My Ugly Ringos

Sonam Chozom


Four-year-old Sonam didn’t realize that her life was about to change when she was taken to her new school by her dad. There she received her Ringo shoes which would come to symbolize her precious memories of school life and make her braver and more hopeful.


“Where would I possibly find enough leather with which to cover the surface of the earth?

Yet just walking on the soles of my shoes is equivalent to covering the earth.”

– Buddhist Expression 

When I was four years old, my dad took me to my new school. I was excited about it and put on the new green dress purchased for me after a lot of tantrums. We entered the school gate, and my dad said, his eyes shimmering, “Tibetan Children’s Village School!  This is going to be an amazing place.”

On the way to the registration office, we passed a huge playground. I was astonished.  Then we went to the hostel, where my dad started to unpack my things. I was busy looking around at the crying children, some of them holding their parents by the legs to stop them from leaving. I felt sorry that they were going to have to stay alone.

Suddenly, a gigantic lady appeared and gave my dad a uniform and shoes.  He told me, “She is your amalak now.”  

My mother? I was confused and blurted out, “My ama is much more beautiful!”

Then he put on his backpack and hugged me, saying, “I will come tomorrow.” 

I realized then that I, too, was one of those crying children.  I held my dad’s hand tightly, wailing and trying in every possible way to stop him.  But the gigantic lady pulled us apart. He left forever, leaving me with my new uniform. 

In the beginning, I didn’t like anything about the new school, especially not the uniform shoes.  They were not girly at all.  “Ringo shoes” were made from black rubber.  The strong smell of them gave me a clue that they were newly manufactured in a local factory.  However, the rugged slip-resistant soles left me with no complaints.  

It was His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s vision to provide Tibetan children with modern education.  Many of my TCV friends climbed the Himalayas to India just to study at TCV.  I was born in India, so I didn’t have to take that difficult journey, but I was from a very poor family.  At TCV, there were rich children who had everything lavished on them and poor children like me who had hardly one pair of shoes.  The uniform made everyone the same: blue shirt, grey pants, and Ringo shoes.  Because of it, I didn’t feel less than anyone else. 

Today Ringo shoes are very dear to me because they spark so many memories. I remember once when I badly tore the sole of one shoe.  The problem was that the shoes were issued annually.  My friend gave me an idea.  “Some children throw their old Ringos behind the school.  See if you can find a match.”  So, I went there and saw lots of junk: old books, old greeting cards that we collected, pencil stubs, ink bottles. I searched through it all until I finally saw a dusty Ringo hidden behind some bushes.  I grabbed it and discovered it was a match. I polished it until it shone, and nobody guessed at the assembly the next day that it was from the dump. 

Since the day I slipped on those Ringo shoes, I learned self-reliance and confidence. I learned to read and write, solve equations, and understand about the world.  I learned to be as strong as the rugged soles of my Ringo shoes. 

I may not yet have travelled the earth, but I came all the way to Canada thanks to what I learned in my Ringo shoes. For me, those soles covered the earth and made me brave and hopeful enough to face the world.

SONAM CHOZOM was born and raised in India as a Tibetan refugee. She came to Canada in November 2016 through the Tibetan Resettlement Project.  She is currently enrolled in the Health Care Assistant program at Vancouver Community College and will later enroll in the nursing program.

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