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.

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.

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.


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).

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.


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.


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.


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.

NZ school

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.