Thursday, December 15, 2011

Duddell Street Shoes

My office is on Duddell Street, where there's always soon-to-be-married couples having their photos done on the antique photogenic steps at the southern end of the street. As a consequence of forever encountering men in shiny white suits and women in incredible frocks every day of my working life, I've become rather inured to these strange sights. "Just another model" I sigh as I walk past an etiolated Eastern European with a fashionable haircut and a camera crew.

Today was especially odd. It wasn't the usual crowd of pre-marital photos that was odd, it was the man holding a giant tube of Smarties and being far too excited that caught my eye. I can hardly speak a word of Cantonese, but his over-the-top body language suggested that this tube of sweets was the greatest prize anyone could ever receive. I think he was being ironic, but you never can tell. Either he was taking the piss at a not-particularly wonderful early Christmas present, or else he just really likes sugar coated pellets of cheap milk chocolate.

Further up the hill, as well as the usual half naked man pushing a trolley of cardboard boxes, there was a woman, smartly dressed, carrying two bags of shopping ... and wearing white slippers. Fluffy white slippers. These are not an appropriate form of footwear for the filthy, uneven, strewn with drunken Englishmen streets of Hong Kong. I worried that she was a woman so dissolute, so destitute of reason that she didn't realise she was outdoors, and assumed her slippers were the correct attire.
But if you thought you were home, why would you be carrying shopping around? It's all very confusing.

The strangest shoe experience happened to me shortly after I moved to Hong Kong, just above the steps on Duddell Street. It must be a nexus for oddity, I suppose. I left work, ascended the stairs, and was walking up Ice House Street when a young Chinese guy tried to take one of my shoes off.

If you have somebody trying to take off one of your shoes, it turns out to be quite easy to stop them. You just keep your foot on the ground, and unless they rapidly excavate a hole beneath your foot, your shoe is secured. However, standing on the spot wasn't going to get me home and I was tired and in need, not of a Chinese man intent on relieving me of my footwear, but of getting home to bed.

The man kept saying "forty?" to me over and over, and teasing at the laces of my shoe. I did my best to remonstrate with him, but I was never taught the right way to deal with this sort of situation. Why did my schoolmasters never envisage such an occurrence? It's mysterious, isn't it?

He'd claw at my shoe, and ask "forty?" and I'd lean more heavily on my foot, and say "no", and this could have gone on all night, until a bolt of inspiration hit me and I said "forty-three", which happened to be my (French) shoe-size, and he looked disappointed, but immediately stopped molesting my footwear and went on his way.
So there's a man somewhere in Hong Kong, obsessed with obtaining shoes of a particular (Continental) size, and he's trusting of the numbers given to him by strangers, but also very persistent. Have you learned anything from this?


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