The Shoe Project


Shoe Story 124: How Comfortable Are They?

by Cordelia Tang

Story 115: How Comfortable Are They? 
by Cordelia Tang

Summary: My brown suede Oxfords with the surprising stiletto heel were my most comfortable work shoes. They helped me get through my crazy working days in China. When did they stop feeling comfortable? Was it when I began to suspect that work isn’t the most important thing in life? When I began to realize that I didn’t want to be a mother like my own?


Wearing my brown stilettos every day, I felt confident, energetic, and proud of the huge workload and responsibility. I was raised to believe that nothing was as important as your contribution to the Unit—not your family life, your child, not even your own health, because the Unit defines you. Unit is what the Chinese call the government-run business or organization you work for. Mine was a prestigious publishing house.

When I found out I was pregnant, I went to my boss’s office to give him early notice. I felt embarrassed, even guilty: in a few months, I would not be able to work as much or as efficiently. My boss was furious because my slowing down in producing new books might affect his annual revenue. He almost jumped at me, shouting, “You said you didn’t want any children!” I trotted back to my cubicle in my brown shoes. I felt extremely humiliated.

Nevertheless, I stayed with the Unit for another three years after I had Tiantian, my little boy.

Since I had Tiantian, my brown oxfords often found themselves tucked away in the shoebox. Heels were impossible when I wanted to play with Tiantian, or to kneel down and talk to him. I never gave up my ambition to have a successful career, but I also realized that becoming a good mother was equally important. Trying to be a good working mother, my life sped up. Sometimes only sneakers could help me catch up.

When Tiantian was two and a half, I had to send him to daycare. He cried on the first day and so did I. My mother didn’t understand; she believed that sending children to daycare as early as possible helps them adapt to living in a group. She sent me to daycare before I could walk properly. I remember we were seated on potties instead of chairs all day, so we would never wet our pants. My mother said playfully, “Imagine all those tiny kids sitting on potties! Isn’t that funny?” I never got the humour. I can’t even stand imagining the scene.

Thankfully I never had to experience residential daycare where kids are dropped off at 7 am on Monday and picked up Saturday afternoon.

Instead, I was sent to stay with my aunt from time to time. My sister lived with our aunt till she was seven. We weren’t the only kids who grew up apart from our parents. I didn’t see anything wrong with it until I became a mother myself, because I was raised to believe that if everybody does something, then it must be the right thing to do.

Tiantian stayed in daycare for less than a year because we decided to move to Canada. During those busy packing days, my mother and my mother-in-law kept asking the same question: “Why not leave Tiantian with us and pick him up after you settle down?” As if kids are luggage that you check in somewhere when you have work to do. Women of their generation were taught that 100% devotion to the Unit was the only way to show gratitude for equal rights. Education and job opportunities were what their own mothers could only dream about. I didn’t expect them to understand my resolution to make Tiantian my priority no matter what.

I left those brown stilettos in China. I had already learned to wear real comfortable flats, so that after work I didn’t collapse into a couch but had energy to play with my little boy. I learned to be a working mom, balancing career and family. Now that I have so many life choices,

I realize I had to sacrifice everything for the Unit. And I can’t believe I used to think these shoes were comfortable.


CORDELIA TANG came to Canada in 2011.  She had been working in the publishing industry, and now she’s a MA candidate at the University of Toronto.


Other Shoe Stories from Session 13, Toronto:

116: Teeny Toes

117: My Colourful Boots

118: Ballerina Shoes for Canada

119: To Abbu

120: My Leopard Shoes

121: Mismatched Shoes

122: My First Prayer

123: Ice Tracks

124: How Comfortable Are They?

125: Happy Campers

126: Submerged

127: Back-up Slippers

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