Peranakan beaded slippers in Penang, Malaysia

Last month, I wrote about Chinese clogs in the state of Penang in Malaysia. This month, I am still staying in Penang, but this time I am writing about a type of footwear called Peranakan beaded slippers. Actually, these slippers are also known by many other names, such as nyonya slippers, ‘kasut manik’ in Malay, or ‘manik aey’ in the Chinese dialect of Hokkien. They may be spelt ‘manik’ or ‘manek’, which means ‘beads’ in Malay. I am calling them Peranakan beaded slippers because in my opinion, this is the most straight forward English term.

Peranakan is a Malay word that comes from the root word ‘anak’, which means ‘child’. Peranakan refers to someone born from the marriage between a native person and a foreigner. Originally, Peranakan was used to refer to the descendants of 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants to the Malay archipelago. But technically, the term Peranakan can refer to anyone born in the Malay archipelago as a result of an intermarriage with a local. These are the countries of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei. 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. After writing that, I realized that people who are not from the region may have no idea how to pronounce the word ‘nyonya’. The closest I can describe it is that it is pronounced ‘neo-knee-ya’. Just say it really fast.

The Peranakans have a unique culture, a mix of Malay and Chinese, which seems to be slowly disappearing. Their language is a mix of Malay and Chinese. Their cuisine is famous. Known as Peranakan or Nyonya food, it is a fusion of Chinese and Malay cuisine. It existed way before the term ‘fusion food’ became fashionable.

The traditional dress of Peranakan women is the ‘baju kebaya’. If you don’t know what this looks like, female flight attendants on all the major national airlines in the Malay archipelago wear a modern version of the ‘baju kebaya’ as their uniform. These are the female flight attendants on Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Garuda Indonesia and Royal Brunei Airlines.

Shih Yen wears a vintage Nyonya kebaya with hand embroidery on the edges. This kebaya has no buttons, but is pinned with a kerosang.

At her graduation ceremony, Shih Yen wears a vintage Nyonya kebaya with hand embroidery on the edges. This kebaya has no buttons, but is pinned with a kerosang.

Close up of Shih Yen's kerosang or kebaya pin.

Close up of Shih Yen’s kerosang or kebaya brooch.

The traditional ‘baju kebaya’ consists of a sheer blouse with a batik sarong. The traditional kebaya blouse was always beautifully embroidered, especially all around the edges. The traditional kebaya blouse had no buttons. Instead, a 3-piece linked brooch was used to fasten it down the front. This brooch is called a ‘kerosang’ or ‘kerongsang’. There is a type of kebaya called 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.The proper footwear when wearing a nyonya kebaya is Peranakan beaded slippers. 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 communities are found in Penang, Malaysia, so in this post, I will write about where you can buy Peranakan beaded slippers in Penang. One shop that sells these beaded slippers is Eng Ong Heong Trading on the eastern end of Jalan Burma, or Burma Road. I wrote about this shop last month, as it also sells Chinese clogs. This shop sells many things apart from Chinese clogs and Peranakan beaded slippers. This shop also sells Chinese prayer materials and retro things, like kerosene lamps, tiffin carriers and nyonya baskets. Nyonya baskets are tiered baskets, usually in a black and red colour, and are used for carrying food.

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Peranakan beaded slippers sold at Eng Ong Heong Trading in Penang. The beaded slippers shown here are all in a peep toe style.

Another shop in Penang that specializes in Peranakan beaded slippers is Hong Kong Shoe Store. Originally located on Muntri Street, it is now on Kimberley Street. This shop is famous also for being the place where famed shoe designer Jimmy Choo started out as an apprentice. Other than Peranakan beaded slippers, this store makes beautiful bespoke shoes. Mr Wong, the shoemaker at Hong Kong Shoe Store, can custom make shoes to any design, and to fit any size or shape. He learned the craft from his father, the late Mr Wong Sam Chai. The prices at this shop are also very reasonable.

Hong Kong Shoe Store, now at Kimberley Street, Penang, Malaysia (Photo by David Lee).

Hong Kong Shoe Store, now at 20 Kimberley Street, Penang, Malaysia (Photo by David Lee).

Shoes by Hot Chocolate Design

Happy new year 2016! At the start of this new year, I’m writing a post about my current favourite shoe label. This is the Venezuelan label Hot Chocolate Design. I love all the shoe designs in their range.

Hot Chocolate Design was started in 2004 by Pablo Martinez and Carolina Aguerrevere. Their shoe designs are all in a Mary Jane style with a strap and buckle across. Their shoes are made of fabric with a rubber sole. All their shoes have a fun, quirky design. They design on the principle that as adults, we yearn for things that made us happy as a child. So their shoes have a certain child-like cute quality to them. Their youthful designs make them very suitable as children’s shoes, and their Mini Chocolaticas range is aimed at young girls. However, I am more interested in their shoes for adults.

Hot Chocolate Design has two styles for adults – the Chocolaticas and Double Topping range. The shoes in the Chocolaticas range all have flat soles. Most of the designs in the Chocolaticas range are not mirror images of each other, in the sense that the left foot is not a mirror image of the right foot. And yet, together, they are still unmistakeably a pair.

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Shoes from Hot Chocolate Design’s Chocolaticas range.

I love the Chocolaticas range and I have a pair myself in the style ‘Cupid’. It is a comfortable pair of shoes, and I love the yellow glitter on the soles.

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Shih Yen’s pair of Hot Chocolate Design shoes from the Chocolaticas range, in the style ‘Cupid’.

The other Hot Chocolate Design style for adults is the Double Topping range. While the shoes in the Chocolaticas range are flat, all the shoes in the Double Topping range have heels – a 3.5 inch heel, to be exact. The Marie Antoinette style in this range comes with laces that are removable, so it is possible to wear that style as a boot with laces, or as a Mary Jane style.

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Shoes by Venezuelan label, Hot Chocolate Design. The Marie Antoinette style, with removable laces, is on the left.

I even love the shoe boxes that Hot Chocolate Design shoes come in. The Chocolaticas shoes come in a shoe box shaped like a chocolate milk carton. Double Topping shoes come in a shoe box shaped like a pink birthday cake. The packaging even includes a birthday candle to make it look like a proper birthday cake box.

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The Chocolaticas shoe box in the shape of a chocolate milk carton.

 

shihyenshoes – a look back, and Terry Poe – Malaysian shoe designer Part 2

I started writing this shoe blog almost 3 years ago. On 1 December 2014, the shihyenshoes blog celebrates her 3rd birthday. Who knew so much could be written about shoes? At the time when I started the blog, I felt like I had a lot of things to say about shoes. That was why I started the blog. I decided on monthly updates for the blog because I thought that was a reasonable time frame that I could stick to without feeling over-committed. And now, 3 years later, and I’m still writing about shoes. I never thought that the blog would go on for as long as it has.

Many things have surprised me about writing a blog. For me, it was just writing about stuff that I was interested in. I thought the content would be too niche to be of interest to many people. I thought that the only people who would read my blog would be my friends and family, but the number of readers from all over the world has surprised me.

Writing is a solitary endeavour, and I am used to that. Writers tend to just write alone by themselves. Interacting with people as a result of my blog surprised me. Strangers from around the world might comment on my blog and that always surprised me.

The most surprising thing for me has been when a shoe designer got in touch with me as a result of my blog. Back in September, after I wrote about Terry Poe, a Malaysian shoe designer, he got in touch with me. That was a very exciting and pleasant surprise. So, this month I’m featuring more shoe designs by Terry Poe. All the photos have been provided by Terry Poe himself.

Personally, I like Terry Poe’s chocolate bar Japanese sandal. This was an early design of his and featured a sandal in the shape of a block of chocolate with thongs in the shape of a banana peel. Terry Poe has supplied the concept drawings and photo of the finished product.

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Terry Poe chocolate bar sandal – the concept.

Terry Poe chocolate bar sandal - the reality.

Terry Poe chocolate bar sandal – the reality.

Terry Poe designs shoes for both men and women. In 2009, this man’s sandal with a gothic theme won 1st runner-up in the Malaysia Footwear Design Competition.

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This sandal by Terry Poe won 1st runner up in a Malaysian footwear design competition.

Finally, these wedge heels, inspired by a monarch butterfly are considered by Terry Poe to be his best work so far. There is only one pair of these butterfly wedges in existence, having been specially requested by a client of Terry Poe for use in an advertising photo shoot.

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Side view of butterfly slingback wedge heels by Terry Poe.

Writing a blog for me has been fun, and I hope there will be more pleasant surprises to come.

Hot Chocolate Design – Shoes from Venezuela

Recently, I saw this woman wearing an interesting pair of shoes in a Mary Jane style. At first I thought she was wearing odd shoes as it seemed like one shoe was green while the other was red. I wondered if it was Odd Shoe day, but it wasn’t. (Odd Shoe Day was on the 12th of September 2014. This is a day when you wear odd, mismatched shoes and make donations to benefit Camp Quality. Camp Quality is an Australian and New Zealand charity that helps children living with cancer). Then, I realized the woman was wearing shoes with a watermelon design, and she had teamed her shoes with a pair of bright green tights. The effect was so quirky that I wished I had my camera with me to take a photo. I briefly wondered if other people walk along the street like me having urges to take photos of strangers’ shoes, which then made me question my sanity … but that’s another story.

The woman I saw was wearing watermelon shoes by Hot Chocolate Design, from their chocolatica range.

The woman I saw was wearing these watermelon shoes by Hot Chocolate Design, from their chocolaticas range.

The shoe that I saw was a pair of watermelon shoes by Hot Chocolate Design. Hot Chocolate Design is a label from Venezuela that started in 2004. The team is made up of graphic designer Carolina Aguerrevere, and illustrator Pablo Martinez. They mainly design on Mary Jane style shoes made of fabric, but they also have slip-on slippers and alpargatas styles. In addition to watermelon shoes, they also have strawberry, orange, lemon and cherry shoes. Fruit not your thing? They have other quirky styles as well. Their Hot Chocolate designs are fun, cute and whimsical. The left shoe may be different from the right shoe, and yet together both still make up a pair. Their designs are reminiscent of the Camper Twins or TWS range. Even the boxes that these shoes come in are whimsical. The shoe boxes are shaped like giant milk cartons.

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Side view of the watermelon shoes by Hot Chocolate Design.

They also have a darker twin label, their Dark Chocolate Design. They call that line the dark, dead twin. The Dark Chocolate Design has a darker, more goth feel. They don’t produce a lot of any one design, so their shoes are always like limited editions and never feel mass produced. Check out the official Hot Chocolate Design site here to see more of their shoes.

 

Terry Poe – Malaysian shoe designer

It was Malaysia’s national day yesterday, so I felt like writing something about Malaysia. Terry Poe is a Malaysian shoe designer, born and bred in Ipoh. Ipoh is the capital city of the Malaysian state of Perak. Incidentally, Ipoh is also where actress Michelle Yeoh is from. Terry Poe studied fashion at a local Malaysian Art and Design College – the Perak Institute of Art (PIA) in Ipoh, Perak. Apart from that, I don’t know much about this Malaysian designer.

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Women’s shoe designed by Terry Poe, inspired by a monarch butterfly.

Terry Poe designs shoes for both men and women. This women’s wedge heel shoe was inspired by a monarch butterfly. It was on display at a department store in Terry Poe’s hometown of Ipoh.

Side view of this Terry Poe shoe.

Side view of the Terry Poe shoe.

Footwear in Thailand

I was in Thailand some time ago, so I thought I would write about footwear in Thailand. Just like many other countries in the Southeast Asian region, it is the custom to take off your shoes before entering a Thai home. Also, most people in Thailand (about 95% of the population) are Buddhist, so be prepared to remove your shoes when visiting a Buddhist temple.

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A Buddhist monk wearing sandals – a common sight in Thailand.

Being a predominantly Buddhist country, it is a common sight in Thailand to see Buddhist monks in their saffron robes. It is desirable for Thai men to spend time being a monk at some point in their life. Temporary ordination as a monk is common in Thailand, so men can be ordained as a monk for a few weeks or a few months before returning to secular life.

In the past, Buddhist monks did not wear shoes at all. These days, monks commonly wear slippers or sandals, but will go barefoot when they go out to collect alms. This happens early in the morning when monks go out carrying their alms bowl and receive alms from the general public. Alms are usually offerings of food and this may be the only food the monks have to eat that day. People also take off their shoes when offering alms to monks. This is because they believe that when they remove their shoes while offering food, their ancestors will be able to receive the food offered.

In Thai culture, the feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body. It is considered rude to point your feet at someone or show the soles of your feet. So, especially in a Thai home when sitting on the floor, you should angle your feet away from people. When sitting on the floor, it is the norm to fold your feet sideways at odd angles to be polite. This can be uncomfortable for people who are not used to sitting in this manner.

Just because the feet are deemed to be dirty in Thai culture, that doesn’t mean Thai people go about with ugly shoes. I came across some of the most beautiful shoes in Thailand. One Thai shoe label is Madame Flamingo. This label was started in 2008 by shoe designer Janet Pantila Promfang. She studied shoemaking and shoe design in Florence, Italy. Madame Flamingo has a shop on the ground floor of Central World, a major shopping mall in the centre of Bangkok. All her shoes are handmade, and they have a quirky, vintage feel to them.

Madame Flamingo

Shoes like ice cream. The sweetest shoe designs by Madame Flamingo.

I can’t wait to go back to Thailand and see more beautiful shoes there.

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Eccentric but beautiful shoes moving on a conveyer belt, in a shoe shop in Bangkok, Thailand.

The humble beginnings of Jimmy Choo – shoe designer

Malaysia’s finest and most famous fashion export is without doubt Jimmy Choo, the shoe designer. To use his full titles, he is Dato’ Jimmy Choo OBE. In 2000, he was awarded a title by the Sultan of Pahang in Malaysia, and in 2004 he was awarded a title by his home state of Penang. Both Malaysian awards carry the title Dato’. In 2002, he was conferred an OBE (Order of the British Empire) by the Queen for his services to the shoe and fashion industry in the UK.

Shoe designer Jimmy Choo, spotted at a fastfood restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Photo by Aaron Toh).

Shoe designer Jimmy Choo, spotted at a fast food restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Photo by Aaron Toh).

For this post, I will be writing about Jimmy Choo, focusing on where he came from before he became famous. Jimmy Choo was born Choo Yeang Keat (周仰杰) in Penang, Malaysia. His family name is actually Chow, but his name was misspelt as Choo on his birth certificate. He was born into a poor family of shoemakers and he made his first pair of shoes at the age of 11.

Before going to London to study, Jimmy Choo was an apprentice at the Hong Kong Shoe Store in Penang, Malaysia. He learnt shoe making from Mr. Wong Sam Chai, a master shoemaker. If you’re on the trail of Jimmy Choo in Malaysia, Hong Kong Shoe Store still exists, now run by Wong Heng Mun, the son of Mr. Wong. The store’s original location was on Muntri Street (Lebuh Muntri) in Penang. It then moved across the road to 177 Muntri Street (at the corner of Lebuh Muntri and Lebuh Leith), and it has now recently moved to 20 Kimberley Street.

Hong Kong Shoe Store, where Jimmy Choo was an apprentice, at its former location in Muntri Street, Penang, Malaysia (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

Hong Kong Shoe Store, where Jimmy Choo was an apprentice, at its former location in Muntri Street, Penang, Malaysia (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

Hong Kong Shoe Store specializes in handmade and made to measure shoes. They are famous for their Nyonya beaded slippers (which I’ll write about in a future post). It takes about 2 months for them to complete a pair of handmade shoes and the cost ranges from RM200 – RM300 (that’s under US$100). It is even possible to give them a picture of a pair of shoes and they can copy the design from the picture. They also have ready made shoes that can be bought off the rack, and these are even cheaper, about a quarter the price of their custom-made shoes.

Hong Kong Shoe Store, now at Kimberley Street, Penang, Malaysia (Photo by David Lee).

Hong Kong Shoe Store, now at 20 Kimberley Street, Penang, Malaysia (Photo by David Lee).

After his apprenticeship at the Hong Kong Shoe Store, Jimmy Choo left for London. He graduated from Cordwainers Technical College in Hackney in 1983, probably one of their most famous alumni. This college is now part of the London College of Fashion, a college of the University of the Arts, London. To pay for his education, Choo worked part-time at restaurants and as a cleaner at a shoe factory.

In 1986, Jimmy Choo started his own shoe label that bore his name. He became famous because his designs were a favourite of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. His shoes were also referenced in the hit TV show ‘Sex and the City’. In 1996, he co-founded Jimmy Choo Ltd with Tamara Mellon, a stylist for British Vogue. In 2001, Choo sold his 50% stake in the company. He now concentrates on his couture line. His shoe designs are high-end, beautiful but also comfortable.