Travel footwear review: Terrasoles Tuckerman Canvas

It’s pretty obvious that a pair of shoes can make or break your trip. You rarely notice the impact that great shoes can have, but a bad decision will haunt you every time you take a step. If you walk a lot, as I do, the effects are magnified. So, I put the Terrasoles Tuckerman Canvas through hell. My five mile daily commute (roundtrip) is just the start of what I did to these shoes, as I put more than 500 miles on them in searing heat and pouring rain. And yes, as the Proclaimers would say, I’d walk 500 more. It’s rare that I find a pair of shoes that I like – and that can withstand what I do to them – and the Tuckermans are among the best I’ve worn.

A bit of context: a pair of shoes tends to last me only three or four months. By then, they are torn, frayed and sporting holes in the soles. I’ll try to squeeze an extra month, at which point it’s time to throw them out. I abuse footwear, and I was suspicious of the lightweight outdoor-oriented shoes from Terrasoles. Anything designed for heavy outdoor use – for the adventure travel guys – rarely holds up against the conditions of the urban jungle. Climbing and hiking are nothing compared to the effects of Manhattan pavement pounding. A pair of standard issue combat boots, the most enduring and reliable shoes I’ve ever owned, didn’t last half a year … and they were designed for war!

The Terrasoles Tuckermans performed as well as my other favorites – the product used by the U.S. Army – and at half a year, it’s time for a new pair. But, that comes with plenty of normal use on top of more than 500 miles of “commute” walking. With every step, they were light and comfortable, like a second pair of socks but with much more support. Initially concerned that I’d feel every pebble and crack in the sidewalk, I was pleasantly surprised by what turned out to be a pain-free experience. The soles provided a sufficient barrier between my feet and the ground.

The design is as flexible as the use of these shoes. They can be worn in any number of conditions – from urban to outdoor – and social settings. Simple and elegant, I routinely wore them to work and even with a suit (though I doubt normal people would do this).

The canvas Terrasoles Tuckermans are versatile and comfortable – and they will last. It doesn’t take long to break them in, so you’ll be comfortable from the start, wherever your travels take you.

A Canadian in Beijing: FOR SALE! Live Animals (Trapped) in Small Cages

Walking along the sidewalk here in Wudaokou in the late afternoon and evening is not a passive exercise. The sidewalk markets take a wide space and transform it into a narrow, colourful corridor as vendors roll out their ware on square pieces of fabric on both sides and then call for your attention as you pass. That doesn’t keep people off the sidewalks, of course, but instead draws more to this small area. As a result, congestion is intense and the going is slow. If you’re not headed anywhere in particular then it’s worth the stroll. (If you’re trying to get somewhere on time, I suggest walking along the street!)

I have been taking in these kinds of street markets all over the city since I arrived and I’ve noticed one common element: there are always small, live animals for sale.

I hate to see it. Small rabbits in cages that are just slightly larger than they are with barely enough room to turn their bodies around. There are always puppies and kittens, turtles, snakes and lizards of various sizes. All of them are miserably tucked into cages or plastic cubicles and lay taking in the afternoon heat in their cells.

I can’t free them and I can’t save them . . .

I feel helpless and powerless walking by. I wonder who actually buys them and why. Do the rabbits become pets or food? And the reptiles must simply become pets, right?!

The huge box of baby chicks would make a lot more sense to me if this were a rural area. I can understand people having farms or small lots on which they would raise chickens for eggs and/or meat. Now, if this were the intention for the chicks, then I can understand wanting to sell them and wanting to buy them. But, here in the city? What would a person do with a baby chick here? Is it legal to keep chickens here? Something tells me that it’s not, especially since almost everyone lives in an apartment.

I have seen a lot of things like this here, i.e. things about China that I don’t understand and don’t want to see but simply have to accept as being part of the way it is here. I know I have my cultural background that fuels my opinions and I know there’s so much more to everything than meets the eye. Still, life here in Beijing has occasionally challenged my values and beliefs. I have chosen to sit back and take in the culture rather than passing judgements before I understand.

Two months later (and then some) and I still don’t understand the reason for selling these small animals in this way. And, I still want to set them all free in a park somewhere… which is, of course, not the answer. Nor will any amount of discussion with a vendor change the fact that they’re being sold, especially not in my third language.

About a month ago, I expressed to a vendor in Chinese that I felt sorry for the animals. I said they were “poor things” and said that their “houses were too small” (lacking the word for “cage” in my vocabulary.) The vendor just laughed at me with a look that told me he has heard it before from the foreigners and he has no time or space for it. This is his livelihood. This is his job.

Who buys them?

My friend Sarah told me that she knew two people who had bought puppies or kittens from a street or sidewalk vendor only to watch them die just a few days later. There is a compulsion to want to give one – if even just one – a safe and cage-free life and many ex-pats succumb to that urge. Apparently, these puppies and kittens are often drugged so that they appear more docile and cute while being sold (rather than active and hard to contain.) If the dosage is too high at that time that they are drugged, it eventually kills them but long after the vendor and customer have exchanged money for merchandise. I haven’t heard this since, but I was horrified to hear it at all.

Back in North America, we have done lots of work to make pet stores more humane. There is often a lot of anger towards them and over time I have noticed that most people just don’t trust these stores to care for the pets properly, preferring to find new pets at the Humane Society or the local pound.

So, buying live animals on the street is just another level altogether.

Now, when I’m strolling through the sidewalk markets, I just steer around the animal vendors. I can’t bear to see the congestion of turtles or chicks in boxes too small for their volume. I can’t bear to look at the puppies lolling in their drugged state and worry about whether or not they’ll pull through into adulthood.

After driving my gaze deep into the vendors’ eyes and telepathically communicating “how could you?” alongside of an amazed expression, I turn my head.

This technique doesn’t make it go away, however. Maybe this post will inspire more people to ask the vendors the “why?” questions – especially those fluent enough in Chinese to carry on a conversation. Until then, I can write about it.

(And always be open to other suggestions…)

A Canadian in Beijing: Proud Love for the Pedestrian Overpass

Alright, I have been excited about these things since I got here and I’ve felt a bit like a dork about it. Okay, maybe more like an urban planning design geek or something (no offense to a very necessary modern profession!) and so I’ve decided that I’ve just got to put it out there. . . with pride. . . so here goes:

I love a good pedestrian overpass.

Both Beijing and Shanghai have some of the most impressive outdoor pedestrian walkways that I have ever seen. These elaborate bridges are designed for pedestrians only – no motorized vehicles – and they’re all over the city. When I was in Shanghai, I found them there too. Both cities also have pedestrian underpasses that stretch under streets and often connect to the subway system, but the overpasses are the most structurally impressive.

I would venture to say that they’re often architecturally beautiful.

While walking around Beijing, I sometimes feel like I’m part of a herd. We are herd animals after all (right, Brrassie? See comment on this blog) and I realize that these street crossings have been designed to corral us from one side to the other without upsetting the flow of traffic. I don’t mind. I’ve happily swept up into these archways. I’m willingly lured.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, street crossing is a rather “interesting” experience here in China. Precarious? Death-defying? Brave? Ridiculously Random? Any of those descriptors will do. Where there are no specific crossings, i.e. overpasses or underpasses for the pedestrians, the mayhem ensues. I quite like the chaos, personally, and I’ve become quite used to forging forward into traffic flanked by several other equally insane human beings. . .

But, I’m equally charmed by these overpasses.

They seem so grand and elaborate but are just designed for a simple pedestrian like me. When I walk across them, I feel like I’ve been swept into an architect’s urban vision lit up under drawing lights on a drafting table. That’s me in my dusty sneakers and cap leaving my footprints across the crisp white page. That’s also me waving from the top at no one in particular.

When I was a kid living in Burlington, Ontario, there used to be a big pedestrian overpass across the railway tracks that ran parallel to Fairview Road. I have no idea if it’s there now, but it was big and made of painted-green metal and looked like a giant dragon’s spine that zigzagged its diagonal ramp up into the sky, stretched across and zigzagged back down. It was on the north-side as we drove east towards (what was then) the only mall in Burlington, “The Burlington Mall.” I would position myself eagerly by the back window when we turned onto Fairview Road because I always looked forward to the glimpse of that crazy structure that stretched past my imagination. I would picture myself climbing up into it and crossing it like it to the other (mythical) side like it was a giant amusement park ride that required no tickets or coupons.

When I learned that one of my classmates walked across that pedestrian overpass everyday, I looked at her in amazement. “What’s it like?” I asked, with all of my stories about this incredible journey stretching my eyes wide with expectation. I was deflated when I heard her response: “what’s what like? It’s just a sidewalk!”

Bite your tongue.

These are not just sidewalks; they’re gateways to the other side. They are proud pathways that feel regal under my feet. They’re an adventure with every crossing.

Now, I know you’re thinking that I’m getting carried away here, but let’s look at this logically:

First of all, they save your life. There’s no sidestepping vehicles or speeding bicycles in the crossing of these streets. There’s no potential death, shall we say.

Second of all, they’re a moment of respite from the direct fumes and the deafening noise of the Beijing (and Shanghai) streets and so it’s a peaceful experience! I usually walk a little slower up there just to take it all in from a different angle.

And finally, you can linger at the top of these pathways to get a great view of the street and your destination, especially if you’re lost. Trust me, I have used these overpasses as great places to study my maps.

Sometimes these pedestrian overpasses have “dianti” (escalators) and sometimes these escalators are covered and sometimes they’re not. I have often wondered about how snow mixes with moving steps, but I’m happy to be writing this in the summertime!

These ones in Shanghai stretched into elaborate sidewalks in the sky. They reminded me of images of “The Jetsons” cartoons. I shot endless photos much to my fellow sightseer’s annoyance.

I have a fond respect for these structures, as you can tell. Today, I crossed the street just because one was there beckoning to me with its amazing spiral staircases on each end. I crossed over and then walked up a few blocks before realizing that I had to go back under the street again to catch the subway.

I didn’t care.

It was worth it.

Next time you go across one, wave at the street below and to no in particular.

Why not?