In Chinese villages, grandmothers run the show.  While parents work outside the home, often migrating to distant cities, grandparents keep watch over the farms and children.  It is the grandmothers who wear Chinese babies strapped to their backs, often working in fields, tending to animals and selling extras at local markets.  Amidst these daily chores, they make shoes.  

In Chinese villages, grandmothers run the show.  While parents work outside the home, often migrating to distant cities, grandparents keep watch over the farms and children.  It is the grandmothers who wear Chinese babies strapped to their backs, often working in fields, tending to animals and selling extras at local markets.  Amidst these daily chores, they make shoes.  

They hand stitch baby shoes, children's shoes and even adult shoes.  They sit, stand, walk and talk, all the while pulling needle and thread through one more stitch.  

They hand stitch baby shoes, children's shoes and even adult shoes.  They sit, stand, walk and talk, all the while pulling needle and thread through one more stitch.  

These handmade shoes take a Chinese village woman an entire day to make.  They often hand sew even the soles, stitching delicate patterns and colors onto the bottom of the shoes. The shoes are unique, depending on seasons, style and even tiny details.  One villager will choose a snap; another will choose a button.  

These handmade shoes take a Chinese village woman an entire day to make.  They often hand sew even the soles, stitching delicate patterns and colors onto the bottom of the shoes. The shoes are unique, depending on seasons, style and even tiny details.  One villager will choose a snap; another will choose a button.  

One Chinese grandmother told me, "I put nothing.  I leave it for the mother to decide where the shoe will close.  How can I know that?  Only a mother knows her child's foot."  Yet another grandmother said, "The fabric should be happy.  Babies need to be surrounded by happiness."

One Chinese grandmother told me, "I put nothing.  I leave it for the mother to decide where the shoe will close.  How can I know that?  Only a mother knows her child's foot."  Yet another grandmother said, "The fabric should be happy.  Babies need to be surrounded by happiness."

I love the shoes for so many reasons.  The shoes remind me that not everything we own has to come from a factory, even a Chinese item.  Especially a Chinese item.  

I love the shoes for so many reasons.  The shoes remind me that not everything we own has to come from a factory, even a Chinese item.  Especially a Chinese item.  

Made in China has become ubiquitous in the US, and we associate that label with factories, assembly lines and mass production.

Made in China has become ubiquitous in the US, and we associate that label with factories, assembly lines and mass production.

These shoes are the China I lived in during my two years in the Peace Corps.  They are the villagers I met, the ones who filled tubs of hot water for my morning grooming and fed me cold dumplings after a long afternoon nap.  

These shoes are the China I lived in during my two years in the Peace Corps.  They are the villagers I met, the ones who filled tubs of hot water for my morning grooming and fed me cold dumplings after a long afternoon nap.  

They are the slow, meandering days I spent walking with my students alongside rivers, through soybean fields and down country roads. Every country, every society, every person has more than one story.  These shoes remind me of that. 

They are the slow, meandering days I spent walking with my students alongside rivers, through soybean fields and down country roads. Every country, every society, every person has more than one story.  These shoes remind me of that.