My shoe-obsessed ex-husband had a small ship-load of boots, sandals, black pointy men’s shoes, sneakers, workboots, runners, joggers – any kind of footwear, really. His feet, as it happened, were quite large, so the shoes took up a lot of space.
Quite a lot of space. If ever I suggested culling the collection I was met with an icy glare. His greatest penchant was for sports shoes, especially Adidas and Nike.
In Chinese apartments or houses, there is a shoe cupboard as soon as you walk in the door. People take off their outside shoes and replace them with inside slippers. Our shoe cupboard was 98% his, 2% mine. Coming from a tropical climate, shoes were never really a thing for me: I’d go barefoot all year, if I could get away with it.
Somewhere around Taidong, the suburb in coastal Qingdao that is full of tailors and seamstresses, he stumbled, one day, into an export shop. “Look at the quality of these Nike shoes!” He pointed out all the places they were stronger, better, more well sown, than the Chinese type. “These are shoes for export,” he patiently explained – probably noticing my bored look – ” but with minor faults – so they cant cross the seas.”
I walked outside to the pedestrian mall, and sat watching men with 99 coloured ballons tied to their bicylces and hawking their wares to passing parents, young lovers skipping down the road with a gay sense of doing something terribly illicit, maidens and mothers and girlfriends hand in hand, peering into each shop to see which tailor had the shinest material, the warmest wool, the coolest dress patterns.
He came out with two pairs of made for export but with slight faults in them Nike shoes.
“Why do you need two Nike pairs of shoes? Isn’t one enough?”
“You don’t understand, you just don’t understand. The quality is so much better than the ones made for the China market.”
“But they’re all Nike. And why do you need two pairs anyway?”
“Yes, they are all Nike, but -” the explanation continued, with the exasperated, superior look that rushed into his face and after internal heat was applied became a permanent feature “… the difference between the made for export shoes…”
Two women came out of a tailor’s shop carrying a large role of material of some sort. It was wrapped in brown paper, so who knew if it was silk, or satin, linen or rayon…..
By the end of that year, the endless paperwork that allowed Chinese to enter Australia (by virtue of marriage to an Australian) was completed to the extent he could actually enter Australia. Whilst walking down the Queen Street Mall, he noticed a sports store and disappeared into it. I followed, Addidas and Nikes galore. He tried them on. He walked in them. He spoke eloquently at indeed how much better the made for export shoes that actually got exported were compared to the made for export shoes that didn’t make the ship.
He held the shoes in his hand and felt the toughness of fabric. He pounded them on the floor to test their strength. He tried on a few for size. He calculated the percentage by which they were better than the other made-in-china-but-not-for-export Nike shoes. At least 200%, probably 300. He didn’t buy any. They were much too expensive.
Another year later and the paperwork reached the stage he could arrive, and not have to leave. So we did. A whole lotta shoes came with us. A few years later, we returned – individually and at different times, to different places – to China. My storage shed still has three huge striped bags full of shoes, even though last winter I culled them. For each duplicate, I kept only one – thus giving to charity at least twice the amount I kept.
They say shoes maketh the man, I’m not so sure.