3/4/10: Paihia, New Zealand
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed this strange Kiwi phenomenon. It’s not terribly common, but it’s not uncommon either. It’s this: people go shoeless. And it’s not just in places where you might expect people to be shoeless – say, at a shoe store, where one, by necessity, has to be shoeless for a certain amount of time if one wants to actually try on shoes before one buys them, which I think I can safely say that most people do like to do. But here in New Zealand, you’ll see people walking shoeless around town, at the grocery store, down the street – and they’re not crazy hippies or anything like that. They seem like perfectly normal people, except that they have these inimical feelings toward covered feet.
After arriving in Paihia today, a cozy town by the Bay of Islands, I thought it would be a perfect time to do as the Romans, or this case, the Kiwis, do and go around barefoot for four days. I just really wanted to immerse myself in the local culture, you know? Ok, that’s not why. It’s really because we discovered that I had mistakenly left my flip flops in Auckland at our last hostel. “I thought you packed them!” “I assumed you packed them!” No matter. This is just like that time I left my sunglasses on the bus in Kuala Lumpur or that time I lost my wristlet in Hong Kong. By some magnetism or luck or combination of the two, my belongings always find their way back to me. So I wasn’t worried about getting my flip flops back, I was just a bit concerned about what I would do without them for four days in a beach town.
But then I thought – this would be the perfect time to try on the shoeless lifestyle. Would it be more comfortable? More breathable for the toes? More free and airy and in touch with nature? Maybe I would find going shoeless so pleasant that I would want to do it all the time. I could start a revolution in the States! Down with shoes!
We started the shoeless experiment with a trip to the grocery store. The grocery store, which was a 20-minute walk from our hostel. In hindsight – and I know you’re thinking exactly what I’m about to write, because you are a smarter person than I am – this was not the best idea I’ve ever had. The walk wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been on grass or mud or Jello or SOMETHING WHITE, like fluffy clouds or marshmallows or Cool Whip, but crossing the asphalt streets with the tiny bits of gravel everywhere and walking on the hot, gray, gravelly sidewalks for twenty minutes to the grocery store – well, it wasn’t too fun. By the time we got to the store, I felt like there were dozens of tiny rocks embedded in my heels (which there most likely were), digging deeper into my foot with every step. It was a huge relief to step onto the cool white tiles of the grocery store. I think my feet even sizzled when they first hit that floor. “They won’t kick me out, will they?” I nervously whispered to Kevin. “You know, like at home sometimes they won’t let you into places if you don’t have shoes on.” He just shook his head and sighed. “Why didn’t you just wear your shoes?” he asked me. A good and quite reasonable question. I ignored it and went off in search of some cheese.
We bought four full days worth of groceries, carefully accounting for all meals and snacks so that we wouldn’t have to go back to the store. Because shoes or no shoes, a 20-minute walk for groceries is a bit far. We left the store with several bags of groceries. I asked Kevin to push me back to the hostel in our grocery cart, but he declined to commit theft for the comfort of my feet. Or perhaps it was because he was afraid of looking ridiculous. Either way, it was quite ungentlemanly, if you ask me. So we made the long, 20-minute walk back to our hostel, Kevin strolling along happily a few feet in front of me in his flip flops, me stepping very carefully and gingerly behind him around the bits of rock and broken glass – shoeless still.
Picture of the Day: Silly puppy, plums are for humans!