I am afraid I have missed it - my time to join in the slipper ceremony has come and gone ...
I went totally barefoot for 8 years - inside, outside, everywhere. We were living on a tiny sandy island in the Torres Strait (between Australia and Papua New Guinea) and everyone went barefoot everywhere except the cemetery - for some reason that was the only place on the island where there were incredible "double-gees", big three-spiked prickles; we would wear plastic thongs on our feet to funerals, and come home a couple of inches taller with the layers of prickles embedded into the soles of the thongs. The islanders said that to wear shoes was like wearing a mask, hiding your identity (which can be seen in your footprints). But we never saw anyone reading the footprints in the sand. The fact is, most of the sand was too soft to leave decent legible footprints and everyone knows you can't wear any kind of shoes in soft sand without the sand ending up uncomfortably inside your shoes.
Here in China no one, but no one, goes barefoot. Except maybe that totally naked beggar man I saw lying by the roadside near Zhengzhou on a very hot day. And when you enter a home you slip off your shoes and walk in your socks or else slip into some slippers to pad around in. If you check into a decent hotel they will provide you with paper-thin towelling-covered cardboard slippers - more expensive hotels make the cardboard sturdy enough so you can actually slide your foot in and feel that there is something on your foot. Some people even wear their slippers down the street - like for instance if there is no bathroom in their apartment and they are going to the public facilities in their pajamas with their towels over their shoulders. Apparently, once a woman discovers she is pregnant she is entitled to wear her pajamas everywhere she goes. In fact, if the husband feels that it is a shared experience he can wear his too and they can go out to lunch in a restaurant and let everyone know what they've been doing.
When we moved into our apartment in Wuxi we were pleased to find that we don't have carpet on the floor as carpet raises a whole lot of special difficulties with keeping it clean. And we decided we would do the right thing and slip our shoes off every time we came in the door. There were two pairs of plastic sandals provided in the apartment - they seem to come as part of the furniture - but I indulged myself with a pair of pink and blue fluffy slippers from a department store, and Peter still has a sturdy pair of hotel slippers (from the Crowne Plaza in Zhengzhou). Sometimes, though, we still forget and do the Australian habitual thing of splatting around barefoot or padding around in socks.
We were asked if we wanted a lady to come and clean our flat for us on a regular basis. My first reaction was 'no thanks' - having a cleaner at LongHu had been mildly traumatic and we had been most relieved when the college had to let her go due to a shortage of funds. I figured with a cute little apartment like this I could keep it sparkling clean, no worries. I found that I could get the floor all mopped and clean in about half an hour. And if you walked barefoot you could feel that silky cleanness under your little pink soles. But within an hour or so the floor once again had that dusty feel. So I gave in and said yes, we would like someone to clean our apartment.
The office, our workplace, is always sparkling. The lady that cleans it is quiet, unobtrusive and efficient. So when they said she was willing to clean our apartment for two hours, twice a week, I was delighted. We let her in, and then go out to work or shopping or just for a walk along the canal, and come back to an apartment that looks like the happy little elves have been here. Not that we leave anything untidy - we don't really have enough stuff to make a mess around the place (another nice thing about this lifestyle, we have left all our stuff behind). Having made all the surfaces sparkle and gleam, she then can't resist putting everything that is lying around in neat rows - the shoes and slippers, the things on the dressing-table - it's so sweet. She is thoroughly worth the money.
But, I digress. What ceremonies are there involving slippers, I hear you mutter. Well, I didn't know about them until recently - and then, as I said, I was too late to join in. I thought someone was selling slippers out on the lawn we can see from our kitchen. That wasn't so surprising, people here do stuff like that. Sometimes on the edge of the pavement in the most inconvenient spot - so everyone will notice of course - people will set out their wares just where everyone is trying to cross the road, and remarkably there are people who stop to haggle over a price and buy. So I was watching this man in the apartments spreading his slippers in the sunshine on the grass - there were more than 25 pairs, many of them identical. Then the next day the lady in the apartment opposite ours put her slippers out. I am sure there are only three people that live there, but she also had about 20 pairs, again many of them were identical.
Now it is raining, and has been raining for a couple of days. And I have missed my chance to show off my slippers. I don't have many to show, though. Maybe next year when I have bought pink-and-blue-fluffies markII and even III, and I could get Peter a few more pairs.