Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cobbler's New Shoes

I was looking at my broken shoes and all I could think of were banks. It was not that buying a replacement triggered anxiety of punching the ATM machine. Nor did it mean remorse of the meager purchase. In my country, there are folks that we turn to when we are distressed by spoilt shoes. They hunch on their stools in a workshop made out of a picnic mat. There is always a rag laced on their laps which they use as work table. Beside them is a dusty briefcase equipped with the most complete set of tools and a loyal bottle of plain water. These are the street cobblers of Malaysia. You very often find them doing their shoe mending business most commonly at corridors of bank buildings and at the five-foot-ways. Thus, banks.
Street cobbling has been humbly present in the country since the 1940’s when people switched from clogs to modern footwear. This trade is inherited by apprenticeship from generation to generation. Sharing the same craftsmanship as Jimmy Choo’s, the more modest lot stays unnoticed in our busy lives.
At the luxury of the occasional air-condition when the bank doors slide open, they do a magnificent job at shoe mending. Throughout my shoe-wearing years, there is practically nothing that these guys cannot repair. At a very minimal cost, they can turn shreds into shoes that can last a couple more months if not years. My sports casuals were given extra life and durability after only a few magical stitches by the pak cik near Hong Kong bank in front of my school. Tar roads can take its toll on my selectively-picked high heels. But, I never had to throw them away too early knowing that they can be salvaged by these nimble fingers. Once, I even had my luggage bag fixed in only 20 minutes. The wait was facilitated with a stool to rest and a simple chat with the shoe master. Customers who want to get a repair on the spot are thoughtfully provided with slippers while the shoes are being worked on.  I was happily smiling home with a peace of mind that the cobbler’s handwork could hold my weighty bag in one piece for many more years.
With the perpetual hike of our cost of living, let me interest you with the habit of visiting the street cobblers. Every trip of mine is without the worry of the bill. Sometimes, it is as good as getting a brand new pair of shoes for the fee that you would tip the waiter with. With the advent of GST, there is nothing shameful about being a little excited by money saving.  When the increase of a bowl of noodles dawned upon us, it is no harm skimping a bit on feet fashion.
Like some people who cannot live without their favourite hairstylist or manicurist, I find myself incapable of disposing the street cobblers off my life. What would I do without these unsung heroes and a growing pile of wrecked shoes. This profession might just be the noblest of all professions we have known.  

A cobbler working magic on my shoes
Dec 2013