What Lasts Beyond Time?

In Hong Kong, the service industry is as vast as its roots are deep. For every chrome and leather barbershop chair in a four-star hotel, it’s cracked urethane cousin ducks under aluminum siding. The same goes for shoe maintenance. I prefer the latter.

The Central District is the perfect setting for such a trek. This is where business ticks along the subway’s rapid staccato, heels are best well-oiled and toes spit polished. And I immediately think of Pedder Street. It hosts a time capsule of commerce: a cobbler’s row of shining booths and repair concessions. Here, middle-aged women peddle a carousel of laces and insoles. Their gray haired counterparts, whose hunches are either genetic or developed over time, offer five-minute polishes for HKD50, tip included. But today, I’m here to see Mr. Wong, the oracle of Cobbler’s Row.

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I trusted him with my wedding shoes and every leather sole thereafter. On this occasion, I meet Mr. Wong with an aging pair of suede in need of new toe taps. Remembering my heritage, he greets me in my parents’ native Tagalog. His kiosk, like the others, is about half the size of your mall variety. Instead of cell phone plans or Dead Sea salt scrubs, his hub contains replacement heels, soles, and a vintage machine sander with a faded picture of him taped to it. “Fifteen years ago. I’m very old now.” I’d disagree: the same mustache, tank top, and glint in his eye remain. He’s happy to report that my shoes are ready, and he has even refinished the welt on the house. Such is what I’ve come to expect from Mr.Wong, who treats each shoe like he treats each customer.

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He believes that our shoes are extensions of us, and they need care and respect, like the generations-old machine in his graffitied booth on Cobbler’s Row. And that alone is worth the trip.

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Christopher Tuazon

Hong Kong Correspondent

Teacher, student, and believer in the lifelong learner. Also trying to find my place on the other side of the world I grew up in. I write to share stories and the lessons within them.