Friday, July 31, 2009

A pair of shoes

One of the vexations I omitted from my 'I really need to get out of China for a while' rant last month was my experience in the Yashow market. I'd gone there to change some money, but while I was there I thought I'd check out the basement and try to buy myself some new shoes. Big mistake. I've always hated Yashow. It's such a tourist trap that the vendors there are particularly aggressive and persistent in their soliciting, particularly obstinate and bloody-minded in their 'haggling'.

After about 20 minutes of futile discussion of the price on a couple of pairs of loafers I rather liked, I gave up in despair and walked away. Inevitably, the stallholder pursued me up the escalators - finally prepared to accept only slightly more than I'd been offering from the outset. I told her to shove it.

We seem to have reached a point with many of these stallholders where they will refuse to consider a price below about 150 or 200 kuai for anything. And these days, you can pick up shoes, jeans, polo shirts, etc. for that kind of money at budget outlets in the UK or the US. I explained to the two irksome shoe-sellers in Yashow that I would quite happily pay what they were demanding - three or four times what I thought they were worth - if I bought similar shoes in the US.... because I feel that in America or Europe, we might have slightly more confidence in the quality control (even though most of the products might originally have been manufactured in China); because it's easier to try stuff on, and shop around between different stores; and because there won't be any problem about exchanging stuff if it does fall apart within days of purchase. I think those benefits are worth the modest extra expense. That, and not having to waste 20 or 30 minutes of your life in interminable arguments over the price!

So, while in America the other week, I bought two pairs of casual shoes in a sale - for about 20 bucks apiece. Yes, they were made in China - so this might seem to be a rather wasteful and uneconomic way of addressing my chronic footwear shortage. But those prices are probably not much more - maybe even rather less - than I'd be able to get comparable shoes for in somewhere like Yashow (and that only after enduring the half-hour haggling rigmarole).

I was pretty pleased with myself. The suede hush-puppies, in particular, are possibly the most comfortable pair of shoes I have ever worn.

But China yet again finds a way to bite me in the arse.

I find that the suede uppers are bound to the soles by nothing other than some rather shoddy stitching; and the right one is falling apart already, after less than three weeks. And, of course, I'm not in America any more, so have no chance of trying to get an exchange (might not be possible on sale items from Dress For Less anyway??). Damn.

Whenever you think you've got China beaten...... you find yourself with the rug pulled out from underneath you..... or with your shoes falling off your feet.

There's a very memorable, important exchange in the film version of Primo Levi's The Truce, his memoir about his tortuous journey home through Russia and Eastern Europe to Italy at the end of WWII, after being liberated from Auschwitz. The Levi figure (played by John Turturro) falls in with a wily old vagabond, who tells him at one point:

"In time of war, only two things are important: shoes and food. Maybe shoes are more important. Without good shoes, your feet may get sick, and then you can't walk around to look for food."

"But the war is over now," interjects Levi optimistically.

"Is always war," replies the old man, heavily.

I know what he meant.

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