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The National Shoe of the Philippines

November 19, 2011

Everybody wears them. Designers come up with new styles. They fill entire stores devoted to them. They are everywhere. You may call them flip flops or shower shoes or even sandals. In many areas of the Philippines, they are called slippers or tsinelas. They are as ubiquitous as a 5 peso coin and come in every color, design, and price range. Everyone from the poorest slum kid to the wealthiest businessman wears them and I have come to hate them. First of all, what is the reason that everyone in the Philippines wears them? That answer is simple. They are cheap and people with very little disposable income have no money to blow on real shoes. Now if you look around, there are places where you will not see slippers. Most schools insist on uniforms and shoes are part of that uniform. The same goes for big stores in the malls. Slippers just don’t go with uniforms. Police officers wear heavy shoes and boots and government offices are usually slipper-free. In fact, the Bureau of Immigration has sent down an edict from the head office that clearly bans the wearing of slippers on foreigners who use the services of the Bureau. However, that rule is not enforced in many outlying field offices. Secondly, why have I taken a personal dislike for the lowly flip-flop? When I first set foot on Philippine territory, I was urged to dress native style. Since I already came from a region that is warmer and even more humid than the Philippines, that was easy. My mode of dress has always been shorts and a T-shirt, but I never wore flip-flops. For one week, I tried to wear what the natives wore. I tripped three times and fell on my face twice. Normally, I am quite sure footed and never trip when wearing shoes. I can’t even remember the last time that happened. Also, slippers offer no protection and I stubbed my toes several times on the uneven and broken sidewalks. I was told I should learn to walk all over again. I declined. Now, you may think that I stopped buying flip-flops. Not exactly. My wife, a Filipina has become the Imelda Marcos of the flip-flop world and when we go shopping together, she spends 30 minutes trying on the latest styles and never walks out of the store without a new pair… that I have paid for.

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