Tsinelas - The unavoidable Fellow Travelers


Persons wearing slippers can often be seen. In western countries particularly the high-priced slippers have also come into fashion and figure as status symbol.

However, there is probably no other country showing such a quantity and variety in slippers, like the Philippines.  They belong to the standard inventory of the Philippines. Even the poorest have at least a pair of slippers at their disposal. If you visit a Philippine family with a lot of members, you will regularly recognize an armada of slippers with different size and coloration in front of the front door - barring the entrance. Sooner or later, a pair of slippers is also offered to the visitor.  We return to this point.

In sophisticated shoemaker’s language we speak about open toed sandals. Many countries know different names; partly they are protected by trade marks. The terms slippers or flip-flops are most popular. In Tagalog language the simpler variants are called "Tsinelas“, wealthier snobs and fashion fools of both sexes are presumably proud of their more expensive "Havainas". The name refers to the island of Hawaii and these sandals are mostly imported from Brazil. In the history of development from footcloths to stiletto-heeled shoes the sandals of the old Roman warriors could have been forerunners. However, there are also other historical interpretations. Let’s mention in this context that in the fairytale Cinderella used to wear glass slippers.

Tsinelas have a simple one, very open, heel free construction. The basic type shows a flexible sole which is connected to the foot by a hold strap at three points. The strap goes between the big toe and the next toe Y-shaped and around either side of the foot.

The price margin ranges from one to over three hundred dollars, i.e. if the slipper has fringes of gold threats. Material, colors and forms can be very different. The cheaper Tsinelas are mostly manufactured from rubber and plastics. Leather sandals should have a higher quality level. The slippers get a more „domestic touch" if the foot bed is made from bamboo stripes and the straps of Abaca hemp. Other applicable materials can be felt, terry toweling or velvet. Besides slippers with thin soles there are also slippers with thick ones or wedge. But only in few cases the thicker soles show an orthopaedically formed foot bed comparable to  Birkenstock-sandals.

The foot bed of the more expensive, branded slippers is often decoratively adorned for instance with floral designs. The hold straps can be broader or narrower. Sometimes they are adorned with sequins - little small plates made of metal or glass. The patriotic Pinoy can also select shoes with stripes in the national colors – red, blue and yellow. We do not know whether Imelda Marcos huge shoe collection included also exclusive haivanas. But we are sure that she would also come to the conclusion that i.e. diamonds at the foot straps could increase the erotic charm of (younger) ladies considerably.

Havainas are the latest trend in the elegant shoe fashion boutiques of Manila. The Brazilian company offers a lot of their over sixty product lines and two hundred colors also in the Philippines. Havainas are in principle also tsinelas, but they have a higher wear comfort, a longer stability and a more picturesque color variety. In this context the term tsinelas is avoided, it reminds too much to the impoverished lower classes of society. Havainas are highly stylized proprietary goods. The advertising emphasizes that also David Beckham or Gisela Bündchen are wearing haivanas in public. There are on the Philippine Internet chat rooms which are dedicated only to the discussion of new havainas models. Very keen enthusiasts are collecting havainas like stamps and they place advance orders for new models.

Tsinelas show certainly some practical advantages. It needs only seconds to slip in and out. Air comes onto the foot. They can easily pack in a bag. And the little boys love sometimes the clapping noise, they can cause. However, some of these boys might have bad memories with regard to tsinelas. Sometimes they are used as educational aid had and then our boys get perhaps a beating with them. And is there a more suitable method for killing cockroaches or flies as the tsinelas?

But there is also a negative view on tsinelas. Tsinelas give the foot only an inadequate support. They have regularly little damping of the feet and the cheap ones are not breathable. It could be that you twist yours ankle, sprain your foot or that you get a tendon inflammation. Since the foot is largely open you can also capture the whole street dirt. A young girl may be peeved when the neighbor in the Jeepney or in the LRT sees her foot decorated with insect bites. Sometimes the hairs of expatriates are standing on end, when their shuffle too much with their Tsinelas over the soil. Moreover, cheap slippers have only a short life expectancy of perhaps only one year. The sole gets a crack and the straps come off. Now you can visit a shoemaker for repair or you buy new slippers.

There are tsinelas only for in the house, such for streets or for office. Even construction workers – safety or not – can be seen working in tsinelas. Some conservative orthodox schools don’t allow their students to go to school with tsinelas. They don’t know that even the president Arroyo Macapagal has been seen with tsinelas at a Commonwealth conference. - The president is also promoting the local tsinelas production now and then. It is established particularly in the places of Liliw (Laguna province) and Gapan City. In these two places vast amounts of tsinelas are mostly made. Each year the inhabitants are celebrating a "Tsinelas Festival". Guests and tourist are always welcome on this occasion.

The author may be able to write to some extent correctly about Tsinelas; however, he made more grim experiences with Tsinelas. First a tita said “Try these ones - Bruce Lee is also wearing them”, but in a couple of hours the toe gap and the instep showed an inflammation. Bent over my sore feet, I began to speculate: Are European toes perhaps too next to each other and do they need – let us say - an Asian spreading distance?

Bur tsinelas can only cause an inflammation if they are found in the chaos of the other tsinelas. They should have unmistakable pennants. And very often you can find only one slipper. Either the children have played a trick on the "dear uncle" by hide-and-seeks or a dog has claimed his ownership.


© Wolfgang Bethge,2006


P.S. You want to make your own tsinelas in virtual realty? Then go to: http://tsinelas.eerie-silence.net and follow the instructions.