Mexican pointy boots

This month, I thought I would write about something Mexican, in time for Cinco de Mayo. Only for my Mexican friend to tell me that Cinco de Mayo is more of a celebration in the USA than it is in Mexico. But no matter. It is the month of May, and I’ll write about something Mexican, just because I may 🙂

Cinco de Mayo is Spanish for the 5th of May. It is celebrated (funnily enough) on the 5th of May. It commemorates Mexico’s victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla on the 5th of May 1862. Even though the French ultimately won the war, the Mexican victory on the 5th of May was important because the French army was much better equipped and outnumbered the Mexican army. Despite this, the Mexicans still managed to defeat the French.

This month, I’m writing about a funny type of footwear from Mexico. They are called ‘botas picudas mexicanas’ (literally: Mexican pointy boots) or ‘botas tribaleras’ (tribal boots). These boots originated about 5 or 6 years ago 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.

But why am I writing about these boots, when you can see them in all their hilarious glory in the following short documentary.

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New Zealand and gumboots

One thing I have learned about living in New Zealand is that small towns in New Zealand like to have big, huge sculptures of what the town is famous for. For example, in the North Island of New Zealand, Te Puke (it’s pronounced Tay Poo-kay, not Te ‘vomit’, as I first thought) has a giant sculpture of a kiwifruit as the town is famous for growing kiwifruit. Ohakune (pronounced oh-ha-koo-nay) has a humongous carrot because the area grows a lot of carrots. Paeroa has a giant bottle of a soft drink called Lemon & Paeroa (L&P) because the soft drink was originally produced in the town of Paeroa.

There are sculptures in small towns in the South Island of New Zealand as well. For instance, Cromwell has a giant fruit sculpture made up of an apple, pear, nectarine and apricot. Sometimes the sculptures even start to look the same. For example, the tiny town of Rakaia has a large fibreglass salmon that looks a lot like the gigantic brown trout sculpture in the town of Gore about 400km away. It is as if they used the same giant fish sculpture, but just coloured them differently.

In the middle of the North Island of New Zealand, there is a town called Taihape. It is known as the ‘Gumboot Capital’ of the World’ and of course the town has a sculpture of a gumboot, made of corrugated iron. Taihape is a little town that supplies the rural community, and gumboots are the staple footwear for farmers.

The giant sculpture of a gumboot, made of corrugated iron, in the small New Zealand town of Taihape (photo by Tim Johnson).

The giant sculpture of a gumboot, made of corrugated iron, in the small New Zealand town of Taihape (photo by Tim Johnson).

Taihape has an annual Gumboot Day, first celebrated on 9 April 1985. Gumboot Day celebrates the rural lifestyle, and on Gumboot Day, there are activities like decorating either a paper or real gumboot, and a gumboot throwing competition.

Gumboots are known by many names. In New Zealand, they are called gumboots, sometimes shortened to gummies. They are also called Wellington boots or wellies. In other places, they are called galoshes, rubber boots or rain boots.

Black gumboots with a red band are almost synonymous with New Zealand rural footwear. Gumboots are great to wear on a farm because they keep your feet dry. The best gumboots are waterproof. Gumboots also work well when walking through farm hazards, like mud and animal poop.

redband gumboots

Black gumboots with a red band by Skellerup, the staple footwear for New Zealand farmers.

A popular brand of gumboots is Skellerup. Skellerup was started by George Skellerup who opened his first shop in Christchurch, New Zealand on 12 September 1910. Back then, the shop sold tyres and rubber products to the dairy industry. Today Skellerup is still based in Christchurch and sells to the world. They are best known for their gumboots. In a completely unscientific poll (conducted by me), a group of New Zealanders were asked ‘What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the brand ‘Skellerup’; 100% of the Kiwis said ‘gumboots’.

The power of a pair of shoes

Recently, I was walking in the Botanic Gardens when a young boy, maybe aged about 4 or 5, ran excitedly past me. His father, a complete stranger, told me that the boy was wearing new boots, which makes him think he can run fast and fly. I looked at the boy’s boots as he continued to run off. They were a pair of regular red gumboots, and I said ‘They look very nice.’

red gumboot

A good pair of shoes should make you feel happy, and strong as if you have super powers.

This is exactly what a good new pair of shoes should do for you. They should make you feel good and happy, and feel like you have super powers.

The Canterbury Earthquakes, Christchurch city rebuild … and shoes

Lonely Planet has released their top 10 must-see cities to visit in 2013. Christchurch, in the South Island of New Zealand is #6 on the list. Christchurch is a city dear to my heart as I have visited there many times. Christchurch is also known as the Garden City because of its many parks and large Botanic Gardens in the city centre. It was a very beautiful city, featuring many old heritage buildings of Gothic Revival architecture, giving Christchurch an old English feel.

All this changed after a series of earthquakes. The first earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1 struck at 4.35am on 4th September 2010. It caused severe building damage, but miraculously no loss of life – mainly because at the time of the earthquake, most people were asleep at home. However, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake at 12.51pm on 22nd February 2011 caused significant destruction, injuries and 185 deaths. Even though the February quake was smaller in magnitude, it was more damaging because it was at a shallow depth of 5km, had an epicentre within 10km of the city centre, and it happened in the middle of a work day when people were out and about.

The Catholic Cathedral on Barbadoes Street before the earthquakes

The Catholic Cathedral on Barbadoes Street before the earthquakes

The power of the earthquake is similar to that of a nuclear weapon. For instance, ‘Fat Man,’ the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan at the end of World War II had the power of just over 20 kilotonnes of TNT (1 kiloton has an explosive force equivalent to 1000 metric tonnes of TNT). In comparison, the 4th September Canterbury earthquake released energy equivalent to 671 kilotonnes of TNT.

The Catholic Cathedral on Barbadoes Street after the earthquake

The Catholic Cathedral on Barbadoes Street after the earthquake

The February 2011 Christchurch earthquake is the most damaging and costliest earthquake in New Zealand’s history. It destroyed Christchurch’s Central Business District (CBD). So far, I have only written about footwear for humans, but our furry, four-legged friends sometimes wear shoes too. Police dogs working in dangerous locations like collapsed buildings in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake wore booties to protect their paws from the rubble. Dogs were used to look for survivors and to look for bodies after the earthquake.

A member of the Urban Search And Rescue team wearing boots and a police dog wearing booties during the search for survivors / bodies in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake.

A member of the Urban Search And Rescue team wearing boots and a police dog wearing booties during the search for survivors / bodies in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake.

Dog booties by Ruffwear, worn by police dog Otis in the search for survivors after the Canterbury earthquake

Dog booties by Ruffwear, worn by police dog Otis in the search for survivors after the Canterbury earthquake

These boots were worn by a police officer in the search for survivors at the collapsed Canterbury TV building in the hours immediately after the earthquake. On the right is a helmet, goggles and lamp worn by a police forensic photographer as part of the disaster victim identification team.

These boots were worn by a police officer in the search for survivors at the collapsed Canterbury TV building in the hours immediately after the earthquake. On the right is a helmet, goggles and lamp worn by a police forensic photographer as part of the disaster victim identification team.

Immediately after the February earthquake, a cordon called the Red Zone was placed around the worst affected parts of the city centre. The Red Zone is an area that is closed off to the public because it is still too dangerous, with unsafe buildings. Before the area can be open to the public, it needs to be made safe, either by making sure no masonry or glass is going to fall down or by demolishing condemned buildings. It is estimated that 80 percent of buildings within Christchurch’s CBD will need to be demolished. In the immediate aftermath of the February earthquake, the size of the Red Zone in the city centre was 387 hectares, or an area the size of about 50 city blocks. Slowly, as areas are made safe, the cordon is lifted. Two years after the February 2011 earthquake, the Christchurch Red Zone is still in place in the CBD, but has shrunk 90% to an area of about 38 hectares.

So why has Lonely Planet put Christchurch on its list of must-see cities? Who wants to see a city in ruins? To find out, I recently spent a weekend in Christchurch, the first time I’ve been back since the earthquakes. I now understand why Christchurch is on Lonely Planet’s list. Christchurch is an exciting city to be in and offers an experience found nowhere else on earth (except maybe in Concepción, Chile and the Northeast coast of Honshu, Japan – both areas also rebuilding after massive earthquakes). It is an exciting time to be in Christchurch because change is happening right in front of you. It feels as if you are a pioneer in a Wild, Wild West town.

Humans are resilient and adaptable. The earthquakes wiped out the main retail area in Christchurch’s city centre, but Christchurch has already begun its rebuild with a new mall called the Re:START mall on Cashel Street. This mall was built quickly and the shops are made of shipping containers painted in bright colours. They may be made of shipping containers, but the shops have electricity and facilities to pay by card. There is also free WiFi. There are 27 retailers in the container mall. Two of these are shoe shops. Maher and Head over Heels are two shops in the Re:START mall offering high quality shoes. There’s also a stall operating out of a tent, selling socks made of New Zealand merino wool.

Maher, one of the shoe shops at the Re:START mall, which is made of shipping containers

Maher, one of the shoe shops at the Re:START mall, which is made of shipping containers

Currently in Christchurch, you can see a lot of innovation and evidence of human ingenuity. Many uses have been found for shipping containers, for example the shopping mall. Ballast-filled shipping containers are stacked and placed in front of crumbling buildings to protect people from falling rubble. They are also placed at the bottom of unstable hillside areas to protect from falling rocks. A shipping container open at both ends can serve as a covered pedestrian walkway.

At the moment, Christchurch looks like one gigantic construction site. This has resulted in innovative use of space. What’s called a gap filler pops up in empty spaces where buildings have been demolished. Some gap fillers are art installations. There’s a Dance-O-Mat, a makeshift dance space complete with hanging mirror ball on Oxford Terrace. Prince Charles tried out the Dance-O-Mat during his recent visit to Christchurch. Other gap fillers include a small football field made of fake grass and also a book exchange housed in an old fridge.

There is a bus tour run by Red Bus and the Canterbury Museum that takes the public into the closed-off Red Zone. I found it informative and also an emotional bus ride, but very well done and not in bad taste, given the circumstances. In my opinion, I thought that the right-hand side of the bus got a better view. The 30 – 40 minute bus tour includes a guide providing informative commentary and also video footage. During the February 2011 earthquake, 8 people died on a city bus when surrounding buildings collapsed onto the bus crushing passengers, so safety is definitely NOT guaranteed and passengers must sign a waiver when they go on the bus tour. Once the bus starts, no one is allowed to get off. Passengers must wear sturdy, closed footwear to go on the bus tour. You will not be allowed on the bus if you are wearing slippers, sandals, high heels or open-toed footwear. If a bus tour sounds too dangerous, there are also helicopter flights that fly passengers over the Red Zone.

It is an exciting time currently in Christchurch and a time of great change. It will be interesting to return to the city in a few years’ time to see how it is rebuilt. Metaphorically, it is like seeing a phoenix rise again from the ashes.

Wellington boots / gumboots

Since the London 2012 Olympic Games is underway, I feel like I should write something about the Olympics. Did you notice the team from Czech Republic at the opening ceremony? The Czechs must either have a great sense of humour or are very well prepared for the famous London rain. At the Olympics opening ceremony, the Czechs wore blue Wellington boots and waved matching blue foldable umbrellas.

The team from the Czech Republic at the London Olympics opening ceremony, wearing blue wellington boots and holding matching foldable umbrellas. (Photo: Getty Images)

This type of boot is known by many names. I have called them Wellington boots since the Olympic Games are being held in London, and Wellington boots were named after a British soldier and aristocrat. Arthur Wellesley (1769 – 1852), the first Duke of Wellington wore this kind of boot and subsequently this style of boot were called Wellington boots. They are also called wellies, gumboots, rain boots, rubber boots or galoshes. They are mostly made of rubber, but can also be made of PVC. Wellington boots are great for keeping your feet dry and are also quite comfortable. Traditionally, Wellington boots came to just under the knee, but now shorter ones (ankle-length and calf-length) are also available. In the past, they were plain in dull colours, like black. But now Wellington boots can be found in many bright colours and with different designs.

Modern gumboots in many different colours and designs.

These boots are practical work boots. In Australia and New Zealand, they are called gumboots. Some time ago, I spent a year living on a farm in rural New Zealand and gumboots are the only footwear worn on farms. Plain black gumboots with a red band around the top are especially a kiwi icon. Gumboots are great because it’s no problem to step in cow pats or sheep droppings while wearing gumboots. They are also excellent in wet, muddy conditions.

It is not unusual in rural New Zealand to see a pair of gumboots outside the post office or bank or some other kind of business. Farmers fresh off the farm wearing dirty and muddy gumboots remove them before entering so that they don’t dirty the floor or carpet of the business. Below is a sign from the front door of a branch of the National Bank in New Zealand. Further along the same road, a branch of the Bank of New Zealand has a similar sign on their front door that said ‘Please remove all muddy shoes and boots.’

A sign at a branch of the National Bank in New Zealand. Further on the same road, a branch of the Bank of New Zealand had a similar sign. (Photo: Chang Shih Yen)

There are also funny sports associated with gumboots in New Zealand, like gumboot tossing competitions to see who can throw a gumboot the furthest. There is even a rural town in the central North Island of New Zealand called Taihape that markets itself as the ‘gumboot capital of the world.’ Taihape has held a Gumboot Day every year since 1985, which was where the gumboot tossing competition started. I have vague memories of throwing a gumboot. It’s not as easy as it looks. Wellington boots or gumboots are not the best fashion statement, but they are very practical footwear and keep your feet dry.

The length of your boot matters

It is still the middle of winter. Well, it is in the Southern Hemisphere. At around this time of year, suddenly all the shoe shops seem to only promote winter boots, even if that’s not what you want to buy. So I decided to just go with the flow and write about winter boots, more specifically about boot length, and why they matter.

Though not my favourite style, I will wear ankle-length boots. They are practical boots and easy to get on and off. In my opinion, ankle-length boots make your legs look shorter by cutting the length off at the ankle. So that’s why they are not my favourite style.

Shih Yen wears ankle-length boots (Photo by Jaime Smith).

Personally, I will not wear calf-length boots, especially not in brown. They are just not my style, and I find that calf-length boots make your legs look shorter because they stop at the calves, effectively cutting the length of your legs in half.

My favourite boot length are knee-length boots, or boots that reach just below the knee, in black. I think they are the most flattering and knee-length boots also keep you warm. This style gives the illusion of lengthening the leg and making legs look thinner. Try and get knee-length boots that fit well at the knee. If there’s too much of a gap at the top of the boot, this breaks the ‘line’ of your legs and make your legs look wider than they really are. Knee-length boots go well with short skirts or dresses or with skinny jeans.

Shih Yen wears knee-length boots

I know this blog  is called ‘keeping it below the knee’, but sometimes footwear goes above the knee. I recently wore thigh-high boots for the first time. This tall style is difficult to wear well, mainly because of the association thigh-high boots have with ‘ladies of the night’ type professions and dominatrix-wear. It is also hard to find suitable clothes to wear with this style. Skirts, dresses or shorts have to be almost indecently short when worn with this style. Leggings or tights may be a better choice to wear with this style of boot.

Over-the-knee boots are also difficult to wear. The pair I wore had a zip at the side and shoelaces that go all the way up the back. It literally took me five minutes just to get them on, and another five minutes to get them off again. I had to be sitting on a chair to wear them, or else they were impossible to get on or off. And once I was wearing them, it became impossible to kneel or squat. But they are a nice stye if you are brave enough to wear them. Thigh-high boots are very flattering and also helps keep you warm. So, if you’re buying boots this season, remember that the length of your boots do matter.

Shih Yen wears over-the-knee boots with dress by Zambesi.

Ugg Boots

So far I have mainly written about shoes that I love, but I recently realized that I also have a lot to write about shoes that I don’t like. Some time ago, someone gave me a pair of ugg boots as a gift. Ugg boots are unisex sheepskin boots that originated in Australia or New Zealand. There’s debate over which country they came from, but it’s definitely somewhere in Australasia anyway.

Ugg boots were very trendy with celebrities earlier this millennium with the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Moss and Jennifer Aniston wearing them. Oprah Winfrey also raved about them, including ugg boots in her ‘favourite things’ show.

My ugg boots are made in New Zealand. They are very warm, made of sheepskin and lined with fleece inside the boot and around the ankles. They are great for keeping my feet warm, especially as it is now the middle of winter (it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere). However, I will only wear my ugg boots inside the house as house slippers, and I won’t wear them out. The main reason for this is because I personally think that ugg boots are ugly. In fact, I thought ugg boots were short for ugly boots, but to be honest I don’t know the origin of the word ugg.

Ugg boots by UGG Australia, similar to my own New Zealand-made pair.

I think ugg boots are unflattering and make your legs look fat. The wool and fleece used to make ugg boots naturally makes the boots look fluffy and big. Ugg boots come in different heights – ankle length, calf length or knee length. No matter what length of ugg boot you wear, they will make your feet and legs wider than they really are.

There has been controversy and court cases over whether the word ugg is just a generic word or whether it can be copyrighted. In Australia and New Zealand, ugg boots are widely considered to be a generic word. However, Deckers Outdoor Corporation, a US footwear company, based in California bought the UGG Australia brand and successfully registered it as a trademark, sparking controversy. For example, should a person be allowed to trademark the word ‘high heels’ or ‘sneakers’ or ‘decaffeinated coffee’? Because this is effectively what Deckers has done with the word ‘ugg’.

My own ugg boots are just a generic no-label pair. However, since I was in Australia recently, I thought I would write about the UGG boot. With capital letters, UGG becomes a registered trademark, as opposed to lower case ‘ugg’ the generic boot.

Australian made UGG boots. Genuine UGG boots have the UGG label on the back. These boots are made with merino wool, and the fleece can be rolled up or down.

If you are looking to get UGG boots, it’s better to get ones that are a bit tight, as the wool will flatten over time and the boots will become looser then. But, if you want to wear socks with your UGG boots, then get a pair that’s looser so that socks can fit. UGG also sells special shampoos and conditioners to help take care of the UGG boots. To maintain UGG boots, it is better not to get them wet (another reason NOT to wear UGG boots outdoors).

The usual colours for ugg boots are tan, brown, black and grey. UGG Australia also makes a range of bridal footwear. The white UGG slipper makes completely no sense to me. Why would anyone wear open-toed thong sandals in white wool? Are they for a beach wedding in the middle of winter? There are also sparkly sequinned UGG boots and UGG boots with Swarovski crystal details in the UGG bridal footwear range. Who are these brides who choose to wear UGG boots to their weddings? Are they insane? Or are they getting married in the North Pole?

Would you wear UGG boots to a wedding? Bridal footwear from UGG Australia (Photo from UGG Australia’s website).

Ugg boots are not a style of footwear that I like. Hopefully there will not be too many posts on my blog about shoes that I don’t like.