First Winter Boots

Cordelia Tang


Footbinding may be in the past, but in China, a woman’s feet are still supposed to be small. Cordelia Tang does not have small feet. When she lived in China, she often squeezed her feet into shoes that did not fit. Her life in Canada brings many changes. One of the happiest moments comes when she buys her first comfortable, warm winter boots in Canada.


The winter of 2013 in Toronto saw the heaviest snowfall in the past five years. Luckily, I got my winter boots just in time. These are my very first winter boots ever, bought with my very first paycheque in Canada. They have black suede uppers and cute fluffy fur fringes. I still remember how shocked I was when I saw the product description stating that the fringes were faux fur. No euphemism, just the truth. In China, it is not popular for the manufacturer to announce anything that might devalue the product.    

When I tried on the boots, I chose the size that allowed my feet to spread as they do when I walk barefoot. My feet slid into them easily, even when I was wearing my warmest thick cotton socks. That was what I had wanted.  I decided in five minutes.

Buying shoes has never been that quick and easy for me. You see, I have oversized feet.  My husband once joked about it. “The creator wanted to make you a boy, but later decided you should be a girl,” he said. “Too bad he’d already made your feet when he changed his mind.” We have been about a century away from the tradition of foot binding, but small feet are still what girls are supposed to have. “Small and delicate” is the phrase Chinese people like to use to describe a beautiful girl’s feet and hands. When Grimm’s Cinderella story came to China, we kept the original version of Cinderella’s stepsisters chopping off their toes to fit into the tiny crystal shoes. The bloody scene haunted me when I was little.  

Shoe shopping was the last thing I ever wanted to do when I was in China. I envied girls who slipped their feet into the shoe on display, which was usually a 37 or 36. They could try on as many pairs as they wanted, without any help. As for me, I had to ask for shoes in my size and wait until the busy clerk went through the inventory and found a pair that would fit. In Spring Festival sales season, the wait could be forever. Besides, l was always embarrassed when I asked for my size. The clerk either gave me a startled eye or answered without looking up, “38 is our largest size.” 

My solution was to squeeze into shoes that were one size too small. Often, it felt okay when I tried the shoes on in front of the mirror. But wearing them in a busy life was so much tougher than taking a few tentative steps in a store, an experience which I chose to forget. I still remember how I failed to enjoy getting together with my friends at 798 Galleries in Beijing when the three of us happened to have time on the same day, just because my shoes pinched. Now I simply cannot understand what was going on in my mind. I would trade anything for a day’s outing with my best friends back in China. I cannot believe I should ruin a whole day’s happiness for a pair of stupid shoes, just as I can never understand why many Chinese girls prefer to climb the steps of the Yellow Mountain in their stilettoes.  

Shoe size, to my greatest relief, never bothers me now. So many things have happened.  I have become a mom, moved to another country, gone back to college, and found a job. I have learned to appreciate things as they are, such as finding a pair of shoes suitable for my feet instead of faking a delicacy that doesn’t belong to me. Walking in the coldest winter in my life, but in the warmest and most comfortable shoes I have ever had, I couldn’t be happier.

CORDELIA TANG joined The Shoe Project workshop in 2013, two years after she arrived in Canada as a landed immigrant. In China, she had been working as an editor for over nine years. After graduating from the Master of Information program, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, she started working for The Shoe Project as director and Toronto local coordinator.

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