If there’s one thing no one can ever accuse me of, it’s being a “clothes horse”. I am neither a Beau Brummel “wanna be”, nor a slave to trendy fashion. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the flair of a well designed piece of clothing, but rather that I am simply comfortable dressing the way I do. Some may think me stuck in a rut. I would rather think of myself as not “fixing” what isn’t broken. Unless mucking about in the garden, I am always neatly dressed. At school I am attired in freshly pressed khakis and polo shirt. Thank God that the powers that be have never asked me to wear a dress shirt and tie. I have a closet full of them, but given the temperature and humidity, I would be uncomfortable to say the least. Most of the rest of the time it’s strictly jeans and a T-shirt for me. Old Levi Straus sure picked a winning design when he produced his first pair of denims! In my humble opinion, I can’t imagine anything more comfortable than a well worn pair of blue jeans. But whether I am headed for school or a day out and about, my footwear remains the same, sandals.
Before moving to Thailand, I of course wore sandals from time to time, but most of the time however I wore shoes of one type or another. Sandals were for the beach or perhaps a picnic. One pair of old Birkenstocks was enough. In fact one pair of any type of footwear has always been enough for me. All I have ever needed was: one pair of everyday work shoes, a pair of black dress shoes, one pair of sneakers, one pair of hiking boots, and one pair of winter “snow” boots. While I was married to my ex-wife, add in a pair of green “wellies” to wear while shoveling out the horse manure. I would never hesitate to buy the best that I could find, because once purchased I would wear a pair of shoes or boots until they simply fell apart! I’ve always been partial to Clarkes myself. I have two pairs sitting in my closet now, one brown and one black. They will probably last me the rest of my life, because I simply never wear them! It's sandals every day of the year now. The only time I have worn a pair of shoes in the past four years was on a brief trip back to the U.S. last February, and it wasn’t the cold weather that made me don them, it was the 18 inches of snow on the ground! My feet complained every minute. What a relief it was to return and take the damned things off. I haven’t had shoes on since.
Sandals of course are eminently practical in a country where you are constantly taking off your shoes, but beyond that, they are simply comfortable, especially in year round hot weather. After many years of yeoman like service, my sandals finally “gave up the ghost” this weekend. They actually still looked fine, but they had developed some sizeable holes in their soles. It was time to go shopping for a new pair. “Would you like me to come with you” my darling wife asked?
“Oh no thank you, I think I can manage by myself” I replied sweetly…and ran as fast as I could before she insisted on accompanying me.
Folks if there are three things in life that absolutely should not be considered in a single sentence, it’s you (a man), she (a woman…any woman) and a shoe store! I’d sooner face the demons of hell than be trapped in a shoe store with a woman. Trapped is not an exaggeration. Women, whether dusky skinned Thai or pale skinned Farang, simply do not conceive of shopping the way you or I do.
If you want to buy something, say a shirt, this is the way in which you buy one. First of all you probably have some idea of what you are looking for. Upon entering a shop you quickly see what is available. If you see something you like and the price is right you check to see if it’s available in your size. If it is, you take a quick trip to the dressing room to try it on. If it fits and you like how it looks on you, you bring it to the register and pay for it. Mission accomplished!
For a woman, shopping is not about necessarily purchasing anything. It is about trying on as many outfits as possible, and woe be to you if you are forced to stand around and “tell me how it looks”, because no matter what you say, the odds are that she won’t buy it any way. “Oh it looks great on you. Buy it!” (Yes please buy it so we can get the hell out of here!)
“But does it make me look fat?”
Talk about a loaded question! Perhaps, just perhaps after trying on a couple dozen or so outfits, in half a dozen shops, she may finally allow you the “privilege” of paying for something.
This of course is just about buying something simple, like a shirt. Shoes are an entirely different story. Here we have to travel to planes of shopping existence not compensable by mortal man. If you are going shoe shopping with a woman, you are advised to bring along a copy of War and Peace, ‘cause you ain’t going nowhere for a looong time. The sheer dithering is compounded exponentially when you are talking about a Thai woman shoe shopping in America. America is the land of mega malls, with mega shoe outlets. Tens of thousands of discounted shoes of every color and description are displayed (usually chaotically) in a store large enough to drop a football pitch into, with room to spare.
The first time my wife found herself in one of these places I swear her eyes began to take on the gleam of Jack Nicholson’s in The Shining. I mean this Issan gal was possessed! While never a big spender when it comes to clothes, these were shoes…and they “don’t count” as far as not spending money goes. It’s like the bites of calorie filled, fat laden desert your tee-rak surreptitiously eats from your plate. Those don’t seem to count either. After endless trudging down aisle after aisle, my wife walked away without a single stinking pair of shoes. That day she was “just looking”. Tomorrow she would actually consider buying something. Go right ahead darling, but all future shoe shopping forays will be without me in tow! Oh, of course I will bring you to the mall. Of course I will stroll around with you and buy you lunch at the food court. We may even see a movie together. But the moment you enter “that shoe store”, you are on your own babe! Shop your little heart out. Buy whatever you like. I however will be in the bookstore, or checking out some power tools at Sears, or eating a pretzel…anywhere but in a shoe store with you!
Five years later when we were packing up to move to Thailand, my wife had accumulated an astonishing number of shoes, at least to a normal man. Oh well, they were all inexpensive and it takes so little to keep her happy. Amazingly enough though, now that we are here in Lampang, whenever I step outside to put on my one lousy pair of sandals, they aren’t by the door. Why? She “needed” them to do something in the back of the house. Somehow she is not amused when I ask her if she needs to go out and buy some of her own.
There’s not a whole lot to choose from “up country” when it comes to footwear. In Bangkok you can find all kinds out fancy foreign brands with equally fancy prices. Here you have to settle for what you find in the market, or the local Bata, where I found my new sandals yesterday. It took no more than five minutes to walk in, find something I liked, find a pair in my size, and pay for them. My purchase came to 199 baht. Oh what a big spender I am! Actually even my wife couldn’t complain about the price, since they will probably last me for another four years. Yes indeed, I am truly footloose and fancy free today!
I have never owned a pair of sandals in my life and doubt I ever will. For me, our feet are like the tyres of a car. There's a hell of a lot of mass connected to the ground by a very small area. I like big, strong, well-made imported shoes. Timberland has always served me well. Yep, even in the heat of Bangkok, I like big sold shoes to attack the pavements with!