Clean Shoes, Clean Feet

上海 Blog #23


Friday June 12th, 2015

Local Time: 21:57 Shanghai Time

ZhuJiaJiao is a little preserved water town about an hour outside of Shanghai by bus. The place has naturally been converted into a tourist destination, but it was virtually as uncrowded as you can get. We floated down the central canal and into the river in a little wooden passenger boat beautifully gratified with Chinese characters. Naturally, on the other side of the river were plenty of shops were prices could be bartered. To venture back where we had come from involved crossing a bridge from which many historical Buddhist residents would toss living seafood back in the sea to avoid its death by consumption. The belief was that the animals had likely been human beings in a previous life and they were to be pitied and spared.

The fun really began when we stumbled upon a shop owner who would take 20元 in exchange for a twenty minute foot soak in a tank containing little fish who would eat the dead skin off your feet. Naturally this was the type of hilariously odd experience none of us could pass up for $3USD, so the fish were well fed by us American tourists. I’m sure we created quite a spectacle with all our laughing and occasional screeching.

To make the situation even more ridiculous, an old woman ran into the shop and picked up Omer’s shoes. She was speaking rapidly in some dialect I wasn’t familiar with and started pantomiming scrubbing motions then held up five fingers indicating the cost of her services were five kuai. Omer, with feet still stuck in his fish tank, shakes his head rapidly holding his hands up and making the Chinese universal gesture for no. She was far too persistent though and eventually she was able to make off with the shoes and Omer’s ten yuan bill. We began joking that Omer had just paid the woman ten kuai to steal his shoes and that he’d have to tramp his way back to Shanghai barefoot.

But, much to Omer’s relief, the woman returned within five minutes with his tennis shoes shining. Next thing we know, she’s lunging for Deshawn’s shoes, which Deshawn snatches out of her hands and holds onto for dear life, feet still locked in fish tank. The woman started arguing in Mandarin pointing at Omer saying “他请客! 他请客!” I translated for the group.

“She says it’s Omer’s treat. I’m guessing it’s because he already paid ten in and you can have the remaining five kuai shoe shine.” Deshawn still wasn’t having it and would not let his precious sneakers go. Finally, it was too much and she was able to wrench them out of his hands and scuttle off with his poor Nike’s in tow. I decided to follow her, only to find her washing Deshawn’s tennis shoes in the heavily polluted canal water. We all rolled when I came back in and informed him. So much for a cleaning. Unfortunately, I was next on the woman’s hit list, though luckily I had already finished my fish pedicure which means my sneakers were on my feet, so I figured there was no way she was getting them. I told her repeatedly in Mandarin that I was most certainly not interested and did not need a shoe cleaning. Which wasn’t working and when Omer piped up and goes, “I’ll pay for you” I knew it was over. The lady got this big grin on her face a goes “oohhhh, 他请客,他请客!” then she starts pulling me by the arm out the door towards the canal. All of my friends are howling in laughter now with somebody shouting “she’s stealing Heather now, shoes and all.”

Thank goodness she didn’t decide to straight up dunk me in the river. Instead, she began scrubbing my shoes with them still on my feet. It tickled and Gbemi and I giggled through the whole thing.

The woman tailed our group the rest of the trip trying to convince the remaining dozen people to let her clean their shoes. Adam was so adamant about avoiding it, he sat down and dangled his shoes over the edge of the canal and told her if she wanted them, she’d have to come and get them. A live band composed of guitar, vocals and drum set began playing across the water way to wind down the evening. All in all, it was a fabulous Friday evening. And to make things even better, I finally found a tuna fish sandwich for dinner once returned to Shanghai.

Our boat captain
Our boat captain