Dzung Nguyen has five criteria for buying shoes. They must be affordable, convenient, comfortable, stylish—and above all, safe. Dzung’s lessons from her mother and growing up in Vietnam are held in her safe, comfortable and well-used crocs.
My mom had a bachelor’s degree in banking, but as you can imagine, a well-paying and stable job is hard to come by under normal circumstances. With four children, no husband and a life shattered by the Vietnam War, she did her best to take care of us.
My mom worked four jobs to support us. She would leave the house before dawn to buy snacks at the market and resell them to the local grocers. Then she would bike to her job at a school cafeteria, just in time for the morning rush of hungry kids. Afterward, she would go to the bank to prepare composing blocks and printing plates for manufacturing banknotes and newsprint. Then during her lunchtime, she would bike back to the school cafeteria to serve lunch. After lunch, she would go back to work at the bank. She also tutored neighbourhood children in the evenings after work. All so she could have enough money to put food on our table.
I remember seeing my mom’s small frame hunched over her bicycle as she rode more than fifteen kilometres to work. She would always wear her wooden clogs; they were office-ready shoes with a five-centimetre heel. She wore them every day from early morning until night.
Whenever I had a day off from school, I would help my mom with her job at the school cafeteria. One day when I followed her to work, I saw her tumble down the schoolhouse stairs when one of the heels on her clogs broke.
I was so frightened. I didn’t know what to do. I felt frozen by this fear that something terrible would happen to her and she would not come home to us. I started crying and shouting for help. Eventually, help came, and we got my mom to the hospital. Fortunately, she had only a few scratches and narrowly avoided a concussion.
From that day on, I swore I would never wear high heels. I did not want to risk getting hurt and causing anyone who depended on me to worry that I might not come home. I enjoyed a successful thirty-year career in Vietnam as an auditor. I never wore high heels a single day.
People say you can know a person by looking at their shoes. When you look at mine, you will see that I am simple, strong, confident, and bold. I admire how graceful other women look when they wear high heels, but I will always choose flat, practical, and comfortable shoes.
Over the past three decades, every pair of shoes I’ve worn had to meet five criteria: affordability, convenience, comfort, style, and especially safety.
When Vietnam opened up to the Western world, I discovered crocs. I fell in love with the comfort and practicality of the shoes, but the price was not to my liking. Even though I had a decent job and could afford to spend more on shoes, I refused to do it!
Twenty years ago, my sister-in-law gave me these shoes as a birthday gift. They are plastic crocs in dark blue—my favourite colour! They are closed-toed and flat. They look professional, feel comfortable, and are suitable for indoor and outdoor conditions.
When we moved to Canada in 2019, I carefully considered what I could bring. There was no question about these shoes. They are my comrades, even though they are old and not weatherproof. The soles are worn out from two decades of walking, but I still love them. They are not suitable for year-round life in Canada, yet they have served me well in the spring and summer.
When I heard about The Shoe Project, I immediately thought of these shoes. I want more people to know the story of these crocs, how they got me here, and why I still value them.
I want you to understand what it feels like to have a companion that unconditionally supports and cares for you through two decades of ups and downs. I want you to see how these simple, worn-out shoes bring me stability, joy, and comfort. I also want to give my shoes a lighter and even more noble task. Their new job is to keep telling part of my mother’s story as well as my own.
Dzung is a proud mother of two, a digital business coach, entrepreneur, sustainability professional, and owner of Nguyen Business Solutions. Her ultimate goal is to have the freedom to do the things she loves and spend more time with her loved ones. She also enjoys cooking, singing, and travelling. Dzung wants to share her shoe story to celebrate her own as well as her mother’s story of survival in post-war Vietnam.