Possibly the most famous quinceañera is Mexican teen Rubi Ibarra García who had a 15th birthday party on 26 December 2016. The video invitation to her 15th birthday party went viral on social media. More than a million people responded to the invitation saying they would attend, and Rubi’s 15th birthday party spawned many memes. In the end, thousands of people attended Rubi’s 15th birthday in La Joya, a small village in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí. The village normally has a population of 200. Despite added security, one man died during the horse race and another was injured.

Since I never had a 15th birthday party, I thought it might be fun to have a hypothetical one. The dresses that quinceañeras wear are big, elaborate dresses fit for a princess. They are much like wedding dresses. Traditional colours for the quinceañera dress are white or pink, or pastel colours. But really these days, it seems like any colour is fine. For me, the age of 15 was sort of filled with teenage angst. I’m not sure I would have gone with the whole girly Barbie-type dress. Maybe that’s something I would have chosen if I was 5 years old. But if I had to pick a girly quinceañera dress for myself, I would go with this one:

Quinceañera dress from Q by Da Vinci in flamingo (style 80292).

In general, the fiesta de 15 años in every country involves dancing, usually a waltz with the birthday girl and her father. For this post, I’m concentrating on the 15th birthday party in Mexico because the Mexican fiesta de 15 años has many traditions that really resonate with me. The 15th birthday party is a transition, from being a girl to becoming a woman, and the Mexican birthday party has many symbolic touches to reflect this transition. One such element is called la ultima muñeca, or ‘the last doll’. In this tradition, the birthday girl is given a doll at her birthday party. The doll is usually wearing a similar dress to the quinceañera. This doll is the last doll that the quinceañera will play with, and the doll is a symbol that the birthday girl is now giving up childhood toys and becoming a woman.

An example of a ‘last doll’ or ‘ultima muñeca’ wearing a dress to match the quinceañera.

Another element of the Mexican fiesta de 15 años involves shoes (Finally! Were you wondering when I would get to the part about shoes?). This Mexican tradition is called ‘changing of the shoes’. During the birthday party, before the waltz, the quinceañera changes her shoes from flat shoes to high heels. These are meant to be the quinceañera‘s first high heeled shoes, and like the last doll, they are a symbol that the girl is now a woman.

I only recently found out about this ‘changing of the shoes’ tradition. If I had known about it when I was turning 15, I would have had a party just to get some new shoes. So here are some footwear options for my hypothetical 15th birthday party.

Shoe by EricDress.

This pair of shoes by Eric Dress would match the quinceañera dress, but in my opinion, the rhinestones are too bling, and the heels are too high for my 15-year-old self to realistically walk in. If I had to pick shoes for the Mexican ‘changing of the shoes,’ I would go with shoes by Venezuelan label, Hot Chocolate Design. I would start with these flat pink Mary-Jane shoes, by Hot Chocolate Design from their Chocolaticas range. These flat shoes have silver glitter soles. Not as bling as rhinestones, but suitably shiny for a quinceañera.

Chocolaticas by Hot Chocolate Design (style ‘Space’).

Then, at the party, I would change from the flat shoes to these Mary-Jane high heels, also by Hot Chocolate Design.

Chocolaticas high heels by Hot Chocolate Design (style ‘Marie Antoinette’).

Minnie Mouse Keds sneakers (part 2)

Don’t you hate it when something goes on sale after you have already bought it? It makes me want to buy the thing again just to get the discount, even though that makes no economic sense. This situation happened to me recently with Minnie Mouse sneakers.  You can read about the first time I bought the sneakers here.

Shih Yen’s pair of Keds Minnie Mouse sneakers with platform soles.

The retail price for the Minnie Mouse sneakers with platform soles is NZ$119. I bought them on sale for $69, which I thought was good. But after I had bought them, they were discounted further to $49! That is so frustrating! Since they were on (even more of a) sale, I bought another pair of Minnie Mouse sneakers in a different design. This time I bought one with flat soles, not platform soles. Even though they are the same size and from the same brand, I find the flat sole sneakers more comfortable than the platform soles. The ones with platform soles seem narrower and pinch my toes more.

Shih Yen’s pair of Keds Minnie Mouse sneakers with flat soles.

Keds is an old American sneaker brand, dating from 1916. Equally, Minnie Mouse is also an old icon, first appearing in 1928. I love them together – Minnie Mouse on Keds sneakers. Since the beginning in 1916, Keds has always focused on female empowerment, and they have a tagline ‘Ladies first since 1916’. Keds also has the motto: ‘A lady can do anything she wants in the right pair of shoes’.

A Malaysian cobbler

The word ‘cobbler’ is such an old-fashioned word. A cobbler is a person who repairs shoes, and it also seems an old-fashioned profession. With an increasingly disposable/consumer society and with increasing labour costs, these days it is becoming cheaper and easier to throw things away rather than to try and repair them.

In Malaysia though, cobblers are still very cheap. For example, gluing back a shoe’s soles costs about 30 US cents, and you can also bargain with the cobbler. Malaysian cobblers are much cheaper than cobblers in first world countries because in Malaysia, cobblers don’t work out of a proper shop. In general, you can find cobblers sitting on the footpath.

A Malaysian cobbler. It’s common to find cobblers working on the footpath in Malaysia.

As I was going home to Malaysia, I purposely brought with me 2 pairs of footwear to be repaired. I love both pairs of footwear, or I wouldn’t have bothered to get them mended. One was a simple glue-on job, but the other was more complicated, the soles of my sneakers having cracked on both shoes. I wore the sneakers with cracked soles on the flight home and hoped that they would survive the long plane ride. I brought with me only those 2 pairs of footwear, and I knew if I couldn’t get them repaired, I would have to buy some new shoes.

Shih Yen’s Hello Kitty sneakers with the cracked soles.

I found the cobbler in the Atria shopping area of Damansara Jaya, near the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. There’s more than one cobbler working in this area. I call my cobbler by his title of Tuan Haji. He brings the tools of his trade in a suitcase and sets up a stall on the footpath outside a closed shop.

The cobbler working on the simple glue-on job.

The cobbler working on the Hello Kitty sneakers with the cracked soles.

The cobbler did my glue-on job immediately while I waited. He even provided me with a pair of spare slippers to wear as I waited. The sneaker repair was completed on the same day. He glued together my cracked soles and then stitched all along the sides of my sneakers. The cost (after a bit bargaining) was RM 18 (less than US$5). I am happy with his workmanship and I’m confident that my sneakers can last at least a few more months.

Shih Yen’s sneakers after repair; the cracked sole had been glued and stitched up all around.

Why are these shoes called Mary-Janes?

I’m beginning to learn that in life, everyone has a ‘type’. Whether it’s the type of people that you’re attracted to, the type of clothes you like to wear, the books, movies and music that you like. Everyone has a ‘type’, and that is also true of footwear.

One of Shih Yen’s favourite pair of Mary-Janes shoes, by Camper from their TWS range.

So yes, I have a type when it comes to footwear, and my type is called Mary-Janes. ‘Mary-Jane’ is an American word for a shoe with a strap across the front. One of my earliest memories from when I was 4 years old was of wearing pink Mary-Jane style shoes with a buckle to fasten the strap. I had known for some time that this type of shoe is called Mary-Jane, but until recently, I didn’t know why.

An old Mary-Jane favourite of Shih Yen’s, by Candy.

Recently, I found out why these shoes are called ‘Mary-Janes’ (and it has nothing to do with marijuana!). It’s related to a comic strip by Richard Felton Outcault called Buster Brown, first published in 1902. The Buster Brown character was a 19th century boy who was always getting into trouble. In 1904, Outcault sold licences at the St. Louis World’s Fair for companies to use the Buster Brown character to advertise their products. The Brown Shoe Company was probably the first company to use trademark to sell shoes, when they used the Buster Brown character to sell children’s shoes.

Buster Brown and Mary Jane with Tige the dog, characters by Richard Felton Outcault. Both characters are wearing Mary-Jane shoes.

In the comic strip, Buster Brown had a girlfriend called Mary-Jane. Mary-Jane was based on Outcault’s own daughter who was also named Mary-Jane. In about 1909, Mary-Jane, the character from the comic strip, was used to market girls’ shoes. It was so successful that all shoes of this design, with a strap across, became known as ‘Mary-Janes’. Mary-Jane was formerly a registered trademark, but is now a generic term for all shoes of this design.

In the comic strip, both Buster Brown and Mary-Jane wear Mary-Jane style shoes. In the past, Mary-Janes were worn by both boys and girls. But by the 1930s and 1940s, the Mary-Jane style became predominantly associated with girls shoes.

A new Mary-Jane favourite, by Hot Chocolate Design.

Allbirds merino wool shoes

It’s autumn in the Southern hemisphere, and there is a definite nip in the air as the weather gets colder. As it’s getting colder, I thought I would write about these New Zealand merino wool shoes that can keep your feet warm.

The fairly new label is called Allbirds, and they make footwear out of merino wool. Allbirds is a New Zealand label, and they call the shoes ‘from the land of 29,221,344 sheep’. Allbirds was founded by Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger. Tim Brown was a former professional football player who played for the All Whites, the New Zealand football team. He retired from professional football in 2012, and in 2014 used crowd funding to produce their first wool runners shoes. Joey Zwillinger is an engineer and renewable materials expert who helps develop the sustainable materials the shoes are made of. This includes the textile and insoles for the shoes. The shoes are made from 16 micron merino wool (micron is a measurement of the diameter of wool fibre in micrometre) with the textile woven in Italy. The insoles are made of a vegetable oil-based polyurethane and can be machine washed.

To me, machine washing shoes is a very alien concept, though I know that people do it and I guess it’s very convenient. Allbirds shoes are super comfortable and can be worn without socks with no worry about odour. Hey, the shoes are made of wool. It’s a bit like wearing woolen socks, but they are shoes.

Personally, I find Allbirds shoes a bit plain both in design and range of colours. Allbirds shoes only come in 2 styles: sneakers, called ‘wool runners’; and slip ons, called ‘loungers’. And both styles come in very limited colours. Allbirds market that as a selling point, preferring to focus on simplicity in design and premium, natural materials. It is also a very new shoe company, so I’m excited to see more from them in the future.

An Allbirds merino wool shoe. This is their sneaker (wool runners) design.

Photo by Dora Yip at http://www.mrsturnip.com