Secret Shoe Lady

Thing 1 and I played hooky this past Tuesday, venturing across the river in search of a cobbler. I made the mistake of giving her Benadryl for her silver dollar sized mosquito bites. She slept most of the morning in the car and at the fabric market where she did not have the energy to design clothes for herself. I picked up several items I’d had made the week before, one of which is a Pepto-Bismol pink trench coat which might be donated right away to the earthquake victims. What was I thinking???? Then there is the silk dress, which makes me look like a bridesmaid attending a wedding on the Hindenburg; I will go down in flames if I wear it in public. Having said that, the bodice fits nicely …

After lunch we went in search of the cobbler. Thing 1, as many of you know, has Marfan syndrome ( At nearly 6 feet tall, she wears a size 12, 4 narrow women’s shoe. This is hard to find in America, let alone the rest of the world. My baby has been consigned to poor footwear her entire life and part of my mission in Asia is to rectify that. So, armed with only an address from Mrs. Pom who wears a size 11 and who said this cobbler can copy any shoe, we trolled the streets of the Hongqiao section of town.

When V3 pulled up to the address in question, he woke us up from our post-prandial snoozes, and said, “It’s just a t-shirt shop.”

Groggy, I opened the van door to get a better look. Indeed, it looked like a regular store front selling random clothes. But I spied some shoes on the far wall and said, “I’m going in for a closer look.”

Appearances can be deceiving in China, I have learned. What one thinks is a quaint piece of fading architectural glory is in fact a heaving hotbed of commerce or gambling. Earlier in the week I had visited the Through the Kitchen Secret Purse Lady, traipsing through a shikumen kitchen and behind a teddy bear flannel curtain where I bought the cutest pair of Louis Vuitton (? they look like the real deal) loafers and a handbag “inspired” by Marc Jacobs. This was after I had gotten lost in the alleyway and mistakenly went into another Secret Purse Lady’s den.

So, once inside the t-shirt shop, I saw a small rack of shoes displayed, a floor length mirror reflecting behind them. I could tell at once they were not Vans, Nikes, Clarks, or Jimmy Choos. One pair was made of Pepto-Bismol pink leather. We were in the right place.

“Shoes?” I asked the salesgirl, pointing.

“Through here,” she said, pushing on the mirrored portion of the shoe rack. Voila! A door magically opened.

“Let me get my daughter,” I replied, and went back to the van for Thing 1.

“We’re here!”

“Really?” she said, getting out of the van uncertainly.


Through the mirrored door, we hooked a left through a small courtyard littered with junk, plastic buckets and mops, and a thousand shoe forms, following the girl like Alice in Wonderland tumbling down the rabbit hole. Ducking under a low ceiling, where we passed two cobblers making shoes in a space the size of my pantry, we entered a “showroom”. Thing 1 pulled photos of shoes cut out from magazines out of her purse and we began the tedious process of designing ballet flats. The leather was real, the prices high, and the hardware less than exciting (no, they cannot get the Ferragamo bow). Manolo Blahnik it’s not. But three pairs of shoes will be ready in two weeks and for the first time in her life, my daughter might have something to wear with a summer dress that is not flip-flops or tennis shoes. She will have more than one option. I take my good news where I can find it.



Filed under Family, Life, People, Shopping

9 responses to “Secret Shoe Lady

  1. Raftbuddy

    I am truly thrilled for Thing 1. A woman has got to have some SHOES! I hope they are splendid!

  2. Flaky Friend

    That is so great – I bet she will look wonderful.

  3. MCV

    Very good news indeed! She is the prettiest girl and deserves the prettiest shoes. Manolos are overrated. Or overpriced and I’m just jealous. Were you never able to find a Brazilian who could do this for her? They have the BEST shoes!

  4. Tom

    I love these stories. I was waiting for something James Bondish to happen.

    Although I know men have it easier with shoes I can relate a little as I was in size 13 when 12 was all you could find.

  5. maria

    I ´m happy for thing 1,shoes are priority number 1 to 10 in a woman´s life.And I can not remember what´ s the 11……

  6. maria

    By the way……the nice Adriana Barra I bought when we visited Jardins in SP is still one of my favourites…

  7. safmomma

    Hi M-K, long time no chat! Just spent a thoroughly enjoyable 25 minutes reading your blog, laughing my head off, and admiring your interesting life – we’re so boring here! School’s out as of today, so now I actually have to ‘work’ again. Sigh. Give me two weeks and I’ll be wishing for the start of the school year. Keep up the blogging, you are my life’s entertainment, right now!

  8. KT

    Shoes are one of the only things that I did not have made while we were in China…I didn’t even think about it…next time. I really wanted to comment about the mosquito bites…they are different there! My Thing Only would wake up with welts that would last forever. My maid said to cover the bites with toothpaste (paste, not gel)…he looked weird, but it really worked. Happy Memorial Day!

  9. MS MOTO

    I love your stories!! Thinking about traveling to the great northwest in July…any chance you will be around?

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