For 'Sole Man' In China, One Shoeless Step At A Time Englishman Arthur Jones lives in Shanghai and has embarked on a yearlong mission to live his life barefoot. He is one of a growing tribe of "barefooters" who have sworn off footwear, whatever the weather. Jones says despite the downsides, going barefoot makes "everyday life more exciting."
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For 'Sole Man' In China, One Shoeless Step At A Time

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For 'Sole Man' In China, One Shoeless Step At A Time

For 'Sole Man' In China, One Shoeless Step At A Time

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Now to a man in Shanghai who calls himself the Sole Man, as in S-O-L-E, and he's not selling fish. He's part of a group called the Barefooters, people around the world who have sworn off footwear whatever the weather.

NPR's Louisa Lim has his story.

LOUISA LIM: I'm now in a cafe in Shanghai, and I'm waiting here to meet a British man living in China who has made a very unusual, some might say eccentric decision to spend a year without wearing shoes.

Arthur Jones is just a couple of months into his barefoot mission. And I've decided to meet up with him to see how it's going.


LIM: Hi, Arthur. Can't help looking at your feet. They're surprisingly clean. I thought...

Mr. JONES: Wait until you see the bottom of them.

LIM: Ooh.

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

LIM: Yeah, that's filthy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIM: Ooh, that's filthy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIM: Why on Earth did you come up with this plan?

Mr. JONES: I've always liked being barefoot from being a kid, and I was looking for a project that was going to take about a year that I could turn into a film.

LIM: For me, I still find it difficult to see the attraction.

Mr. JONES: What it's turned into is actually something that's made everyday life more exciting. You know, it just opens your eyes. You're suddenly in touch with everything around. And it feels like you're kind of a little child discovering the world for the first time.

LIM: I hesitate to say this, but I think we should try a barefoot walk together.

Mr. JONES: Get your shoes off, I think is the answer.

LIM: Okay. So here we go. We're in the restaurant. I'm going to take off my shoes. And it's a nice, wooden parquet floor. I can do this. This is okay. But now...

Mr. JONES: This is good, isn't it?

LIM: This is good.

Mr. JONES: The wood feels good.

LIM: Now, I'm stepping onto the street, and I'm not quite sure this is so good.

(Soundbite of car horn)

LIM: I actually feel kind of naked without my shoes walking along the street.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JONES: Immediately, you walk outside and you look around, then you see that there's small kind of paving stones here. And we look out over the road and there's slightly coarse tarmac. And you take it all in a lot more. I mean, I suppose the downside is you could say you don't take anything else in. You just spend the entire time looking at the floor.

LIM: Everybody is now staring at us. I'm kind of feeling self-conscious. We're at a zebra crossing, so let's try and cross the road. Ooh, it feels quite different, this zebra crossing, doesn't it?

Mr. JONES: Yeah, it does. Yeah. And if this was the middle of the summer and it was a really, really hot day, you'd be jumping across the white stripes and avoiding the black, because the white stripes on a zebra crossing are significantly cooler than the tarmac of the road.

LIM: So how many times have you had blistered feet from the heat here?

Mr. JONES: Basically for about a month and a half, something like that.

(Soundbite of birds)

LIM: Now we've come into a little Shanghai park. And this park is unusual because it actually has a barefoot walking trail where sharp pebbles have been embedded in concrete, and you're meant to take your shoes off and walk over them.

Mr. JONES: The idea in Chinese medical theory is connected to reflexology, which is that there are certain pressure points in the bottom of the foot, which if you press them or stimulate them, they'll help to restore balance in the rest of the body.

LIM: Oh, it's really painful.

Mr. JONES: Well, it's definitely - you can definitely feel it, can you?

LIM: So, I mean, this whole ancient Chinese medical system, that it actually believes in pressure points on feet and barefoot walking, do you think that makes it easier to do this in China?

Mr. JONES: Certainly I find it in Shanghai that a lot of old people, when they see me walking barefoot, will say: Oh, look. He's doing it for his health.

LIM: After a year, will it be difficult to put shoes back on again?

Mr. JONES: I think it is going to be difficult. When you put your foot back into a shoe having been barefoot, it doesn't feel right anymore. If you can imagine somebody saying: Okay, from tomorrow, you're going to wear gloves every day, you could still do most of the things you do now if they were well-made gloves and - but it would just feel hot and it would feel wrong. And it would feel like a really strange way to experience the world.

So what I'm thinking is, at the end of this year, I'll put shoes on when I need to put shoes on, just like I put gloves on when my hands get cold.

LIM: Well, I have to say I've quite enjoyed our barefoot walk. But I don't know if I'm quite converted yet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIM: Arthur Jones, thank you very much.

Mr. JONES: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That was NPR's Louisa Lim in Shanghai.

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