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).

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Promotional jandals

My friends and family will tell you that I’m a bit of a sucker for advertising-type promotions. I’ll buy things I don’t need just to get a free gift. There doesn’t even have to be a free gift. Sometimes I’ll buy things just for the chance to win something, or to enter a competition. The most extreme case was when I bought something I didn’t need, to win something that I couldn’t use. Funnily in that case, I actually did win, and I ended up just giving away the prize.

Currently, there is one shop here that has a promotion for V energy drink. Buy any 500ml bottle of V energy drink and get a free pair of jandals. Jandals is a New Zealand term for thonged sandals or flip flops. This term was believed to originate in the 1950s, an amalgamation of the words ‘Japanese’ and ‘sandals’, as the style of these sandals with thongs is similar to traditional Japanese footwear. Personally, I call this type of footwear ‘slippers’, as this is the term that I grew up with. The V promotion kind of made no sense for this time of the year, as it is now winter in the Southern hemisphere, and people will not want to wear jandals in the cold.

The V promotion - Buy any 500ml bottle of V and get a free pair of jandals.

The V promotion – Buy any 500ml bottle of V and get a free pair of jandals.

As I said, I’m a sucker for promotions. So I bought a bottle of V energy drink, even though I don’t even like the drink. Just so I could get a free pair of slippers that I’m not going to wear now in the winter months. I also don’t really like advertising for V energy drink on my footwear. But apart from that, these slippers are quite soft and comfortable. I just have to wait a few more months for warmer weather to be able to wear them.

Korean House slippers (실내화)

For this month’s post I am revisiting the topic of house slippers and the culture of taking shoes off when indoors. This was a topic I had written about back in October 2012.

Taking shoes off while indoors is the norm in many countries, such as Japan, Korea and in countries across South East Asia. I grew up in Malaysia where it’s hot, and everyone goes barefooted at home. In countries where the climate is colder, such as in Japan or South Korea, people may wear socks or house slippers in the house, instead of having bare feet. In South Korea, houses have a special area just inside the front door where people take off their shoes. This area is called a ‘hyeon gwan’ (현관).

Every time when I cross the threshold from outdoors to indoors, I will feel funny if I don’t take my shoes off. I will feel like I need to ask the host if it’s okay to keep my shoes on. And I always feel like cringing when someone wearing outdoor shoes puts their feet up on the furniture.

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Shih Yen’s new pair of Korean house slippers.

I felt like revisiting the topic of house slippers as I have been given a pair of Korean house slippers. They are called ‘sil nae hwa’  (실내화) in Korean, and literally translates as ‘room indoor shoes’.

Korean house slippers are a bit like ankle socks. They are soft and can be rolled up just like a pair of socks. They don’t look big enough to fit me, but they have elastic all around the sides, so I was surprised when they stretched to fit me. On the soles of the Korean house slippers, there are little dots that give them better grip on a smooth floor. Korean house slippers are comfortable and help keep the floors clean.

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Shih Yen wears Korean house slippers.

Shoes that I have lost

Last month I wrote about shoes that I have loved. Just like with people that you have loved and lost, I also remember the shoes that I have lost. Apologies for the poor quality of the photos; these were the best photos I could find of my shoes that have been lost.

I remember 3 pairs of shoes that I have lost. All losses happened in Malaysia. I was 4 years old the first time I remember lost footwear. I don’t remember the loss itself (I was only 4 years old!), but I do remember the footwear. It was a pair of red slippers, a gift from my aunt. They were bright red thonged flip flops. What I remember most about them was that there were two red apples on each thong. I loved these slippers. According to my aunt, I lost them on a car journey. After stopping at a park, I got back in the car without my red slippers. When the loss was discovered, my mother drove back to the park, but the red slippers were gone.

The second loss was a pair of Reebok sneakers. They were white with the Reebok stripe in a purple and pink colour. I left them behind on a camping trip in the jungles of Malacca. I’m not sure where I left them. I just know that I had them when I went to camp, but I came home without them. This happened 20 years ago, but I still think about them sometimes. After that loss, I bought another pair of Reebok sneakers, as similar as I could find to the ones I lost, but they were never the same, and could not replace the ones I had lost.

The best photo I could find of the pair of Reebok sneakers I lost.

The best (and also the last) photo I could find of the pair of Reebok sneakers I lost. This photo was taken at the camp in Malacca where I lost them.

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The purple and pink Reebok sneakers I bought to replace the ones I had lost. They were kind of similar, but not the same as the pair I had lost.

The third time I lost a pair of shoes was due to theft. They were a pair of black lace-up Alain Delon shoes in a suede type of material. As people in Malaysia remove shoes before entering a house, shoes are usually left outside the house. My shoes and socks were in the shoe rack outside the house, and some time in the night, someone came and stole my shoes. The thief was selective, stealing only good men’s shoes (I wore men’s shoes back then because finding women’s shoes to fit me was too hard). The neighbours also lost shoes to the thief. I loved that pair of shoes, and I loved the socks too. I had the shoes for about 4 years and wore them almost every day for 2 of those 4 years, as I wore them to school in New Zealand.

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The black Alain Delon shoes that was stolen.

At the time of the theft, I was very angry and cursed the thief, but now so many years later, I hope that someone else wore my shoes after me. No matter if they were a pair of forgotten child’s slippers left in a park, or if they found a pair of forgotten Reebok sneakers in the middle of a Malaysian jungle, or wore a stolen pair of black Alain Delon shoes. I hope whoever wore them loved them as much as I did.

Flags and Footwear

Personally, I have a real problem with a country’s flag being used as a design on footwear. To me, it just seems very disrespectful towards a nation’s flag to wear it on your feet.

Hot Chocolate Design, a brand from Venezuela, has a pair of Mary Jane shoes with the design of the Venezuelan flag on it.

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Mary Jane shoes from the Venezuelan label, Hot Chocolate Design, featuring the flag of Venezuela. Photo from http://www.hotchocolatedesign.com

Currently, Crocs has footwear in a variety of flag designs – Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. This is part of Croc’s True Colours Collection, and consists of two different styles – clogs or flip flops. The clogs are called Crocband nation clog while the flip flops are called Chawaii nation flip. This collection was released during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and in their ‘Show your true colours’ promotion, people were encouraged to show support for their football team by wearing the Crocs flag footwear on their feet.

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Crocs footwear featuring flags. Photo from the Crocs Malaysia Facebook page.

Maybe some people find this patriotic, but I wouldn’t buy footwear with flags on them, and I couldn’t bring myself to wear them. Especially with the Crocs flip flop design where the soles of your feet are actually on the flag design, it would feel as if I was disrespectfully stepping on this country’s flag.

Alpargatas by Joy and Mario featuring the Union Jack.

Alpargatas by Joy & Mario featuring the Union Jack.

Merry Christmas from shihyenshoes

It’s almost Christmas. If you’re stuck for ideas on how to decorate your Christmas tree, have a look at this Kiwi-themed Christmas tree. Christmas falls in mid-summer in New Zealand, and popular footwear in summer is jandals (a Kiwi word for ‘Japanese sandals’). These Christmas trees are decorated with jandals with glitter on the thongs.

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A Kiwi-themed Christmas tree decorated with jandals.

Thanks for checking out my blog. Merry Christmas to all from shihyenshoes and see you all in the new year.

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Close-up of a jandal with glitter hanging on a Christmas tree.

Peranakan Beaded Slippers

Last month I wrote about the Hong Kong Shoe Store in Penang, Malaysia, where Jimmy Choo was an apprentice. Jimmy Choo cut his teeth making Peranakan beaded slippers as Hong Kong Shoe Store is famous for this type of footwear.

Peranakan is a Malay word that comes from the root word ‘anak’, which means ‘child’. Peranakan means locally born of a marriage between a native person and a foreigner. Originally, this term referred to the descendants of 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants to the Malay archipelago. But Peranakan can refer to anyone born in the archipelago (which includes Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore) who is the result of an intermarriage with a local. The term Peranakan can apply to descendants of intermarriages between Malays and Indian Hindus, Indian Muslims, Arabs or Eurasians, but it is most commonly used to refer to ethnic Chinese people who have assimilated and adopted the language and culture of Malays. The men are titled Baba while the women are called Nyonya. Their communities are found in the Straits Settlements – Malacca and Penang in Malaysia, and in Singapore.

The Peranakan have a unique hybrid culture which seems to be slowly disappearing. Their language is a mix of Malay and Chinese. Peranakan food is Chinese and Malay fusion, way before the term ‘fusion cuisine’ even existed.

The traditional clothing of Peranakan women is the ‘baju kebaya’. Female flight attendants on Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines and Garuda Indonesia all wear a modern form of the batik baju kebaya. The traditional baju kebaya consists of a sheer top with a batik sarong. The traditional kebaya top or blouse had no buttons. Instead a three-piece linked brooch called a ‘kerongsang’ or ‘kerosang’ are used to fasten the blouse down the front. The traditional kebaya blouse was always beautifully embroidered all around the edges.

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

Shih Yen wears a vintage Nyonya kebaya with hand embroidery on the edges to her graduation ceremony. 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 pin.

A variety of the kebaya is the Nyonya Kebaya, worn by Peranakan women of Chinese ancestry, especially in the Straits Settlements. Unlike other types of kebaya, the Nyonya Kebaya is worn with Peranakan beaded slippers, also called ‘kasut manek’ or ‘manek aey’. Peranakan beaded slippers are handmade using tiny beads. A design or pattern was usually cross stitched onto the front of the slipper, and then beaded over with beads called ‘manek potong’ or cut beads. This was all done by hand using very tiny, glass beads.

Examples of Peranakan beaded slippers.

Examples of Peranakan beaded slippers.

Peranakan beaded slippers can be in a peep-toe or covered style. They can be worn for happy or sad occasions. On sad occasions, the slippers had a simple pattern in sombre coloured beads like black, white or dark blue. For special occasions such as birthdays and weddings, the slippers were colourful and more intricate. In the past, it was the custom for young nyonyas to learn beadwork and embroidery. On her wedding day, it was an opportunity for the nyonya to show off her intricate beadwork in her own handmade beaded slippers, and to display her hand embroidered baju kebaya. These slippers were most popular in the 1930s.

In the past, Peranakan beaded slippers were worn by both men and women, but these days they are mainly worn by women.

Peranakan wedding slippers, not for the bride, but for the bridegroom. This pair of beaded slippers was worn by Lim Kim San on his wedding in Singapore in 1939. In the background is a photo of a Peranakan wedding from that period.

Peranakan wedding slippers, not for the bride, but for the bridegroom. This pair of beaded slippers was worn by Lim Kim San on his wedding in Singapore in 1939. In the background is a photo of a Peranakan wedding from that period.