Mr. Wong's Shoe Mart

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
The story of Mr. Wong, a Chinese immigrant that operated a shoe store at a busy street corner for decades in a southern Indian town.

Submitted: August 17, 2013

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Submitted: August 17, 2013



Mr. Wong’s Shoe Mart

Subba Rao


In India animal leather is considered unclean and unholy.  At the airports check point, travelers are asked to remove their belts and shoes for security reasons; at Hindu temples the devotees were asked to remove leather belts,  shoes  or any other leather objects before entering the shrine because leather is considered impure and unholy since most leather comes from  cows hide and  cow is sacred.  Though leather jackets, shoes, belts, bags, purses and other leather objects are purchased all the time, in Hindu culture people that make living in making or repairing leather shoes were at the bottom of hierarchical caste system, kind of untouchable in the sense people don’t want to touch them, a totally different meaning in the west where untouchable means somebody too powerful.

During communist takeover of China, few Chinese families escaped to India for asylum, one such family travelled all the way to a coastal southern Indian city to make living. Everybody called him Mr. Wrong; perhaps the local people have trouble pronouncing his real name Wong. For a Chinese he was very tall and sturdy. He was always in white under shirt with sleeves and a striped pajama pants. Mr. Wong operated a small shoe store right behind an unofficial bus stop; there was no standing structure as a shelter for people waiting for the buses, it was a busy street corner where the city buses stopped to pick up passengers. People waiting for the buses always gathered at the entrance to Mr. Wong’s shoe store. Mr. Wong didn’t like that; for every so often, he would come out of his store waving his hands in a funny way to disperse the people from the entrance to his store. People regrouped in front of his store for the bus anyway after few minutes. This was a regular scene and people were amused than get angry at his shenanigans.

Mr. Wong’s wife was short and chubby always in flowery pajamas like nursing staff in hospitals. Pedestrians walking past the store mistook her for a mannequin whenever she sat on a chair inside the glass showroom in the store front working steadily on shoes.

Mr. Wong won the hearts of the people for making quality shoes at discount prices. Though locals never consider touching or shake hand with native cobblers, they shook hand with Mr. Wong and some even hugged him for giving a bargain deal on shoes.  Mr. Wong though a cobbler is not an Indian and do not belong to low caste cobblers and that elevated his social standing in the society.

Mr. Wong’s four sons attended parochial school and learned the local language along with English. When his kids spoke in local language, people paid more attention to understand their unusual accent.  Mr. Wong’s eldest son worked with his parents in the shoe store, the second one opened a Chinese restaurant next to his father’s shoe store.  The dishes at his restaurant tasted more Indian than Chinese, even the sweet and sour chicken tasted more like a hot curry. Mr. Wong’s third son made sign boards and logos for businesses.  He was the smart one in the family; he used idioms in English in making up sign boards like “Cut the Ice,” for a therapist office, “Drink Like a Fish,” for a bar, “Every Dog Has His Day,” for a dog training school, and other saying like “Health is Wealth,” for a medical office, “No Pain, No Gain,” for a dental office, “You Push and We Deliver,” for a gynecologist office. He was known for making clever logos and sign boards for businesses.  

Mr. Wrong and his wife never showed their feelings; they never laughed or even smiled openly like their children. The only time they showed their feeling was when their last son was drowned at a local beach.  For the very first time people saw them crying. Mr. Wong invited Juggernaut’s family to attend his son’s wake before the funeral, Juggernaut’s father readily agreed to attend the funeral although he would never even consider attending any event let alone a funeral if he were to be invited by a native cobbler.

Juggernaut’s father took care of health needs of Wong’s family; in return for free medical care he supplied shoes for free to Juggernaut and other members in his family. For the wake, Wong family made real Chinese delicacies never tasted before by Juggernaut.

As decades went by Mr. Wong appeared frail came out once in a while on the side-walk still waving hand in his usual style to ask people to clear from the entrances to his son’s business places. People never paid any attention to his request and yet respected him for the quality of shoes sold at his store Wong’s Shoe Mart. Mr. Wong was only cobbler in town treated equal while the native cobblers were anguished under social injustice.

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