Socks from my alma mater

Happy new year 2021! I hope that this year will be less crazy than 2020. Here’s to another year of writing about shoes.

I got a pair of socks for Christmas – this time they were socks from the university I attended. The socks have the university logo with its coat of arms and Latin motto on them. On the soles, there are the words ‘Live a little’ on one foot and ‘Learn a lot’ on the other.

Socks from my university

I think socks are a practical gift. Everyone wears socks, but this is not a pair that I will wear – just because of its branding. I don’t feel like being a walking advertisement (literally) for my university.

Shoe Obsession Barbie Doll

I started writing this blog on this date exactly 9 years ago. I can’t believe that I’ve been writing the blog for so long. That’s 108 months of posts! I thought I would have run out of topics years ago. Though to be honest, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be continuing with the blog.

To celebrate its 9th anniversary, this post will be slightly different. Here’s a Barbie doll that was released in November 2011, around the same time when I first started this blog. She is called Shoe Obsession Barbie Doll. This Barbie doll wears black ankle boots, a tulle dress with her signature mules inside the skirt and a necklace with stiletto shoes on them.

Shoe Obsession Barbie Doll (released on 17 November 2011)

I can’t believe that such a doll exists. Aren’t obsessions a bad thing? And Barbie dolls are generally meant to be children’s toys. Do we really need to be encouraging obsessions in children?

Nike Air Jordan sneakers

I have an interest in shoes and I like sneakers, but I have never been one to get all obsessed about collectible sneakers. Here’s the latest one from Nike. They are Nike Air Jordan 1 retro in mocha. The Air Jordan sneakers are basketball shoes made by Nike. They were first made for basketballer Michael Jordan in late 1984.

The Nike Air Jordan 1 retro sneaker in mocha.

This particular model of sneaker went on sale in New Zealand on 20th November 2020. In New Zealand, hundreds of people queued for 2 days and nights to buy this pair of sneakers. People slept on mattresses and sleeping bags outside the shop to keep their place in line overnight. I admire this dedication, but I personally don’t feel so excited about a pair of sneakers. Though the resale value on these sneakers are very good.

Medieval European footwear and Mexican pointy boots

Being obsessed with fashion is not a new thing. In the 14th and 15th centuries, people in medieval Europe were obsessed with wearing long, pointy shoes. These pointy shoes were called poulaines or crakows, because they first became fashionable in Poland, around 1340. Poulaine is the old French name for Poland, and Krakow was the old Polish capital city. From Poland, this pointy shoe craze spread all over Europe.

A poulaine found on the Thames (Museum of London).

Poulaines were mostly worn by wealthy men, because these shoes were so impractical and inconvenient that only wealthy men who didn’t need to work could wear them. The points on some shoes were as long as 60cm. The points on poulaines were so long that it was reported that wearers had to walk upstairs backwards to prevent from tripping over the long points! Some people stuffed the ends of their poulaines with grass, hay or dried moss then curled the ends, or they inserted whalebone supports to keep the ends up. In 1463, England passed a law banning these shoes. In Paris, they were banned in 1368. By about 1475, this fad had vanished.

You would think this inconvenient footwear fashion died with the Middle Ages, but no! A similar trend still lives on in Mexico. In Mexico, they are called ‘botas picudas’ (pointy boots) or ‘botas tribaleras’ (tribal boots). These boots originated in the north of Mexico. Matehuala, a city in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí has been credited as the birthplace of these boots.

As the name suggests, these boots are very pointy. They are leather boots with a very long, pointy tip. They are associated with tribal guarachero music, which is a type of electronic dance music. Botas tribaleras are worn by men when dancing to tribal music. It has given rise to male dance groups who wear cowboy hats, matching costumes with skinny jeans, and of course pointy boots, while dancing to this music.

You can see the Mexican pointy boots in all their hilarious glory in the following short documentary.

Make a no-sew face mask from a sock

Face coverings are increasingly becoming mandatory. I’ve been watching videos on how to make face masks. Some are really funny, like how to make face masks from items that you’ll definitely have around the house – such as making face masks from a sock, a handkerchief, a bra or underwear (boxer shorts). The problem with a face mask made from a bra is that your face size may not be the same as your bra size!

Yes, the world has definitely gone mad. It is now acceptable to wear a bra or underwear on your face. Anyway, I’m not about to wear a bra or underwear on my face in public, but yeah I could wear a sock on my face.

After watching a few videos, I decided to make my own face mask from a sock. I wanted to make a face mask that I would actually want to wear. Don’t worry, this is a super easy method. I don’t have a sewing machine, and I can’t sew for sh*t. So this is a no-sew face mask.

Gather your materials – elastic, an optional safety pin, an ankle sock, and scissors.

  1. Gather your materials – an ankle sock, scissors, elastic, and an optional safety pin.
  2. With scissors, make 4 tiny cuts at each corner of the sock.
  3. Push elastic through the cuts you have made and tie the elastic together with a strong knot. This will form the ear loops. (You may find it easier to push the elastic into the tiny cut by using a safety pin).
  4. Do the same on the other side.

Make 4 tiny cuts at each corner of the sock. You may find it easier to push the elastic through the tiny cut by using a safety pin.

The finished product. A super easy no-sew face mask made from an ankle sock.

There you have it! Instant face mask.

By using a pair of socks, you can make another identical face mask using the other sock. I used a new sock, not one that I had already worn on my foot! I tend to get footwear related gifts and these socks were a birthday present that were too small for me. Since I can’t wear them on my foot, I decided to turn the sock into a face mask, and wear them on my face instead 🙂

Wearing the Hello Kitty face mask

I’m very happy with my Hello Kitty face mask made from a sock. I’ve been happily wearing it in public. I’ve even had strangers tell me that they love it and ask me where I bought it.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I think wearing a face mask is a good reason to focus on eye makeup. Wearing a face mask in public should be a matter of health, not fashion. But why can’t it be both?


Traditional clothes and footwear from Malaysia

It was Malaysia’s national day yesterday, so I thought I would write about the national dress of Malaysia, as well as the baju kebaya from Malaysia.

The national dress of Malaysia is the baju Melayu for men, which literally translates as ‘Malay shirt’. The baju Melayu is made up of a shirt, matching trousers, worn with a samping, a sort-of sarong worn around the waist. For men, there are 3 types of baju Melayu, mainly distinguished by the collar: the baju Melayu cekak musang has a stiff collar and 5 buttons (2 buttons are on the collar), and the samping is worn over the shirt. The baju Melayu Teluk Belanga, from the Malaysian state of Johor, does not have a stiff collar and the samping is worn under the shirt. The baju Melayu kolar Tunku looks like a Mandarin collar, where the collar has no buttons, and there are 3 buttons on the shirt.

For women, the national dress is called the baju kurung (pronounced ba-joo koo-rong). The baju kurung is made up of a long, loose, long sleeved blouse called the baju, and a long skirt. Baju Melayu and baju kurung for day-to-day use is made of cotton or a cotton/polyester blend. The ones for special occasions are made of songket. Songket is a type of fabric woven with gold or silver threads.

The national dress of Malaysia. The man wears a baju Melayu cekak musang with samping in songket material. The woman wears a baju kurung with jewellery called a dokoh (photo courtesy of Charlene Wong-Podany).

The baju kebaya, though not the national dress for women (as it is in Indonesia), is also worn in Malaysia. The baju kebaya consists of a blouse and a sarong. Usually, the sarong is made of batik. The traditional kebaya blouse was always beautifully embroidered, especially all around the edges.

There are different types of kebaya, but I’m concentrating on the nyonya kebaya, worn mostly by Peranakan women of Chinese ancestry, especially in the Straits settlements. The Straits settlements are Malacca and Penang in Malaysia, and Singapore. Originally, the term Peranakan was used to refer to the descendants of 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants to the Malay archipelago. Peranakan is still most commonly applied to Chinese people who have assimilated and adopted the Malay language and culture. Peranakan men are known as Baba while the women are called Nyonya (pronounced neo-knee-ya). The batik in the sarong of a nyonya kebaya usually has big floral prints. 

Another type of kebaya is the kebaya panjang. The kebaya panjang is longer in length and in the sleeves compared with the nyonya kebaya.

These Malaysian women wear a kebaya nyonya on the left, and a kebaya panjang on the right (photo courtesy of Charlene Wong-Podany).

The traditional kebaya blouse had no buttons. Instead, jewellery would be used to fasten the kebaya blouse. Dokoh is a type of Malay jewellery. It is like a necklace with 3 vertical pendants with a pin behind the pendant, which is used to secure the baju kebaya. It is also sometimes called ‘dokoh 3 adik-beradik’, or 3 siblings dokoh, because the pendants always come in threes, and sometimes in diminishing sizes. Dokoh can be worn with a baju kurung or a baju kebaya.

‘Kerosang’ or ‘kerongsang’ is another type of jewellery that is used to secure the kebaya. It is a 3-piece linked brooch that is used to fasten the kebaya blouse down the front.

Close up of a kerosang or kebaya pin.

In general, any kind of footwear, especially a strappy sandal, is appropriate to be worn with a baju kebaya. The proper footwear when wearing a nyonya kebaya is Peranakan beaded slippers, also called ‘kasut manik’ or ‘manek aey’. There are two styles of Peranakan beaded slippers – covered or peep toe. These beaded slippers are handmade and time consuming to make. A design is first cross stitched onto the slippers, and then beaded over with very tiny glass beads called ‘manik potong’. Traditionally, nyonya women were proud of their cooking, embroidery and beadwork. A nyonya’s wedding day was an opportunity for her to show off her hand embroidery in her baju kebaya, and beadwork in her slippers.

Peranakan beaded slippers in a peep toe style.

Peranakan beaded slippers in a covered style.


Baju kebaya from Indonesia

I was supposed to have gone on holiday a couple of months ago to the island of Bali, in Indonesia. Of course that didn’t happen because the world has gone mad. One of the things that I had wanted to do in Bali was have a photo shoot in traditional costume. That’s a tourist activity in Bali. Since I didn’t manage to do that, I thought I would write about it instead.

The ‘baju kebaya’ is the national dress for women in Indonesia. It is also worn all around the region. Female flight attendants on all the major national airlines of the Malay archipelago wear a modern version of the ‘baju kebaya’ as their uniform. These are female flight attendants on Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Garuda Indonesia and Royal Brunei Airlines. (Remember? Back in the days when international air travel was still a thing!).

More specifically, I wanted to do a pengantin Jawa photo shoot, or the style of a Javanese bride. I am interested in this style because it is so different. Firstly, the hairstyle is different from anything I have ever seen. I am very curious about how this hairstyle is achieved. I’m told by my Indonesian friend that the shape is painted on. The hairstyle is then finished off with a headdress.

The traditional hairstyle of a Javanese bride (photo courtesy of Amanda Hidayat).

Being Malaysian, I only knew about the Malaysian version of the ‘baju kebaya’. I have since learned about various Indonesian versions, which are different from the Malaysian version of ‘baju kebaya’. In general, a kebaya consists of the baju or blouse and a sarong called a kain. Usually the sarong is made of batik. Traditionally, a pin or brooch is used to secure the blouse.

The Indonesian versions of the ‘baju kebaya’ uses different fabrics compared with the Malaysian version. For example, the Indonesian ‘kebaya’ is made of lace or velvet for the blouse, fabrics which are not used in Malaysian ‘baju kebaya’. When wearing a lace ‘baju kebaya’, which is sheer or see-through, Indonesian women also wear a matching bustier under the blouse. Again, this is not something worn by Malaysian women with their ‘baju kebaya’.

An Indonesian wedding, in a traditional Javanese style. The groom wears a ‘blangkon’, traditional Javanese headdress, and a ‘keris’, ceremonial dagger (obscured behind his back). The bride wears a lace ‘baju kebaya’, more specifically in the Central Java style from Solo or Surakarta (photo courtesy of Amanda Hidayat).

There are different variations of ‘baju kebaya’ within Indonesia. The Javanese kebaya, kebaya Kartini, Balinese kebaya and kebaya encim (peranakan) have a V-neck collar. The Balinese kebaya is distinguished by a sash called a ‘kemben’ worn around the waist. The kebaya Kutubaru has a square shape collar, while the kebaya Sunda has a U-shape collar.

Indonesian wedding party. The women are all wearing variations of the Indonesian ‘baju kebaya’. The bridesmaid on the far left wears a kebaya in a Balinese style with ‘kemben’, sash across the waist (photo courtesy of Amanda Hidayat).

Traditional fabric for a Javanese wedding kebaya would be black velvet or lace. Some brides get shoes in fabrics that match their ‘kebaya’. So, shoes covered in lace or velvet that matches the wedding ‘kebaya’. But in general, any strappy high heeled sandal is suitable to be worn with ‘baju kebaya’.

Indonesian bride and her bridesmaids, all wearing ‘baju kebaya’. Check out the footwear worn (photo courtesy of Amanda Hidayat).

Close up of Indonesian batik and footwear. The mother of the bride is on the left, the groom is in the middle and bride on the right.

I’ve still never been to Indonesia. Maybe one day I will get my Javanese photo shoot. Indonesia and Bali will always be there. Whether I will still be alive and able to make it to Indonesia is a different question entirely!

Huaraches, Mexican sandals

I’m here, dreaming of a day when I can fly home. It’s the middle of winter in the Southern hemisphere and I’m dreaming of a hot summer’s day when I can wear sandals again. These Mexican sandals came in the mail and I could smell the Mexican leather before I even opened the box. I received my Mexican sandals a few days before the New Zealand border closed. So I feel very lucky to have received them, but first with lockdown and now being in the coldest part of winter, I still haven’t had the opportunity to wear these sandals.

Close up of Shih Yen’s huaraches, Mexican leather sandals. These sandals have leather braiding and embroidery and come from León in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico.

These Mexican sandals are called huaraches. The word huarache comes from the Tarascan word for ‘sandal’, a language spoken by the the indigenous Purépecha people. Huaraches are handmade Mexican sandals. They are an ancient form of footwear and pre-dates European colonization. Huaraches were originally peasant footwear, worn in rural and farming areas. Early forms of huaraches have been found in the Mexican states of Jalisco, Michoacán and Guanajuato.

To be considered a traditional huarache, the sandal has to be handmade with handwoven leather braiding. My huarache comes from León, a city in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato. León is famous for making leather goods. All sorts of leather goods are sold in the Zona Piel area of the city, or the leather district.

The most common colour for huaraches are a tan/brown colour. My huaraches are tan with colourful leather braiding and embroidered flowers. The grandmother of the person who sent me these sandals also has huaraches in a similar style. I’m not sure how I feel that I have similar footwear with an old woman.

Perhaps one day I will get the chance to wear my huaraches.

Shih Yen’s favourite things from Mexico. Huarache leather sandals with matching handbag, a traditional doll and rebozo, a Mexican shawl, as the backdrop.

Shoes in classic children’s literature

After writing 3 consecutive posts about socks, I felt I should write something about shoes this month. But it’s a strange post-lockdown world. I’ve just recently started back at work and I’m still getting used to wearing shoes again, as I don’t wear shoes inside the house. During the highest level of lockdown, I only went outdoors 3 times in 32 days (I think even prisoners in jail get more fresh air than this!). So it feels funny to wear shoes again regularly.

This month I’m writing about fictitious shoes in classic children’s literature. I read a lot during lockdown, averaging 1 book every 2-3 days, and here are just 3 of the books I read while in lockdown.

I read two Victorian-era writers. The Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria’s rule (1837-1901). The first writer was Lewis Carroll (1832-1898). Lewis Carroll was an English writer, mathematician and Anglican deacon. He is most famous for his children’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel Through the Looking Glass (1871). I read both books years ago when I was very young, but a few months ago, I bought a 2-in-1 book containing both books. The reason I bought this book was mainly because it was a new edition with manga-style (Japanese comic style) illustrations in it, and the illustrations attracted me.

The 1911 edition of ‘Through the Looking Glass’ next to my 2014 two-in-one edition of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ by Lewis Carroll.

During lockdown, I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland without incident. Then, as I got to the end of Through the Looking Glass, I discovered that my edition of the book was missing the last 4 chapters! It had repeated pages at the back, but not the final four chapters. I got to the end of what I could read and wondered what to do now with this book that was missing pages. It was the middle of lockdown, no shops were open and I couldn’t return the book to the shop where I had bought it. Libraries were not open, so I couldn’t borrow a copy of the book either. And I didn’t know when shops and libraries would re-open.

As I was sitting in my reading chair wondering what to do, a friend phoned me, and I told her my predicament of only having three-quarters of a book. Coincidentally, she owned a copy of Through the Looking Glass, which she lent to me in the middle of lockdown. This involved her dropping the book on my doorstep and us talking through the closed door between us.

This friend is my mother’s age and she lent me a very old copy of Through the Looking Glass that belonged to her great-aunt. Her copy was published in 1911 with an inscription to her great-aunt dated 15.1.14 (That’s 1914!). I felt like I had to be super careful reading such an old book.

The 1911 edition of ‘Through The Looking-Glass’.

The classic version of the Alice books from the 1800s were illustrated by John Tennniel, and in his drawings, Alice is depicted with Mary-Jane style shoes, striped stockings and a hairband. That hairband is so synonymous with Alice, the book character, that it is sometimes called an Alice band. Subsequent drawings of Alice have also commonly depicted her wearing Mary-Jane style shoes, striped stockings and a hairband.

An original illustration from 1865 of Alice in Wonderland by Sir John Tenniel. Alice is always depicted wearing flat Mary Jane shoes.

My 2014 edition of ‘Through the Looking Glass’ with manga style illustrations. On the left, Alice is depicted with a hairband, striped stockings and flat Mary-Jane style shoes.

Another Victorian-era writer that I read while in lockdown was George MacDonald (1824-1905). He was a Scottish writer and Christian minister. Lewis Carroll was a family friend of the MacDonalds. George MacDonald wrote at least 50 books, but most of his work is not remembered now. I had never even heard of George MacDonald. I bought his children’s book The Princess and the Goblin because the back cover described the book as ‘The classic fantasy novel that inspired The Lord of the Rings  and The Chronicles of Narnia‘.

My 2015 edition of ‘The Princess and the Goblin’ by George MacDonald.

I happen to know a lot about children’s literature published in English, and I was amazed that I had never even heard of George MacDonald. He deserves so much more fame. The Princess and the Goblin first appeared in 1871, before being published in book form in 1872. For me, it was a very enjoyable read, and you can’t tell from the language that it is such an old book. It tells the story of a battle between humans and goblins. The goblins’ weakness is their soft feet, and they didn’t wear shoes. So that was the way to defeat them. However, the Goblin Queen was the only goblin to wear shoes and she wore granite shoes.

In the book ‘The Princess and the Goblin’, the Goblin Queen wore granite shoes.

The manga style illustrations of my 2015 edition of The Princess and the Goblin was also what attracted me to this book. It was such a good book that I wouldn’t have minded if this book didn’t have any illustrations. It is the type of book where I would have liked to use my own imagination to picture the goblins and other creatures. A great read and George MacDonald deserves more accolades. 

Hopefully by next month my world will be more normal, and I can write about real shoes again.

Airline socks in isolation

In these crazy times, here are two Japanese words that I learned recently:

Tsundoku – This literally means a reading pile, or a pile of books waiting to be read. It can also refer to the action of piling up books and leaving them unread around the house (something that I’m somewhat guilty of).

Hikikomori – This is a Japanese word used to refer to a person (usually a young adult) who withdraws from society and lives in extreme isolation. It’s similar to the word ‘recluse’.

The world has become a hikikomori, myself included. And I am surviving …. no, I’m enjoying lockdown with a tsundoku. I’ve never been a social person, but now my isolation is ramping up. I don’t even go outside to throw rubbish or hang laundry on the line anymore. I take this lockdown as a challenge. You want me to stay at home? OK, I’ll see how long I can stay at home for. I don’t have a balcony, so I don’t get any fresh air or sunshine if I don’t go outside. People who know me were starting to worry that I would get a Vitamin D deficiency. My neighbours started to worry because I haven’t checked my letterbox for mail in over a month and I don’t answer my doorbell anymore. I wasn’t lonely, and I didn’t mind the isolation, but the mounting pile of rubbish in the house really started to bother me. I spent 24 days inside the house, before finally opening my front door on the 25th day to take the rubbish out.

I told myself that I would only buy food when my options were starvation or supermarket. I didn’t buy anything, not even food, for 33 days. I finally went to the supermarket on the 34th day when starvation was imminent. I am so proud of myself for my planning and execution, and I learned that I’m pretty damn good at rationing food. I will (hopefully) never have another chance to do this again.

This post is actually about airline socks. I didn’t mean to write 3 consecutive posts about socks. It just happened that way because the world went a bit mad. I go out as little as possible, so I don’t even wear outside shoes and socks much anymore. As my house is a shoe-free zone, these days airline socks are all I wear around the house.

Shih Yen sitting in her reading chair wearing indoor clothes – track pants and  brown airline socks, courtesy of Royal Brunei Airlines.

Airline socks are those socks that you get on an airplane. They are meant for you to wear in the airplane while on a long flight. I love airline socks because they are so comfortable. They are loose and shapeless and very comfortable. Currently, they are also the closest thing that I’ll get to air travel for a very long time.

Shih Yen’s selection of shapeless airline socks from different airlines, the closest thing to international travel these days.

Here’s a poem (a sonnet) by John Donne. I first read it when I was 16 or 17, and I have always loved it. I don’t know if you find it helpful, but I do, especially in these crazy times.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.