It’s almost Chinese New Year. The Chinese use the lunar calendar and this year Chinese new year is on January 23rd 2012. This year is also the year of the black water dragon, which confusingly starts on 4 February 2012. Chinese new year comes early this year; the year of the dragon starts on ‘li chun’, which is the first day of spring. In 2012, ‘li chun’ is on 4th February.
Since Chinese New Year is almost here, I thought I would write about Chinese footwear. One example of casual Chinese footwear would be Chinese clogs or 木屐 which translates as ‘wooden clogs’. We call them ‘cha kiak’ in my family, which means ‘wooden clogs’ in the Hokkien dialect of Chinese.
Apparently, clogs from Wen Chang county on Hainan Island in South China has a very long history, centuries-old, and was the forerunner of the Japanese ‘geta’ or wooden slipper. Since my father’s ancestors came from Wen Chang county in Hainan province, my father’s side of the family wears clogs all the time. My paternal grandmother runs a coffee shop (a very traditional Hainanese profession) and she wears clogs around the shop, house and even to go next door. My uncle and aunt also regularly wear this type of footwear around the house and my aunt prefers them to slippers because according to her, her feet are cleaner while wearing clogs, unlike slippers which collect dust. Chinese clogs remind me of my childhood because their clack-clacking sound reminds me of my grandmother, and of the times I spent in her coffee shop.
There is no left or right side to the clog. You can wear them on either foot. They are very comfortable too. The design of the clog, with its elevated sole, helps to keep your feet dry. The wooden sole is also amazingly non-slip and is good to wear on wet surfaces. These clogs don’t come in any standard size. At the clogmakers, they generally come in big, medium, small or kids size. Clogs with straight sides are meant for men and clogs with sides that curve in (like in the picture) are for women.
Interestingly, red wooden clogs are also included in a Chinese bride’s dowry. Two pairs of clogs, beautifully painted in red, make up part of a traditional Chinese dowry.
Sadly, making traditional Chinese clogs is a dying art. It is increasingly difficult to find these type of clogs as they have to compete with more modern footwear. Nowadays, these clogs are becoming more of a tourist souvenir item than everyday footwear.