Our extremities, namely the ones at ground level, take some extreme punishment. They also seem to elicit extreme reactions as far as fashion and propriety are concerned. Nat puts his foot down.
Photo Credit: http://barefootrunningshoes.org
I once looked at a female colleague’s high-heeled platform shoes and declared that I was so happy to be a man. Well, she took one look at my Five Fingers running shoes and said she was even happier to be a woman. I wonder if this is the difference between the sexes. One likes to be comfortable and the other is willing to sacrifice comfort for fashion. But shoes aren’t only an indicator of sex. Truth be known, I know plenty of men who are willing to wear uncomfortable shoes for the sake of looking good. I just don’t happen to be one of them.
Whether one’s shoes are fashionable or not, the issue of them or, more specifically, of feet is a big one in Thailand. This isn’t only because of all the various taboos we have regarding feet. The fact that our feet are the parts of our bodies closest to the ground makes them symbolically the dirtiest part of us and so we go to almost great pains to hide our feet, especially the soles, in polite society.
When Thais sit on the floor, we tuck our feet carefully behind ourselves so as not to display our soles to everyone else. My father, who is 90-years-old and a great traditionalist, frowns upon a man’s crossing his legs because it raises the foot in an unseemly way. Women who sit cross-legged are obviously beyond the pale. The point is that we in Thailand have highly evolved meanings involving our feet and this extends beyond simply whether or not we choose to display them and how we display them to others in our company.
People have looked at my bare feet and pronounced that I have farang feet. This is due to the fact that the gaps between my toes are nearly non-existent due to their having been encased in shoes all of my life. I was told this over 40 years ago when most Bangkokians did not wear shoes that covered the entire foot but rather flip flops that allowed the toes to spread. The inference was that a proper Thai person would have wider gaps between his toes from walking barefoot or in flexible shoes all his life.
Nowadays, most Bangkokians wear shoes from an early age and that creates a great divide between city people and those upcountry. A rice farmer is often loathe to send his son to university where he will have to wear shoes and lose the callouses on his feet, making him all but useless during the harvest because he will be unable to work the rice paddy where going barefoot is necessary. Wearing shoes in all that water and mud will only slow you down. Speaking from what brief experience I have working in a rice paddy, it’s much easier to get traction if your toes can grip.
Having toes that can grip must be part of the reason behind the design of Five Fingers running shoes. They are decidedly weird looking in that they mimic your feet and don’t appear to be shoes at all but rather a rubber glove for feet. There is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the design. Some podiatrists insist that they will damage your feet because they don’t provide enough cushioning. As humans evolved into bi-pedal primates, our feet were supposedly adapted to running on the fairly soft ground of the savannah, not on hard pavement. Although I admit it can get painful walking for an extended period of time in Five Fingers in a city, I love mine. They actually healed my feet which were fairly badly injured from my having worn the wrong shoes for running.
For years, I had to wear orthotic insoles. There were times I was in severe pain simply from taking a step. By forcing me to utilise all the muscles in my feet and making them much more limber, however, the Five Fingers have made it possible for me to give up the orthotics. Who cares if they’re ugly? Better yet, the more I wear them, the more my feet might look traditionally Thai.
No matter what I wear, however, I’ll never get away with crossing my legs in front of my father.
26/01/2012 - 12:46