Traveling in Burma and Cambodia this July, I became aware of my feet. In these mostly-Buddhist countries, there is complicated etiquette surrounding feet, which are considered dirty or profane. And indeed, my feet spent some time being dirty, as I walked through dusty streets, into monsoon-storm puddles, over open sewers covered in broken concrete slabs, and across betel- spit-stained sidewalks. The prepositions attached to my feet’s journeys are many. After earning some blisters with my sandals on a long, rain-soaked morning when I first arrived in Yangon, I had to switch to old running shoes for a few days, and found lots of people staring at my feet. I stood out pretty well already, but sandal-less, I was a glaring, green-and-white-Asics-shod anomaly. When the streets filled with water after a downpour, I remembered the open sewers, the spit, the rotting remains of fruit I’d spotted on the previously dry ground. And also I remembered the sores inside my socks inside my shoes, now jumping over stretches of runoff, often unsuccessfully.
At the temples, one removes one’s shoes before entering, and the sound of footsteps is only the swish of bare feet along the concrete or marble or tile. Buddha’s feet and footprints, unlike mine, are sacred. With so many naked or almost naked feet around, I noticed myself foot-watching. These are some pictures where feet expressed perhaps as much as faces, just as my running shoes spoke for me—coddled outsider untrained in my own soles.