Cute socks and towels

Towel cakes have become a recent trend. This is where small towels are presented as if they are food. So for example, a face towel or a hand towel could be folded and made to look like a slice of cake. If the towels are brown, they could be put into a mug to look like a cup of coffee, or made to look like chocolates or muffins. I think it’s just a way of marketing boring towels to make them more attractive and interesting to customers.

I had only seen this trend in small towels until I saw these cute socks recently. The socks were packaged to look like popsicles and they are super cute. One pair had an ice cream design and the other a watermelon design. This could be called fun things to do with ice cream sticks, as I also had little face towels that had been packaged to look like lollipops.

Lollipop face towels, with a pair of ice cream socks.

Shih Yen’s pair of ice cream ankle socks.

Lollipop face towels with a pair of watermelon popsicle socks.

Shih Yen’s pair of watermelon ankle socks.

When I saw the watermelon design socks, I knew the perfect pair of shoes that would go with those socks. That would be watermelon shoes by Hot Chocolate Design. Hot Chocolate Design is a shoe label from Venezuela, and it is one of my favourite shoe labels. This label was started in 2004 by Pablo Martinez and Carolina Aguerrevere.

Watermelon shoes by Hot Chocolate Design, from their chocolaticas range (in style patilla).

Normally I limit my blog to just footwear and socks, but many things surprise and shock me about Venezuela, so I thought I would write a bit about Venezuela, the country where these shoes are designed.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. Yes, Venezuela has more oil than Saudi Arabia! And yet, the country cannot feed its own people. Venezuela is currently in social and economic turmoil, with widespread shortages of basic goods, like lack of food, medicines and toilet paper. Hyperinflation is a major problem, with inflation in triple digits.

Lucky then, I guess, that Hot Chocolate Design shoes are designed in Venezuela, but made in China.


The hypothetical quinceañera

The day before my 15th birthday I wrote, ‘A decade and a ½ seems old.’ 😀 It has been many, many years since I was 15, and I now find that statement to be quite funny. I never had a 15th birthday party, and since I didn’t have a party, I also don’t have any photos from my 15th birthday. This is because 15 is not a particularly special age in Asia, or in many parts of the world.

However in Latin America, the 15th birthday is a very, very big deal for teenage girls. Quince (pronounced keen-say) means 15 in Spanish. The birthday girl is called the quinceañera (pronounced keen-sa-nye-ra) , and the 15th birthday party is called fiesta de quince años in Spanish, or festa de quinze anos in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, and it is celebrated in countries all over the Americas. In the past, the 15th birthday party was a way to present a girl to society, much like a debutante. It signified that the girl was ready for marriage. These days, it’s more of a celebration of the girl like a princess.

When I say that the 15th birthday party is a big deal, I mean it is a seriously big deal, like a wedding. Possibly the most famous quinceañera is Mexican teen Rubi Ibarra García who had a 15th birthday party on 26 December 2016. The video invitation to her 15th birthday party went viral on social media. More than a million people responded to the invitation saying they would attend, and Rubi’s 15th birthday party spawned many memes. In the end, thousands of people attended Rubi’s 15th birthday in La Joya, a small village in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí. The village normally has a population of 200. Despite added security, one man died during the horse race and another was injured.

Since I never had a 15th birthday party, I thought it might be fun to have a hypothetical one. The dresses that quinceañeras wear are big, elaborate dresses fit for a princess. They are much like wedding dresses. Traditional colours for the quinceañera dress are white or pink, or pastel colours. But really these days, it seems like any colour is fine. For me, the age of 15 was sort of filled with teenage angst. I’m not sure I would have gone with the whole girly Barbie-type dress. Maybe that’s something I would have chosen if I was 5 years old. But if I had to pick a girly quinceañera dress for myself, I would go with this one:

Quinceañera dress from Q by Da Vinci in flamingo (style 80292).

In general, the fiesta de 15 años in every country involves dancing, usually a waltz with the birthday girl and her father. For this post, I’m concentrating on the 15th birthday party in Mexico because the Mexican fiesta de 15 años has many traditions that really resonate with me. The 15th birthday party is a transition, from being a girl to becoming a woman, and the Mexican birthday party has many symbolic touches to reflect this transition. One such element is called la ultima muñeca, or ‘the last doll’. In this tradition, the birthday girl is given a doll at her birthday party. The doll is usually wearing a similar dress to the quinceañera. This doll is the last doll that the quinceañera will play with, and the doll is a symbol that the birthday girl is now giving up childhood toys and becoming a woman.

An example of a ‘last doll’ or ‘ultima muñeca’ wearing a dress to match the quinceañera.

Another element of the Mexican fiesta de 15 años involves shoes (Finally! Were you wondering when I would get to the part about shoes?). This Mexican tradition is called ‘changing of the shoes’. During the birthday party, before the waltz, the quinceañera changes her shoes from flat shoes to high heels. These are meant to be the quinceañera‘s first high heeled shoes, and like the last doll, they are a symbol that the girl is now a woman.

I only recently found out about this ‘changing of the shoes’ tradition. If I had known about it when I was turning 15, I would have had a party just to get some new shoes. So here are some footwear options for my hypothetical 15th birthday party.

Shoe by EricDress.

This pair of shoes by Eric Dress would match the quinceañera dress, but in my opinion, the rhinestones are too bling, and the heels are too high for my 15-year-old self to realistically walk in. If I had to pick shoes for the Mexican ‘changing of the shoes,’ I would go with shoes by Venezuelan label, Hot Chocolate Design. I would start with these flat pink Mary-Jane shoes, by Hot Chocolate Design from their Chocolaticas range. These flat shoes have silver glitter soles. Not as bling as rhinestones, but suitably shiny for a quinceañera.

Chocolaticas by Hot Chocolate Design (style ‘Space’).

Then, at the party, I would change from the flat shoes to these Mary-Jane high heels, also by Hot Chocolate Design.

Chocolaticas high heels by Hot Chocolate Design (style ‘Marie Antoinette’).

Alpargatas from Argentina, and Latina jeans

I’ve always had a slight interest in Argentina, ever since I turned down a scholarship to study for a year in Argentina. In this month’s post, I’ll write about alpargatas specifically, which is a type of traditional footwear from Argentina, and more generally about Latina fashion.

In my heart, I know I’ll never be Argentine. I’m not hug-y or kissey. Also, there are many things that I can’t understand, such as Argentine people’s very loose definition of time and punctuality, where being ridiculously late is totally fine. So I got invited to a birthday party of an Argentine friend. I actively tried to be late (by Latin American standards), purposely going shopping beforehand to ensure that I would be late. I was still too early, the first person to arrive, when other people were over an hour late.

The invitation to the party said ‘around (alrededor) 13:30′. I was thinking ‘what does ‘around’ mean?’ The day after the party, a Latino friend clarified for me:

Latino friend: ‘Around 1.30’ means 2 o’clock.

Me: So why don’t they say 2 o’clock?

Latino friend: Because if they say 2 o’clock, then people will turn up at 3 o’clock.

Me: !!! (speechless)

I also don’t understand Argentine people’s obsession with mate (pronounced ‘ma-tay’). Mate is a traditional drink, a type of tea made from the leaves of the yerba mate plant. It is the national drink of Argentina, and Argentine people drink it anytime and everywhere, out of a gourd with a silver straw called a bombilla. Mate is also drunk in Uruguay, Paraguay and the south of Brazil. When friends get together, they’ll drink mate out of the same gourd, sharing the same straw and passing the gourd back and forth between friends. I will drink mate, but I totally think it’s an acquired taste.

Drinking 'mate' with friends.

Drinking ‘mate’ with friends; drinking out of a gourd with a silver straw.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many things from Argentina that I love; for instance they cook a mean barbecue called asado, with beautiful meat. I like tango, and I love alpargatas. My soul may not be Argentine, but my soles can be. Haha!

Alpargatas are traditional footwear worn by gaucho, or cowboys, in South America. Gaucho are found in parts of Argentina, Uruguay and the south of Brazil. Gaucho are famous for riding horses and herding cattle on horseback. In the past, alpargatas were worn in rural areas. They can be worn by both men and women. Traditionally, alpargatas were monochrome, with cotton uppers and either rubber soles or soles made from jute. These days, alpargatas come in all sorts of colours and designs. Forget famous footballers; for me, I think that’s the one thing Argentina gave to the world: alpargatas. In particular, I feel that the label TOMS truly made alpargatas global.

A few years ago, alpargatas with jute soles, called espadrilles in English, were the height of fashion. They were everywhere and I was slightly obsessed with them, but I never managed to get a pair at the time. Probably because I was too picky. Styles I like didn’t come in my size and I didn’t like the ones that were available in my size, like gold or silver glitter alpargatas. And also I didn’t want alpargatas made in China.


Shih Yen’s alpargatas from Argentina. Yes, they are very comfortable.

Finally, I have got myself a nice, traditional pair of alpargatas, made in Argentina. How does one wear alpargatas? They are casual footwear, which can be worn with or without socks, depending on how cold the weather is. If you’re going for a traditional Argentine look, you can wear them with a poncho and bombachas, or gaucho pants. I have neither poncho nor bombachas, but if I did, I think I could totally rock the gaucho look 🙂

This leads me to the second part of my post – Latina fashion. Since I didn’t have gaucho pants, I looked for something else to wear with my alpargatas. The only thing I have from anywhere even remotely near that region is a pair of butt lift jeans designed in Colombia. Just as Latino people’s concept of time confuses me, some Latina fashion also baffles me. For instance, you can get padded underwear that will give you a bigger butt! Whaaaat?? WHY?? Anyway, back to my butt lift jeans. When I told a Malaysian friend that I had bought a pair of butt lift jeans, my friend said, “Because you’re crazy?” To which, I replied, “No, because I’m curious.” I am still curious. Even after buying them and wearing them, I don’t understand why anyone would want butt lift jeans.

Shih Yen's butt lift jeans from Colombia.

Shih Yen’s butt lift jeans, designed in Colombia.

These jeans supposedly have special type of stitching to help lift the butt. To be honest, I can’t tell whether there’s any butt lifting action! To me, they just seem to be super tight jeans. In a bid to understand the butt lift jeans, I started asking Latino friends, both men and women, about their opinion of these jeans. Mostly I got 1 of 2 responses: they either laughed at my question, or were puzzled by my question. But in general, almost every Latino person I asked like this style; a couple of women were very passionately in favour of them.

I am still puzzled by butt lift jeans. I think perhaps Asian women are built differently from Latinas, and are not as curvy. I can only conclude that it is a cultural difference because of different definitions of beauty in different cultures. At least I have alpargatas, which I love.

Shih Yen wears alpargatas from Argentina with Colombian butt lift jeans.

Shih Yen wears alpargatas from Argentina with Colombian butt lift jeans.

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.


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.


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.


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.

choc box

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


Falling in love … with shoes

Maybe you’re one of those practical types who don’t give much thought to shoes. Shoes are just protective gear that you wear on your feet. You’re looking at the title of this post and you can’t possibly imagine how anyone can fall in love with shoes. Well, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to fall in love with shoes and I’m going to tell you about shoes that I have loved.

I don’t believe in love at first sight when it comes to humans, but when it comes to shoes, I have definitely fallen in love at first sight. The first time it happened to me was 12 years ago and I fell in love at first sight with a pair of Camper TWS twins shoes. The right foot says ‘He loves me…’ with fluttering white daisy petals, while the left foot says, ‘He loves me not’ with a white daisy flower losing some of its petals. I saw it in a print ad and went into the store to look for them. Never mind that the price tag was over NZ$300 (and this was over a decade ago) and I was just working in my first real job at that time. I bought the pair of shoes without a second thought. This was back when Camper was still made in Spain. They are a beautiful and high quality pair of shoes. I still have them and they still look pretty new.

Shih Yen fell in love with this pair of Camper shoes from their TWS range

Shih Yen fell in love with this pair of Camper shoes from their TWS range.

The second time was about 10 years ago when I fell in love at first sight with another pair of Mary Jane style shoes. The label was Candy, but I haven’t been able to find out more about this label. This pair of shoes has pink butterflies on them and the words ‘Happy summer days forever’. The soles of the shoes are pink with butterflies on them. This pair of shoes is now old, and the soles are cracked and can’t be repaired. Even though I can no longer wear them, I can’t bear to throw them out. Just like with someone you love, you can’t throw them away just because they are old.


Shih Yen fell in love with this pair of Candy shoes with pink butterflies and the words ‘Happy summer days forever.’

candy sole

Butterflies on the sole of Shih Yen’s Candy shoes.

Now I can see that I have a ‘type’. I love cutesy, quirky shoes in a Mary Jane style, and preferably flat. Recently, I have fallen in love again. I love the entire Chocolaticas range by Hot Chocolate. This is a label from Venezuela, though I was disappointed to find out that Hot Chocolate shoes are designed in Venezuela, but made in China. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but it was  a love of an entire range. I even love the shoe boxes that the shoes come in. The shoe box is in the shape of a chocolate milk carton.

This ‘cupid’ style was the only pair that the shop had in my size, so I bought them. And I love them. They have yellow glitter on the soles, and the glitter is so cool, just like the butterflies on the soles of my Candy shoes. Wearing shoes that I love makes me happy and puts me in a good mood.


Shih Yen’s Hot Chocolate Design shoes in the style ‘cupid’.

choc box

The Hot Chocolate Design ‘Cupid’ style has glitter on the soles of the shoes, and the shoe box is in the shape of a chocolate milk carton.

You may think that loving shoes are silly. They can never love you back. They may give you blisters and break your ankle, but shoes will never break your heart. ❤

As an epilogue to this post, after writing this post I finally got rid of my old Candy shoes. Like with any great love, once it is over, you have to let it go. And it is only when you let go that you can love again.

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.

watermelon shoes

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.


Alpargatas from South America

Recently, I’ve been a bit obsessed with footwear called alpargatas, and let me tell you why. It was a couple of months ago after I had just finished writing about Argentine tango shoes. I was walking along wondering what other footwear from Argentina I could write about. I was thinking about alpargatas, but I didn’t have a photo of them. Then, I saw a man walking ahead of me wearing the exact shoe that I was thinking about. I couldn’t believe it. I walked with him for 2 blocks. No, I was not following him! We just happened to be walking in the same direction for 2 blocks. I walked with him and stared at his shoes until I had to turn to go to my workplace. I had my camera with me that day and I wished that I had stopped him, but I am not enough of a lunatic to stop a complete stranger on the street and ask if I can take photos of his shoes! I really regretted it though for I never saw him again. But to be honest, I wouldn’t recognize him anyway; I would only recognize his shoes. For a while, every time I walked that way, I would look out for a man wearing alpargatas. I think of them as the shoes that got away, and the whole incident inspired me to write a poem. Yes, I wrote poetry about alpargatas! I debated whether or not to share my poem here, but decided that since this blog has been non-fiction so far, I would like to keep it that way. So after that very long preamble, let me get on with actually writing about alpargatas.

Alpargatas, or espadrilles in English, are traditional footwear worn by the gaucho, or cowboys, in South America. Gaucho are found in parts of Argentina, Southern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. They live in rural areas, and are well known for riding horses and herding cattle on horseback. Alpargatas originated in the Pyrenees, the area between France and Spain, before being brought to South America by Basque settlers. Alpargatas are warm weather shoes, worn in the spring or summer months. Alpargatas can be worn by both men and women.

These alpargatas have the traditional soles of jute rope, but modern uppers made of leather.

These alpargatas have the traditional soles made of jute, but modern uppers made of leather.

Even though alpargatas has an association with peasant footwear, or footwear for the common man, they have become fashionable worldwide. I know this because I have seen alpargatas worn as far away as in New Zealand, and I have also seen them for sale both in New Zealand and in Malaysia at high-end prices for this humble footwear.

Traditionally, alpargatas were made with cotton or canvas uppers and with soles of jute. And traditionally, alpargatas came in monochrome colours like black or white. These days, there are all sorts of modern variations on alpargatas. They come in different colours, fabric design, and different materials. Alpargatas can now have rubber soles instead of jute soles, and some have wedge heels made of jute, but all can still be called alpargatas.

The stranger I saw was wearing this pair of TOMS alpargatas. These alpargatas have modern rubber soles, but traditional canvas uppers.

The stranger I saw was wearing this exact pair of TOMS alpargatas. These alpargatas have modern rubber soles, but traditional canvas uppers (Photo from the TOMS website).

The stranger I saw on the street was wearing alpargatas from a label called TOMS. This is a label started by Blake Mycoskie in 2006. Blake first went to Argentina as a contestant on the TV show ‘The Amazing Race’. When he later visited Argentina again, he saw poor children who did not have proper shoes, and this inspired him to start TOMS shoes. The TOMS motto is ‘one for one’. For each pair of TOMS shoes sold, another pair of shoes would be given to a child in need. TOMS currently gives shoes to children in over 60 countries around the world.

The logo of TOMS shoes, which is sewn onto the back heel of TOMS shoes.

The TOMS logo, which is sewn onto the back heel of TOMS shoes.

Some TOMS shoes are made in Argentina, and the TOMS logo is a variation on the Argentine flag. The logo is sewn onto the back heel of TOMS alpargatas. Personally, I would have a problem if my nation’s flag was used as a brand logo and then placed in such a lowly position as the back of the heel.