My faithful flip-flops had flown all the way across the world with me from England. They had pounded the pavements of Tokyo and Hong Kong, they had luxuriated in the sands of the southern Thai Islands, and cowered at the efforts of the northern Thai Highlands. They had floated down river through Laos, and now found themselves finally in Cambodia. It was rainy season, and the river running through Siem Reap had burst its banks by the time my intrepid flip-flops and I finally arrived.
My flip-flops were already tired and worn out after their adventures to date. They took one look at the flood waters coursing along the streets of the town, and said to themselves “You know what? I’m done”. And, with one final faltering footstep, flipped their last flop.
A replacement would have to be found, and quickly. We had limited time here and we wanted to spend as much of it as possible exploring the beautiful, ancient temples of Angkor Wat. This was going to have to be my first mission.
We had been advised by a number of people that we would encounter a great deal of begging when we visited Siem Reap, and that we would have our hearts broken by the desperately young children seeking help from us. This was indeed the case. We had also been warned that whatever our hearts told us (or our well-meant intent), it would help these children not one iota to hand over to them all the money in our possession. These children did not get to keep any of this money that they managed to secure. We were informed there would always be a shadowy figure lurking somewhere nearby to take their earnings from them at the soonest opportunity and then send them out again to beg for more. Instead, we were told the best way to support the local children was to put the money in the hands of the local mothers, and the best way to do this was to spend our money in the market. And so this is where we headed.
The market itself was somewhat claustrophobic and also very confusing. With little apparent rhyme or reason for the grouping of stalls (but every facet of humanity catered for somewhere, if you could negotiate your way to it).
I was on a shoe mission. For now this was all that was required. We would be back later for gifts, but for now my footwear (or lack thereof), was the most pressing issue. There were in fact a great many shoe stalls, but in a completely random pattern across the huge indoor space, and often catering for a more formal occasion than I was seeking to fulfill.
The ladies of the stalls, noting our interest in all things ‘Shoe’ would rush toward us, assuring us (in their cheery and very insistent way), that they had exactly what we required. After an initial whirlwind tour however, it was quickly becoming apparent that they might not.
The reason for my sinking heart was a second problem, which I had not anticipated – I have enormous feet (I knew that fact already of course). But, what I hadn’t really considered was that the ladies of Cambodia, very much, do not. Very, very small feet in fact.
The few stalls we could find that did have more casual sandals tended to have them only in smaller sizes. The ladies of the shoe stalls of Siem Reap began to sense there was an issue beyond the mere fussiness of tourists. They started to swarm. From the many crevices of the market shoe vendors emerged, their insistence growing that they knew exactly what I needed and that they, and only they, had that very thing. Until one of them thought to ask what the problem was exactly.
I picked up a nearby shoe, I placed it next to my own foot. The clamor surrounding us died down. Suddenly. The women looked at one another in disbelief. And then, all at once, they fell about laughing. My feet were hilarious. Have you ever seen such a thing!
I did not feel great about myself at this point.
The ladies of Siem Reap market, once they had finally managed to control themselves (and with still a few titters circulating – which I heard – don’t think that I didn’t), were determined not to be beaten by my ridiculous appendages.
I was ushered by a small group of them (many having now dropped out and admitted defeat), to a small stretch of stalls to the other side of the market. Here the women dispersed to their own corners – very quickly reappearing with a small handful of boxes, the only boxes that contained shoes that could possibly fit a monster such as I.
(at this point, for my own vanity, can I just say, I am a pretty normally proportioned person in general – I just have big feet – even by Western standards).
Sad to say, the selection available was very limited, and also pretty elaborate. Far more colourful, embroidered and bejewelled than I would ever pick for myself. But, as they say, Yetis can’t be choosers.
So I chose the least elaborate pair (and when you look at a picture of them below, just try to imagine the sunglasses required to downplay the ones I rejected!)
I have to say these are the best-made sandals I have ever owned in my life, hand stitched, sturdy, and clearly equipped to laugh at the shallow flood waters they were about to encounter. My work here was done. I had succeeded in my mission (after only a small amount of public humiliation) and I had amused the ladies of the market in Siem Reap in the process.
I believe that of all the sandals I have ever, or will ever own in my life, these are the ones that will always be most likely to raise a smile when I come across them in my wardrobe.
Copyright © 2016 · Words & Images · Forty and Everything After