Hello Kitty bullet train and sneakers

There are some things that are very much associated with Japan, like bullet trains and Hello Kitty. And now the two have come together. West Japan Railway Co. has just unveiled its latest Hello Kitty shinkansen, or bullet train. This pink and white train with a Hello Kitty theme throughout started service on 30 June and will run for 3 months, connecting areas in western Japan. You can see more about the train here.

 

Hello Kitty is a cartoon cat with no mouth and a ribbon over her left ear. She is from the Japanese company Sanrio, designed by Yuko Shimizu in 1974. Hello Kitty first appeared on a coin purse in 1975, and has a huge following, especially among Asian women. Hello Kitty is now on all sorts of merchandise and is worth billions of dollars to Sanrio.

Back in 2013, I bought my first pair of Hello Kitty sneakers. You can read about that here. I still have these sneakers and I still wear them. I have had them repaired once, and after 5 years, they are kind of falling apart. So I bought another pair of Hello Kitty sneakers.

Shih Yen’s first pair of canvas Hello Kitty sneakers back when they were new.

Shih Yen’s first pair of Hello Kitty sneakers has been repaired and has seen better days.

My first pair of Hello Kitty sneakers were made in China and they fit me well. This second pair of Hello Kitty sneakers that I recently bought are made in Japan and they are too small for me. I bought the biggest size that was available, but they are still too small for me.

Shih Yen’s latest pair of Hello Kitty sneakers, which are a bit small.

You would think that, after all my past experiences, I should have learned by now that Japanese footwear and socks for women are never going to fit me. I don’t know why I never seem to learn this lesson. It’s like I’m in denial that Japanese footwear is too small for me. So, again I repeat the same mistake. But I’ll still squeeze my feet into these sneakers and hope that the shoes will stretch with time.

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Malaysian politics and Bata slippers

It has been a crazy few weeks in Malaysian politics. All sorts of things have happened that I never thought would happen. Honestly, fact is stranger than fiction. If it were a book, it would be worthy of a Shakespearean play. People would not believe that the events were from real life.

As a Malaysian living overseas, I can understand why non-Malaysians may be puzzled by what’s going on in Malaysia. Malaysia held elections on the 9th of May, and for the first time in its 60 year history, there is a change of government in Malaysia. There is a new old prime minister in Malaysia. He is Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, old because at 92 years old (turning 93 on the 10th of July), he is the world’s oldest elected leader of a country. And ‘old’ also because he was the former prime minister of Malaysia, from 1981 – 2003, serving under a different party.

It has been a crazy time in Malaysian politics.

What has this all got to do with shoes? Tun Mahathir was photographed recently wearing a pair of Bata slippers. The photo went viral. The Bata Company then posted on social media calling these slippers the hottest accessory this Ramadan (Muslim month), making the Malaysian prime minister an unlikely fashion icon.

The prime minister of Malaysia wears this US$3 pair of Bata slippers.

These Bata slippers retail for RM11.99 (about US$3).  I call them ‘Ah Pek’ style slippers, or ‘grandfather slippers’ because to me, it is a style common among old men in Malaysia. To me, Bata is a brand associated with school shoes. I can almost guarantee that anyone who has ever been to school in Malaysia will have worn a pair of white Bata school shoes.

As a child, I thought that Bata was a Malaysian brand, because ‘bata’ means ‘stone’ or ‘brick’ in Malay. Bata is a very old shoe brand, but it is not a Malaysian brand. The Bat’a Shoe Company was started in 1894 by 3 siblings – Tomáš, Anna and Antonín Bat’a, in Zlín, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). The Bat’a siblings were the eighth generation of a family of shoemakers and cobblers. Today, the Bata company is based in Switzerland.

Shih Yen, and just about every Malaysian school student, wears a pair of white Bata school shoes.

It is currently the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It is a time of worship, reflection and self-restraint where Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. The photo of the prime minister of Malaysia wearing a simple and inexpensive pair of slippers shows a man who is frugal and humble. Additionally, the pair of slippers that Tun Mahathir was wearing had an insole design from 4 years ago, so his slippers are not new either. It goes down well with the people, as it is in stark contrast to the excesses of the old government. Ramadan will end in mid-June when the new moon will usher in the month of Syawal, and Muslims celebrate Aidilfitri.

Some have called this time a new dawn for Malaysia. I agree. I am optimistic for the future of Malaysia. And I can’t remember the last time that I was so happy and proud to be Malaysian.

Japanese geta (下駄) part 2

The last time I wrote about Japanese geta was 6 years ago in this post. That’s a long time ago, and since I bought a pair of geta recently, I thought I would write about them again.

Geta is a traditional Japanese footwear made of wood, a type of wooden clog. It looks like a slipper with a thong (called a ‘hanao’) made of cloth affixed onto a flat piece of wood. On the bottom, there are usually 2 bits of wood, called ‘ha’ or ‘teeth’, to create a raised sole. These ‘teeth’ help to keep the wearer’s feet dry when it rains or if it’s muddy.

Shih Yen bought a pair of Japanese geta for men.

I have big feet for an Asian woman and Japanese women’s footwear is always too small for me. So I got really excited recently when I saw these geta on sale and in big sizes. When I looked closer, I realized why the geta were big enough to fit me. They are men’s geta, not women’s geta. It has been a very long time since I had to buy men’s shoes, but I bought the men’s geta anyway because I had the perfect yukata (summer kimono) to go with it. I tried to choose a men’s geta with a more feminine design in the thong.

Geta is traditionally worn with a yukata, or summer kimono. A yukata is made of cotton and is lighter than the formal kimono. It is not usual to wear socks with the geta when wearing a yukata. Geta can also be worn as casual footwear with regular everyday clothes. Despite it being made of wood, I find the geta to be a really comfortable form of footwear.

Shih Yen wears geta with a yukata.

Sneakers and gangs in El Salvador

I have to admit that I don’t know much about El Salvador, a small country in Central America. I thought that the only thing I knew about El Salvador came from watching the movie Sin Nombre. Then later, I realized that the movie Sin Nombre really isn’t about El Salvador! It’s filmed in Mexico, set in a Mexican town near the border with Guatemala and is about a teen girl from Honduras trying to cross illegally into the USA.

So my geography of Central America isn’t that good. It doesn’t help that Central American countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua all have a similar blue and white flag that I can’t differentiate. Guatemala also has a flag with similar colours.

Can you blame me for not being able to tell Central American countries apart when their flags look so similar?

The reason that I thought the movie Sin Nombre was about El Salvador was because this movie is also about gangs, specifically the Mara Salvatrucha gang. The Mara Salvatrucha gang is also known as MS-13, MS or Mara. Members of this gang are mostly from El Salvador. Hence, the reason why I was confused, and thought that the movie Sin Nombre was about El Salvador.

The Mara Salvatrucha gang is active in Central America and the USA. Their main rival is the 18th Street gang, also called Calle 18 or Barrio 18. Both Honduras and El Salvador have the dubious honour of being the capital of murders, gangs, drugs, kidnapping and extortion. Gang violence is part of the reason why Honduras and El Salvador are both at the top of the list of countries with the highest murder rates in the world. Of the top 10 cities in the world with the highest murder rates, half the cities on that list are in Central America. One of the cities on the list is San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, with a homicide rate of 83 per 100,000 people. It is estimated that 60% of these murders are due to gang violence.

What has all this got to do with shoes? Well, I may not know much about El Salvador, but I do know what type of shoes Salvadoran gang members wear. Don’t ask me how I know. I read it somewhere. Apart from looking at the more obvious gang tattoos, you can tell a person’s gang affiliation by looking at their shoes. Members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang wear Nike Cortez sneakers. This is a classic Nike style, making its debut in 1972. Apparently this sneaker was named for Hernan Cortes, the Spanish Conquistador. Incidentally this is also the sneaker that Forrest Gump wore in the movie when he ran across the USA.

Nike Cortez sneakers are worn by members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang.

Members of rival 18th Street gang favour Adidas Concha sneakers.

Adidas Concha sneakers – favoured by members of the 18th Street gang.

Wearing the wrong sneakers or the wrong colours in the wrong areas of Central America will seriously get you killed.

Shoes in animated movies

I like writing, but I’m bad at promoting stuff after it gets published. So I’m going to do some quick promo of my latest publication. My most recent publication is in an anthology about the question of race in the USA. My story is about a Chicana (Mexican-American female) living in San Francisco. My story covers Mexican themes like food, the 15th birthday party and the Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). You can read more about Dia de los Muertos in this post. The book was released last year around Dia de los Muertos. You can buy the book (available in print and e-book) here.

This month’s blog post is about shoes in animation, and there is a connection to the Mexican Day of the Dead. Late last year, a Mexican friend told me that I must go watch the Disney animation Coco. I vaguely knew that Coco was about the Day of the Dead, but when I watched it, I love that it was about a family of shoemakers. That came as a pleasant surprise and it was not something I knew about prior to watching the movie. One of my favourite scenes in the movie is one where the family is making shoes.

This scene below seems very Mexican to me, where the grandmother assaults a Mariachi singer with a sandal. The sandal, also called la chancla in Spanish, is sometimes used as an assault weapon or to discipline children.

 

In my opinion, the Japanese are the best at making animated movies. There’s even a genre called anime that is specifically related to Japanese animation. ‘Garden of Words’ (Kotonoha no Niwa) is one of my favourite animated movies with shoes in it. It is a love story that starts in the rain. One rainy day in Tokyo, a student decides to skip school to draw in a garden. He is a shoemaker, and in the garden he meets an older woman. He ends up making shoes for her. I think it’s a beautiful love story; you can see the trailer here.

 

One final animated movie involving shoes is the Disney classic Cinderella, from 1950. I think every English speaker will be familiar with the Cinderella story and the animated movie. Here is the ending to that movie.

Valentine’s Day and shoes

I’ve been writing this blog for over 6 years and I have never done a Valentine’s Day themed blog post. Since it’s February, I thought that for the first time, I would write a Valentine’s Day post.

Valentine’s Day is named for one or more obscure saints named Valentine. There is also a legend of a priest named Valentine who was imprisoned for helping Christian couples get married. Whatever the history, it seems that Valentine’s Day first became associated with romantic love or courtly love in the 14th century when the writer Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about birds finding their mate on Valentine’s Day. This was in Chaucer’s poem ‘Parlement of Foules’ in 1382.

These days, Valentine’s Day is so commercialized. It seems to be all about selling flowers, chocolates, cards and soft toys. Can this day really be associated with footwear? I am going to say ‘Yes’ and show you some examples. You can also read about falling in love with shoes here

Flowers for Valentine’s Day? Yes! This is one of my favourite pairs of shoes from Camper TWINS range, featuring daisies. This is now a very vintage style, and these shoes were made in Spain. I have to admit I fell in love at first sight with this pair of shoes and I bought them without a second thought. It is also the most expensive pair of shoes that I have ever bought.

Shih Yen fell in love at first sight with this pair of Camper shoes from their TWS range.

Cupids at Valentine’s Day? Yes! In classical mythology, Cupid is the God of desire and Love. He is the son of Venus the goddess of Love, and Mars the God of War. In Greek mythology, Cupid is called Eros. During the classical Greek period, Eros was depicted as a youth with wings, but later Cupid was depicted as a small and chubby boy with wings. Cupid is portrayed with wings and a bow and arrow. Anyone who is shot with Cupid’s arrow will fall in love. This pair of shoes featuring Cupid is also one of my favourite shoes. It is by a Venezuelan label Hot Chocolate Design, from their Chocolaticas range.

Shih Yen’s pair of Chocolaticas shoes in the style ‘Cupid’.

Soft toys on Valentine’s Day? Yes! These are limited edition sneakers made by Adidas, featuring plush teddy bears on them. They were released in 2010 and in my opinion, they are super cute. The original purpose of the sneakers were for basketball, though to be honest, I don’t know how a person can run with soft toys on their feet! I have actually seen people wearing these sneakers, so it is possible to walk in them.

Adidas JS Bear xJeremy Scott sneakers. Photograph © 2014 U-Dox, from ‘Sneakers: The Complete Limited Editions Guide’, published by Thames & Hudson.

Chocolates on Valentine’s Day? Definitely, yes! This is a chocolate bar sandal by Malaysian designer Terry Poe.

Chocolate bar sandal by Malaysian designer Terry Poe.

Ice cream on Valentine’s Day? Yes! I always think sharing an ice cream can be very romantic. These are some ice cream shoes from a Thai label Madame Flamingo. Madame Flamingo is a label started by Thai designer Pantila Promfang. All her shoes are handmade.

Ice cream high heeled shoes from Thai label Madame Flamingo.

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone on the 14th of February. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing on the 14th, I hope you have a great day filled with love. shihyenshoes sends lots of love. ❤ ❤ ❤

Door mats and Diadora slippers

Happy new year 2018! Here’s to another year of writing about footwear.

I have come to the realization that I’m a slightly obsessive shopper. I don’t shop often and I’m not a big spender, but when I find something I like I’ll keep buying it until they stop making the product. This explains why I have a cupboard with enough spare curtains for the whole house to last the next 10 years or more. Or why I have written with the same model of pen (Pilot V5 Hi-tecpoint in blue) for the last 25 years. Everything important that I have ever written was with a blue Pilot V5 pen – all my exams, all my stories. I even bring my own pen to sign important documents. All these blog posts start first from the nib of a blue Pilot V5 pen.

Two of Shih Yen’s very, very many Pilot V5 Hi-tecpoint pens in blue.

I have also worn the same type of Diadora slippers for over 25 years. Apart from a year in the mid-1990s when I wore a pair of purple slippers with orange polka dots and a foam crab with googgly eyes across the strap. I love that pair of slippers. They were super cute, a gift from Thailand from my aunt. But I digress. Diadora is an Italian company that started in 1948. Diadora manufactures athletic footwear and clothing. I first wore Diadora slippers as a child, and I like them so much, I just kept buying them and never stopped!

Two of Shih Yen’s numerous pairs of Diadora slippers.

I now realize that I am slightly obsessed with door mats. I bought 5 door mats in 14 months. I don’t have enough front doors for all these door mats, and I still think of door mats that I wish I had bought, like the one that said ‘Hello’ in speech bubbles in many different languages.

The first door mat that Shih Yen ever bought.

My house is free of many things. It is child-free! Pet-free, smoke-free and also a shoe-free zone. It is the norm in many countries to remove shoes before entering a house, but this is not the norm in New Zealand. I found a door mat with a message directing visitors to remove their shoes. I bought 2 of those door mats.

Shih Yen’s numerous door mats, including one asking visitors to remove their shoes.

A few days ago, I bought another door mat, my 5th. It says ‘I’m not your doormat’. At first I read it literally, but later I realized that there is another meaning for ‘doormat’ (a person who gets walked over), and I thought it was quite clever.

Shih Yen’s latest door mat. It is placed sideways to face the neighbour’s front door.