China is all about shoes, sex and serendipity … oh and most importantly, your feet. And how they are clad while you walk, stagger, sprint, sway, shuffle and stroll along so many miles of footpaths, tracks, stairs, museum floors, unmade roads, rain-drenched paths and pot-holed surfaces of every description (did I mention museum floors?).

My two big mistakes when planning this trip to China were my belief in the quick, informal, apartment-residents’ survey results indicating it was too hot for me to bring my super comfortable, closed-in runners; and not bringing any walking-in-the-rain footwear. Gorgeous suede ballet flats might look nice, but they are useless on muddy water courses masquerading as footpaths). So, listen when your friends tell you “Bring comfortable shoes”. And dig out those boat shoes you thought you’d never wear again.

This is an endlessly fascinating, mysterious, ancient, awe-inspiring country, but you need to cover a lot of territory if you want to get any sense of China. And much of that covering is on foot.

And it’s about the foot fashions adorning every second girl in China. I suppose its not surprising when you consider the history of women’s feet in this vast, overpopulated land. Here is one place where feet have always been really important.

This is evident on the streets of every village, town, metropolis, hamlet, city, settlement and super-city. It’s here you see millions of women seemingly-effortlessly strutting around in ridiculously high heels. And the heel height is only part of the shoes’ attraction – one must also take account of the baubles, bows, buttons, sequins, ribbons, chains, hearts, squares, circles and other shapes making up the shoes. And the colors!

Men in China seem to wear conservative shoes, thereby allowing the women’s feet to be the star attractions. Though good Chinese men do carry their girls’ handbags. It’s a somewhat surprising sight (to this country-bred Aussie girl) to see a man on the street with a gorgeous, big, bright, designer handbag, adorned with bows and baubles, AND his shirt rolled up to his neck, so passers by can admire his rotund belly (another custom you see everywhere, a bit like people out strolling, in their pyjamas in the middle of the day).

The importance of Chinese footwear certainly was evident at the fascinating, mesmerizing Foot-Binding Museum, one of many attractions in China’s Venice, Wuzhen.

And so to sex. There’s super strong correlation between foot binding and sex.

The belief was that the smaller the feet, the better. Women in tiny silk slippers enticed men, regardless of whether or not he found the face to be attractive. It was not unusual for men to be aroused just from looking at the tiny silk slippers, with or without a woman wearing them. Men masturbated looking at tiny silk slippers. Men drank from the slippers. Some men would steal slippers, especially red slippers worn to bed by women (Splendid Slippers 1997). They fondled the tiny feet and slippers during sex. To some, the cleft in the foot was treated like a vagina (Splendid Slippers, A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition). Another part of eroticism was that women with bound feet were thought to be like well-pruned trees in that the weight of the body was being shifted to just one point of the foot, just as a pruned tree has limbs manipulated to attain the desired effect. The weight shift to just the heels was alleged to have had the effect of tightened vaginal muscles, along with muscular thighs and hips (Splendid Slippers 1997).

From San Tsun Gin Lian by Julie Wise.

At the foot binding museum we learned mothers used to sew sex instruction diagrams in the slippers their virginal daughters would wear to bed on their wedding nights.

And so to serendipity

Noun: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”.
That’s about having a brother who shares his life with a woman who

  • is smart enough to win a scholarship to study Chinese in China
  • can speak the language well enough to get us around vast areas of this mysterious country, in cabs, buses, trains,rickshaws, bikes, planes and on foot.
  • is nice enough to be enthusiastic about family visitors;

and together they have fantastic knowledge about China, so they can take you on the best tour ever. I think Johnno still retains every fact he’s ever read, so we don’t need guide books as we move around, we just need Jonathan and all his fascinating, fabulous facts, sense of fun and enthusiasm.

That’s serendipity.