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.


Roald Dahl and the BFG’s shoes

For my last post of 2016, I wrote about footwear in children’s literature. While I was happy with the topic, I was not happy with the writing, as the post was written in a rush at the last minute. So I have decided to revisit the topic this month. Specifically, I am looking at the footwear of the Big, Friendly Giant (BFG), the titular character in Roald Dahl’s book ‘The BFG’.

Roald Dahl (1916 – 1990) was one of the most famous children’s writers in English. His book ‘The Witches’ won the 1983 Whitbread Award, and ‘Matilda’ won the Children’s Book Award. Many of his books, including ‘The BFG’, have been made into movies.

In ‘The BFG’ the main character, the BFG, catches and collects dreams with a net and bottles them in glass jars. He then uses a long trumpet-like thing to blow the dreams through children’s windows to give them nice and happy dreams.

Roald Dahl had a long partnership with artist Quentin Blake who illustrated almost all of his children’s books. The only other such longstanding partnership I can think of in English children’s literature is with author Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt. In 2013, Quentin Blake was knighted for his services to illustration, making him Sir Quentin Blake. Quentin Blake’s favourite Roald Dahl book is ‘The BFG’, for which he drew double the number of pictures that he had been originally asked for.


Book cover of ‘The BFG’ from 1982, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

In the book, the BFG’s footwear is described like this:

“On his bare feet he was wearing a pair of ridiculous sandals that for some reason had holes cut along each side, with a large hole at the end where his toes stuck out.”

From this description, Quentin Blake wasn’t sure what the BFG’s footwear should look like. So Roald Dahl sent him one of his own sandals in the post, and that was what Quentin Blake ended up drawing.


A photo of Roald Dahl on the back of the 1982 book cover. Dahl is wearing his BFG sandals.

In fact, the BFG character was a lot like Roald Dahl himself. Dahl was very tall, like a giant. He was almost 6 feet 6 inches tall, or almost 2 metres tall. Dahl would also sometimes pretend to be the BFG, propping a ladder against his house and pushing a bamboo cane through his children’s windows to blow happy dreams inside.

Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake made a perfect partnership of words and pictures. In the words of the BFG, the result is ‘gloriumptious!’

My problem with ankle socks and Ronald McDonald socks to the rescue

It is currently summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and if I wanted to wear socks, I would prefer to wear ankle socks. Unfortunately, I have huge problems with ankle socks. I don’t know if other people face the same problems as I do when it comes to ankle socks.

Part of the problem is that I have big feet. Ankle socks for women (at least in Asia) are always too small for me. When I wear them, they slide off the back of my heel. In Asia, I buy men’s ankle socks, which fit me much better, except that ankle socks for men are always in boring colours, like black, grey and dark blue.

I was deluded enough to believe that I could wear these ankle socks.

I was deluded enough to believe that I could wear these ankle socks.

I once bought this pack of 3 pairs of women’s ankle socks because they were so cute. One pair was pink while the other two had strawberries and cherries on them. I was deluded enough to believe the packaging that said the socks would fit size 5 – 10. I felt like I had been conned. The socks were too small to stay on my feet and slid off the back of my heel. I couldn’t even walk 10 metres before I would have to stop and pull the ankle socks up.

This is what happens when someone with big feet tries to wear average size socks.

This is what happens when someone with big feet tries to wear average size socks.

The other problem: I was wearing these socks for the first time while travelling on a long overseas trip. It was so annoying having to stop every few minutes to pull my socks up. Luckily for me, the McDonald’s Restaurant at Auckland airport was still selling their Ronald McDonald socks. These are red-and-white striped socks, usually sold at McDonald’s restaurants in New Zealand in October to benefit the Ronald McDonald House charities. They cost NZ$5 a pair, and come in 2 sizes – adult or child. They were not ankle socks, but they were cheap, and since I was at an airport, I didn’t have much choice.

McD socks

Buying socks at McDonald’s restaurant solved my ankle sock problem.

It must have been funny for an onlooker to see me buying socks at a McDonald’s Restaurant and then immediately sitting down, not to eat, but to change my socks in the restaurant. I ended up giving away those ankle socks, which were all too small.

Recently at Christmas, I was given 2 pairs of ankle socks. I was so happy because they were exactly what I wanted. I wore each pair twice, and I had worn holes in the back of both pairs of socks after wearing them a grand total of twice. I don’t know if the socks were of exceptionally poor quality, or if it had something to do with someone with big feet wearing ankle socks.


Happiness is finding women’s ankle socks in my size.

Imagine my happiness and surprise when I finally found ankle socks for women to fit size 9 – 11. I don’t ask for much in life: happiness is finding women’s ankle socks in my size. They are not men’s socks. They don’t fall off my feet when I wear them. And holes don’t appear after the first wear. Ahhh…. bliss!

Swim Fins

So far I’ve only written about footwear worn on land, but footwear can be worn in water too. Specifically, I’m thinking of swim fins, also called fins or flippers. Wearing fins make you look like you have big, long froggy legs, but fins will help you move faster in water. Fins are worn in water sports like swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving.

Big feet are an advantage in swimming as they help to propel you faster through water. Some great swimmers have big feet. For instance, Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe’s shoe size is 17, while Michael Phelps’ shoe size is 14. For once in my life, having big feet is an advantage. Wearing swim fins further increase your feet size and help you move faster in water with less effort.

Swim fins are made of rubber and plastic, and can come as full-foot fins or open-heel fins. Full-foot fins fit like a slip-on shoe and are not adjustable in size. Open-heel fins have a strap at the heel and can be adjustable to fit.

Shih Yen wears swim fins on the beach, taking a break from snorkelling in Fiji.

Shih Yen wears swim fins on the beach, taking a break from snorkelling on Beachcomber Island, Fiji.

I have only ever worn full-foot fins. My first pair of swim fins as a young teenager was a sky blue pair made in Italy by Cressi-Sub. Now known simply as Cressi, this company was founded in Genoa, Italy in 1946. Cressi is one of the world’s largest manufacturer of products for water sports.

Words can’t describe how amazing snorkelling is. There is something magical about seeing fish in their natural environment. I still remember the awe and amazement I felt the first time I snorkelled at the age of 13 in Sabah, East Malaysia. I highly recommend snorkelling. Put on a pair of goggles, slip on some swim fins and give it a try. Even if you’re not a good swimmer, you can still put on a life jacket and go snorkelling. It really is worth it.

Robert Wadlow and really big feet

Happy new year 2013! It’s a new year and my new year’s resolution is to stop complaining about the size of my feet. I know I complain sometimes about having big feet, but there’ll always be people better and worse off than myself. Some people whose feet are far from the average size of the general population find it impossible to buy shoes in shops and have to get them custom made.

It’s all to do with proportions. The taller and bigger a person is, obviously their feet will also proportionally be bigger. In general, the length of your feet corresponds to the length of your forearm (from inside elbow to wrist). How many of you are doing funny contortions now to check whether this statement is true?

Having super gigantic feet can be hazardous to your health, as in the case of Robert Wadlow. Robert Pershing Wadlow (1918 – 1940) is the tallest person who ever lived, for whom there is reliable evidence. He was 2.72m tall (8 feet 11 inches) and was still growing at the time of his death. Robert Wadlow was born in Alton, Illinois on 22nd February 1918. He was a normal size at birth at 8 pounds 6 ounces, but by the age of 5, he was already the height of an adult at 5 feet 4 inches (1.63m). He suffered from an over-active pituitary gland that produced  abnormally high levels of growth hormone. Nowadays, this condition can be treated, but in the 1920s and 1930s when Wadlow was growing up, there was no treatment.

A life size statue of Robert Wadlow, whose height was 2.72 metres, is 2 metres tall while sitting down!

A life size statue of Robert Wadlow is 2 metres tall while sitting down! His full height was 2.72 metres.

Robert Wadlow’s shoe size was a whopping 37AA (The letters indicate width – A is narrow while E is wide). His feet were 47cm or 18.5 inches long. His shoes, which were custom made for him, cost US $100, a large sum of money back in the 1930s. In 1937, his shoes were provided free by the International Shoe Company.

That is not a child's shoe. That is my adult size 10 sneaker next to a replica of Robert Wadlow's shoe.

That is not a child’s shoe. That is my adult size 10 sneaker next to a replica of Robert Wadlow’s size 37 shoe.

Robert Wadlow’s big feet caused him problems and contributed to his death. He had little feeling in his feet and wore leg braces to help him walk. He died from a fatal infection caused by a blister on his ankle. Robert Wadlow died on 15th July 1940.

Traditional Korean shoes and Beosun (버선) socks

If your only exposure to Korean culture so far has been ‘Gangnam Style’ by PSY, look very, very closely at the group dance scene towards the end of the Gangnam Style music video. There’s a female dancer in the background on the right wearing a reddish-pink hanbok, the Korean traditional costume. Hanbok translates literally as ‘Korean clothing.’

Some time ago, I took a trip to South Korea. The only thing that I knew I really wanted to buy in Korea was a hanbok. The traditional hanbok for women consists of a short shirt with long sleeves called a ‘jeoguri’ and a long skirt called a ‘chima’. There’s also a special petticoat-dress called a ‘sokchima’ that goes under the hanbok and helps give it shape.

These days, the traditional hanbok is usually worn at weddings, special birthdays, and traditional Korean festivals like the lunar new year. I bought my hanbok in a little shop near the sea in the port city of Busan, South Korea. The choice of shop was random. The small shop looked friendlier than other big, faceless shops.

In general, people have their hanbok tailor-made. They don’t try and buy it off the rack, like I did. Buying a hanbok when you don’t speak Korean is an interesting experience. Imagine trying to buy a wedding dress in a language that you don’t speak and you’ll kind of get the idea. It involved me pointing at a calendar and miming an aeroplane to convey the idea that I wasn’t going to be in the country long enough to have a hanbok made to measure.

Despite the language difficulties, I managed to buy a pink and red traditional Korean hanbok made of silk with beautiful embroidery of flowers on the ‘jeoguri’. The price was … well, let’s just say a hand-embroidered silk hanbok costs the same as the average white wedding dress. Despite the picture of a credit card on the shop door, the sales lady insisted I pay in cash. We may not speak the same language, but the sales lady sure speaks the language of commerce – probably scared that I was going to flee the country with a hanbok in a trail of bad debt! A short (and bank balance-decimating) trip to an ATM later and I was the proud owner of a Korean hanbok.

Shih Yen wears her hand-embroidered silk hanbok from South Korea (Photo by Paul Wheeler).

My hanbok was packed into a box with a pair of 버선 beosun (pronounced bo-sun) socks. These are traditional Korean socks that are worn with hanbok. Beosun socks are pointy at the end and usually white. My pair of beosun socks also had some hand embroidery on it. My beosun socks are too small for me. When I tried them on in the shop, I mimed to the sales lady that they were too small. In return, she mimed back forcibly pulling them on! I understand that beosun socks should be worn a bit tight, but I’m sorry lady, I have big feet! There are no photos of me wearing my beosun socks as I have never been able to get my feet into them no matter how forcibly I pull.

Shih Yen’s pair of too-small traditional Korean beosun socks with hand-embroidery.

The correct footwear when wearing hanbok are beosun socks with traditional Korean shoes. Like the beosun socks, traditional Korean shoes also curl up at the end. These shoes are called ‘flower shoes’ because they look like flower petals. Traditionally, these shoes were made of leather or silk. The modern version of these shoes have a low heel and have embroidery on it – generally of flowers. Because of the upturned toe, it is better to buy these shoes a size larger than your usual shoe size so that they fit comfortably. Because of the curled-up toe, these shoes can also make large feet look smaller. Good for people like me 🙂

Traditional Korean shoes

Japanese zori (草履) and tabi (足袋) socks

Back in February when I wrote about the Japanese geta (wooden clog), there was some interest also in Japanese socks called tabi. These are socks with a toe separator between the big toe and other toes. I mentioned zori in my last post as an inspiration behind Japanese slippers like Havaianas. So this month, I thought I would focus on the zori and tabi.

Women wearing Japanese kimono. The kimono sash or obi can be tied in many different ways. Here, the drum bow (taiko musubi ) and butterfly bow (cho cho musubi) is shown. The proper footwear when wearing kimono is geta or zori with tabi socks

The proper footwear when wearing a kimono is geta or zori with tabi socks. White tabi socks are most common and white tabi socks are worn in formal situations. Since I have written about the geta in February, I will write about zori in this post. Zori are traditional Japanese footwear originally made from straw. Like the geta, zori came about during the Heian period (794 – 1185). These days, zori can be made from all kinds of material, not just straw. Zori can be made from wood, leather, rubber, plastic or cloth. While the zori looks similar to the casual footwear it inspired, such as Havaianas, zori can be formal footwear. Zori vary in formality. Straw zori and straw imitation zori, where the surface resemble tatami mats are not formal. They are not worn with the formal kimono. In terms of formality, plastic zori are considered formal footwear, but are less formal than zori made from fabric or brocade. Similar to the geta and Chinese clogs, zori does not have a left or right side. They can be worn interchangeably on either foot.

Assorted zori with varying degrees of formality. The straw-imitation one in the middle is informal while the other pairs are formal footwear

White tabi socks should be worn with the formal zori. Japanese people have been wearing tabi socks since the 16th century. The peak in wearing tabi socks was in the Edo period (1600 – 1868). Tabi socks are also worn in some Japanese martial arts, like kendo, aikido and ninjutsu. This has earned tabi socks the nickname of ninja socks.

I found the informal zori, the ones that resemble tatami mats, to be very comfortable because they are flat with no heel and wide enough for my feet. However, I found the formal zori less comfortable. This type of zori has a slight heel, but that’s not what makes it uncomfortable. The formal zori seem to taper in size, becoming gradually smaller and narrower in the front. When I wear this kind of zori, my fourth toe and little toe hang off the edge of the zori. Maybe I just have big feet.

A Japanese woman wearing a formal kimono with zori and white tabi socks

Wearing Japanese thonged footwear like the zori and geta are said to be good for health because they improve blood circulation and chi / ki (or life energy). It is also claimed that this kind of footwear stimulates pressure points and aids foot development in children. With tabi socks, shiatsu theory claims that wearing these socks can be good for the back, spine and digestion because they stimulate acupuncture meridians located between the toes. I am sceptical of these health claims, but since Japanese people have been wearing this type of footwear and socks for thousands of years, I guess they can’t be bad for you.