Mrs. Xie is an old sidewalk shoemender who abandoned her village and migrated to the city, where she’s worked on the same street for 28 years. Her and her bicycle repairman husband live in poverty, sacrificing every fēn for their daughter to get her Master’s degree and their son to pursue his PhD, both at one of China’s top universities. Mrs. Xie has watched people for so long that she can tell all kinds of things about a person just from their shoes. For example:
The one’s in high heels are the most worth looking at. If they jab their heels into the ground as they walk, it’s because they don’t know how to wear them, or they’ve put them on for the first time. You don’t need to look at them to know that they’re sticking out their bums, which is really unattractive! You have to walk slowly in high heels — walking fast looks hideous. The higher the heels they’re wearing, the less willing they are to give way to other people — these are shoes that can only go forwards not backwards. The high-heeled slippers that are fashionable nowadays are really funny. The foot often slips out of them, and then the slipper is just looped over the foot, which makes it completely useless. Everyone knows that women have small, delicate feet, but with these high heels now, the toes are very pointed, not for putting your foot in. It makes the whole shoe look big, and a small woman striding along with a pair of big feet looks ridiculous! And something else: not a lot of women look after their feet. Sometimes you smell her perfume, what a lovely smell! But she walks past you and her feet are really ugly with yellow calluses at the back of the heels and the feet all wrinkly. If I look up, the face is bound to be plastered in thick make-up. Quite repulsive. I can’t bear to see that.