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Thong history flip-flop

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Siem Reap guesthouse owner and author Frederic Amat has made an astounding claim in his latest book that could well embroil him in a raging international dispute.

In the book, Expatriates’ Strange Lives in Cambodia, the French expat argues that Cambodia invented the humble flip-lop footwear, also known as thongs by Aussies, jandals by Kiwis, slippers in Hawaii and Myanmar, beach sandals in Japan, tsinelas in the Philippines, schlapfen in Austria, and slops in South Africa etc etc.

In his book, Amat makes references to expatriates who wear shorts and “tongs” and claims, “The world-famous tong plastic shoes were first designed by a Cambodian man by the name of Chip Tong. The factory that produced them in the 1960s was in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district.”

Figuring something was afoot, Insider immediately contacted Amat and asked whether by tongs he meant flip-lops or thongs?

He replied, “Yes it is this one, the famous flip flop as you named it in English.  The guy who invented the shoe, the one you described with the strap between the toe and the second one is mister Tong and we call this shoe in French La Tong.”

Sacre Blue!!! Does Amat have any idea of the quagmire he’s dipping his toes into?

The origins of the modern flip-flop are a hotly contested item, and Cambodia is not in the running. While it is understood the flip-flop as such goes back to ancient times, it is believed the modern flip-flop is a descendant of the Japanese wooden sandal, the zori.  But the big, bitter and divisive debate is about who developed the flip-flop into a mass-manufactured effrontery that now rules the world of anti-fashion.

Australian’s are adamant that the thong, as they call it, is their iconic contribution to the world, and Cameron Kippen, who writes about the psycho-social and psycho-sexual history of footwear, points out that Aussies think thongs are “As Australian as meat pies and pavlovas.”

But New Zealanders also claim the thong thing is theirs, except they call the footwear jandals.

New  Zealand website Biggie declared, “You might wonder who created the Jandal?  Ask that question in whatever country you happen to be in and they will tell you that it was probably the Australians.

After all, the Thong is an Australian icon promoted loudly by Kylie Minogue who rode one into the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games. But the truth be told, they are not Australian.

“[They] were actually first created by a Kiwi in New Zealand in the early 1930s. But that’s not entirely true either, in fact only the rubber versions so common in everyone’ wardrobes today were first created in New Zealand.”

But that may not be entirely true either.

In May 2006, AP reported that the Japanese developed the mass produced thong or flip flop or whatever.

AP reported, “The production of rubber-soled versions, which had begun in Kobe, Japan, in the 1930s, stoked Japan’s recovery after World War II, technology historian Edward Tenner wrote in his book Our Own Devices. Cutting and assembling them took so little capital, machinery and expertise – and they were in such demand – that many Japanese families and entrepreneurs got back on their feet making thongs. Mitsubishi, the Japanese conglomerate, bought out many of those businesses and became a big early exporter of thongs, according to Phillip Nutt, a Toronto-based shoe industry consultant.

“At one stage or another, assembling thongs became a backyard occupation for ‘hundreds of thousands of families in Asia and Africa’, according to Bata, who’s been in the business since the 1940s.”

Major Australian shoe company Dunlop Footwear, in its official history, noted in that in 1959, it brought in its first imports – 300,000 pairs of thongs.

But The History of Flip Flops credits the Americans with popularising the footwear, noting, “In America, the precursor to the modern flip flop really began to catch on, however, when soldiers returned from the Korean War in the 1950’s during the postwar 1950’s boom...

“As the footwear entered into American popular culture, it became redesigned and changed into the bright colors of Fifties design. As ‘pop culture,’ flip flops became defining examples of an informal lifestyle and came to represent the California lifestyle in general and surf culture in particular.”

Meanwhile, back in the Antipodes, New Zealand was rocked by a jandal scandal on New Years Day, 2009, immediately prior to the first National Jandal Day.

A Daily News headline thundered, “New claims rock jandal orthodoxy.”  The subsequent article announced, “The origin of the Kiwi jandal may be about to flip-flop.

“Auckland man Morris Yock is credited with inventing the famous footwear, but a Taranaki woman and her brother say the kudos should go to their father, John Cowie.”

The article said that Cowie was a Brit expat living in Hong Kong who later migrated to New Zealand.

While in Hong Kong, John Cowie began manufacturing the traditionally wooden Japanese sandal out of plastic, in the late 1940s.

Morris Yock imported the product to New Zealand from 1957, and in 1959 the Cowie family moved to New Zealand.

According to the article, Cowie’s daughter, Mary Deken, of Oakura, said the jandal definitely belonged to Kiwis, despite numerous attempts to claim it by ceaseless icon thieves Australia.

And now Frederic Amat is stepping in and making a claim on Cambodia’s behalf. Hopefully he can prove his case, or recant with dignity before he’s brought to heel.

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