Red Socks Day

This month, I’m writing about Red Socks Day. No, this is not related to the Boston Red Sox baseball team. This is Red Socks Day in New Zealand, and it is related to the late Sir Peter Blake.

Sir Peter Blake was a New Zealand-born yachtsman. In 1991 he was conferred an OBE, and in 1995 he was knighted for his services to yachting. He is most famous for leading Team New Zealand to victory in the America’s Cup yacht race. He led the team to victory in 1995, and again in 2000, becoming the first non-American team to successfully defend the title. He also set the fastest time for sailing non-stop circumnavigating the world.

After Sir Peter retired from competitive sailing, he focused on the environment and looking after the earth’s waterways. In December 2001, he was shot and killed by pirates in Brazil while on an expedition to examine the effects of global warming and pollution on rivers in South America.

Sir Peter Blake was known for his red socks. In 1995, his wife gave him a pair of red socks, and they became his lucky red socks. Every time he wore the red socks, he won his race, and when he didn’t wear the red socks, he lost his race.

red socks

An official pair of Sir Peter Blake red socks.

Today, red socks are a tribute to Sir Peter Blake. On the 8th of July this year, it is Red Socks Day in New Zealand, and this year marks the 21st anniversary of Red Socks Day. People are encouraged to buy and wear a pair of red socks. On this day, Kiwis wear red socks to remember Sir Peter Blake, to celebrate the success of a small country, and to support the work of the Sir Peter Blake Trust. The Trust was set up in 2004 to honour Sir Peter’s leadership and love for the environment. The Trust works to inspire and motivate young Kiwi leaders, adventurers and environmentalists to dream big. You can buy an official pair of red socks here.

To find out more about the work of the Sir Peter Blake Trust, go here.

The packaging of the red socks, inspiring you to 'dream big'.

The packaging of the red socks, inspiring you to ‘dream big’.

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!

Cute cat socks

Sometimes the best things are bought by chance without planning, and with no hope of ever buying them again. This was the case for me with the cutest pair of cat socks that I have ever owned.

Is this not the cutest pair of cat socks you ever saw?

Is this not the cutest pair of cat socks you ever saw?

I bought them many years ago in a small gift shop, literally a hole-in-the-wall establishment. I hadn’t planned on buying socks, but these colourful stripe-y socks with cats were so cute that I couldn’t resist. The stuffed cats on top of the socks sealed the deal for me. In addition to cat socks, there were also duck and frog socks in a similar design. When I decided that the socks were so cute that I wanted more pairs, I returned to the shop only to find that it had closed down.

I knew nothing about the socks – I didn’t know the label or where they were made or anything, so there was no hope of me ever finding these cute cat socks again. These socks are now old and hole-y, but they have served me well. It is with sadness that I now have to say goodbye to them.


This cute pair of striped socks have stuffed cats on top.


Ronald McDonald socks

Over the past few weeks, four pairs of my socks have decided to spontaneously sprout holes all at the same time. As a result, I am finding myself in serious need of some new socks. So when the opportunity came up to buy socks and support a charity at the same time, I jumped at the chance.

Ronald McDonald House is a charity that helps families of sick children by providing them with a place to stay while the sick child is receiving medical treatment. The first Ronald McDonald House was set up 40 years ago in the USA. This charity has been operating in New Zealand since 1989, and the first Ronald McDonald House in Auckland recently celebrated its 20th birthday on 14 October 2014. There are 350 Ronald McDonald houses worldwide.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about McDonald’s. Sometimes I think that McDonald’s sells toys, not food. On one hand, I feel that McDonald’s contributes to childhood obesity with their food, especially with their Happy Meals. On the other hand, the Ronald McDonald House charities help sick children and their families.


All proceeds from the sale of Ronald socks in New Zealand go to the Ronald McDonald House charities.

McHappy Day is a fundraising day for the Ronald McDonald House charity. Today is McHappy Day in New Zealand. On this day, $1 from every Happy Meal and Bic Mac sold goes to the Ronald McDonald House charity. You can also buy Ronald socks and all proceeds from the sale of Ronald socks benefit the charity.

The socks are called Ronald socks because they are red-and-white striped like the socks Ronald McDonald wears. The socks come in adult and child sizes. So on McHappy Day this year, I bought a Happy Meal and wore my Ronald socks. I wonder if I would look good in yellow pants? And big red shoes with yellow laces? Then I can really rock the Ronald McDonald clown look 🙂


Shih Yen wears Ronald socks.

Modern tabi socks (足袋)

On this exact date in 2012, I wrote a bit about Japanese tabi socks. I feel like revisiting this topic because I have now inexplicably found myself the owner of 3 pairs of tabi socks.

In Western culture it is seen as a major fashion faux pas to wear socks with sandals, but this look is traditional for the Japanese and they have been wearing socks with sandals for centuries. Traditional Japanese socks are called tabi and these are split-toe socks that separate the big toe from other toes. Tabi socks are worn with traditional Japanese thong footwear, such as zori and geta. The split-toe in the socks make it easier to wear thong footwear with socks.

A Japanese bride wears a kimono with formal zori and white tabi socks.

A Japanese bride wears a kimono with formal zori and white tabi socks.

Normally, socks can be worn interchangeably on either the left or right foot. It is the shoes that have a left or right side. It is the other way round with traditional Japanese socks and footwear. Because of the toe separator, tabi socks have a clear left and right side while the traditional footwear – zori and geta – can be worn interchangeable on either foot.

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 can be worn by both men and women. Tabi socks are normally ankle-length and the usual colours for tabi are black or white. White tabi socks are worn in formal situations, with the formal zori. Tabi socks are also worn in some Japanese martial arts, such as kendo and aikido, which have earned them the nickname ninja socks.

Shih Yen wears pink tabi socks with a cherry blossom motif. This pair of tabi socks is made from nylon and polyurethane.

Shih Yen wears pink tabi socks with a cherry blossom design. This pair of tabi socks is made from nylon and polyurethane.

Traditionally, tabi socks are made of cotton, but these days they can be made from other materials. I have one pair of tabi socks made of a nylon and polyurethane blend, which makes it feel like swimsuit material. My two other pairs of tabi socks are made from a polyester, cotton and polyurethane blend.

mens tabi

A pair of men’s tabi socks featuring a dragon and the kanji word for ‘dragon’ (龍)

tabi back

A dragon on the soles of these tabi socks.

Traditionally, tabi socks were plain and came in monochrome colours like black and white. These days, modern tabi socks are colourful and can have different designs on them. I have a pair of tabi socks meant for men, with a masculine design of a dragon on it, and the kanji word for ‘dragon’ (龍) on it. My other pairs of tabi socks are more feminine with feminine motifs like cherry blossoms on them. With modern tabi socks, the left and right side don’t even have to match, but they still make up a pair.

womens tabi

A pair of modern women’s tabi socks. The left and right side don’t even have to match.

Finally, if you need further evidence that tabi socks have become modern, none of my 3 pairs of tabi socks are actually made in Japan. All of them are made in China, even the pair that was bought in Japan, a gift from a Japanese friend.

Australian socks

It’s the middle of winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I was in Melbourne, Australia recently where I bought two pairs of long socks to keep warm.

I bought my socks at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne’s central business district. Also called the Queen Vic Market, it is located at the corner of Victoria and Elizabeth Street. The Queen Vic Market is named after Queen Victoria who ruled from 1837 – 1901. The Queen Vic Market was officially opened on 20 March 1878. The market’s current location is on the site of a cemetery, called the Old Melbourne Cemetery. The cemetery opened in 1837, but later closed in 1854 when it was full. Ten thousand people were buried in this cemetery. In 1917, the market extended into the cemetery site. Over 900 bodies were exhumed and re-interred in other cemeteries, but thousands of bodies are still buried beneath the sheds and current car park of Queen Vic Market.

Façade of the historic Queen Victoria market in Melbourne, Australia (photo by Emily Gan).

Façade of the historic Queen Victoria market in Melbourne, Australia (photo by Emily Gan).

The Queen Victoria Market is the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere. It covers an area of around 17 acres, or over 2 city blocks. It is open 5 days a week (closed on Mondays and Wednesdays). Allow yourself a few hours, or even a whole day, if you want to see everything.

The market sells almost everything you can think of – fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, specialty and deli foods. There are also different precincts selling non-food items, like handmade arts and crafts, clothes, jewellery, shoes and socks and also souvenirs. (though I found that a lot of souvenirs that say ‘Australia’ on them aren’t actually made in Australia). If you want to be sure something is made in Australia, look for a green triangular-shaped sticker with a yellow kangaroo on it.

Australian made argyle socks. Note the green triangular sticker with the yellow kangaroo on it, the made-in-Australia sticker (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

Australian made over-the-knee argyle socks. Note the green triangular sticker with the yellow kangaroo on it, the made-in-Australia sticker (Photo by Chang Shih Yen).

I bought two pairs of over-the-knee white socks, one with music notes on them, and a pair of argyle socks. Argyle refers to a pattern shaped, like diamonds. Argyle originated in Scotland when it appeared on socks of the Scottish Campbell clan, who were native to County Argyll in Western Scotland. For a preppy look, wear anything argyle, like argyle socks or an argyle vest.

Over-the-knee Australian socks. Music to my feet (Photo by Chang Shih Yen)

Over-the-knee Australian socks. Music to my feet (Photo by Chang Shih Yen)

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