Pak Yoyok (Photo: Brilio.net/Retno Wulandari)

The man has decades years of experience as a shoemaker and, later when the factory he worked for closed up shop, a traveling repairman.

Retno Wulandari   06 January 2017 14:54

It was dark and cloudy Thursday afternoon, the rain about to pour. An old man, with a pole balanced on one of his shoulders, walked slowly through the alleyway. The gloomy weather didn't seem to concern him as he kept moving forward, two boxes hanging at each end of the pole.

As he walked past my house, I thought of the three pairs of shoes with broken soles on my rack. I knew I couldn't miss this rare opportunity; a traveling cobbler is hard to come by these days.

So there he was, Pak Yoyok, at my front yard with one of my husband’s shoes in his skillful hands, sewing up the sole with bare hands and making neat stitches. With a thick and hard sole to work with, the craftsmanship built over what he claims as 42 years on the job shone.

Curious, I decided to ask him few questions and we ended having talking about his job.

How long have you been repairing shoes? How did you start?

I started several years ago. I have a basic skill in shoe-making and remairing shoes from my time working at a shoe factory. I started (working there) around 1974, in a factory in Tangerang. I was only fifteen when they placed me in the production department. I helped in the shoe-making process as a pattern maker. You know, in the factory, each worker has his own role: pattern makers, fitters, cutters, sewers, and more. It usually takes five people or more to make a pair of shoes.

I thought shoes are made by machine. So they’re actually handmade?

Mostly handmade. The machines only help make several parts, but we had to put together the details and machines couldn’t do that. Most of the shoes, even if they are made in a factory, are actually handmade.

Why did you decide to leave the factory?

I didn't actually choose to leave the factory. The shoemaking industry enjoyed a glorious time when I started. Many well-known brands like Reebok, Adidas, and Nike made their shoes here in Indonesia. The factory I worked in produced Adidas shoes for many years. But then there was a monetary crisis resulting in a massive layoff. Some shoe factories in Tangerang, including mine, went bankrupt. I was let go from my job in 1998.

So you decided to be a traveling cobbler?

Yes. Life must go on and I have mouths to feed. I had several jobs before settling as a cobbler. I once worked as a porter in a traditional market, as a trader, and more. But then, I started to think that I needed to find a job that I can do very well, then a friend introduced me to this job. I also learned new skills such as sewing sloes. Anything to make a living for me and my family.

I saw you around here for several times. Do you and your family live here?

No, just me. I live in a rented room nearby, but my family lives in my hometown in Garut (West Java). I come home regularly to see them.

What’s the hardest part of being an traveling shoe repairman?

Well, people don't need to repair their shoes every day, so I need to have some alternative routes to reach new potential customers. Sometimes I have to walk further. With modern one-stop shoe repair shops emerging these days, our number (fellow traveling cobblers) is diminishing. But it’s important to always be grateful with all we’ve got.

In a day, how much did you get in average?

It’s uncertain. I used to get Rp 10,000 per pair, but sometimes I got fifteen thousand, or even twenty-five thousand. If I'm lucky enough to meet generous customers, I might get Rp 50.000 a pair. Sometimes people also ordered a sole with special shape or material and I get it for them. But there were also days when I went home empty-handed. However, I believe that every person has his own portion, so we shouldn’t complain and just be grateful.

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Jakarta Shoes
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