First Impressions, Stationery and Otherwise

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A new country, a new continent, a new hemisphere. It is now our second week in Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay, 34 degrees south. When we departed Montreal there was light snowfall, but upon arrival we had to pack away our winter coats and change into short sleeves. It is late summer here, with brilliantly clear skies, and upside-down constellations at night. The weather does seem to influence one’s first impressions: we find the city pleasant and the people friendly. The food is wonderful. I did have one disappointment, though. From looking at the map, I was expecting a sort of Mediterranean-style seaside town with sparkling blue waters, but it turns out that the body of water surrounding Montevideo is actually a river called Río de la Plata, which is an alarming shade of brown. Watching the muddy brown water swell and crash upon the beach can give you an eerie feeling, like you’re on Mars…

More importantly for this blog, I had to shop for my son’s school supplies the first week of our arrival here, so to my delight found myself in several stationery stores :) The biggest chain here seems to be Mosca, but because it is back-to-school season right now (the Uruguayan school year seems to start in March), there are stacks of notebooks and pencils available in ordinary supermarkets too. The selection here is very interesting. For starters, Faber-Castell is everywhere! Stores are literally swamped with FC products, manufactured in Brazil (colored pencils) and Peru (markers). They look familiar but not quite. FC’s great rival Staedtler is sadly missing except for the Tradition; however, Stabilo is a surprisingly strong presence here, with blister packs of Othello and Opera pencils and of course their highlighters. I don’t think I’ve seen this many Stabilo erasers up till now.

You’d think that, being so far away from Asia, there would be less Japanese products, but not exactly. Pentel is surprisingly visible. In fact, one of my first stationery shocks was seeing a Pentel ad on a city bus. I believe Korea outspends Uruguay on stationery items many times over, but we still don’t have ads for markers and mechanical pencils on public transportation! This may be a more enlightened continent than ours. Also, it looks like Stabilo has a back-to-school campaign going on with a car as a first-place prize, but I’m not 100% sure as my Spanish is currently nil. (I wish I could show pictures of this poster and other display stands, but here most big stores have security guards posted at the entrance and I didn’t want to attract any undue suspicion.) And I found Olfa cutters here! Bravo Olfa! Now I can get my own egg-yolk-yellow Olfa classic cutter that they didn’t have at the Kyobo Book Center in Seoul!

My son is using smaller notebooks with more pages here. I found the paper quality interesting too; it seems to be in general much thinner (60g/m2) and fluorescent white, compared to the slightly thicker and warmer-toned paper used for student notebooks at home. But I will have to try one myself before posting anything more. I hope I will have some time during the following weeks to sit down and scribble.

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Au Revoir Montréal, Hola Montevideo!

Our sojourn in Canada is at an end!  We are moving south to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, in February.  I don’t know anything about the country except what I have read up in Wikipedia, so don’t ask me, at least not yet. Apart from it being a dramatic change in ordinary life terms, I can’t begin to guess what it would mean stationery-wise.  I hope to bring news of the pencil situation from down below, after the necessary hiatus, where the water swirls counterclockwise and the Southern Cross illuminates the night sky…

Goodbye Québec and its Franco-Anglo drawl.  The awesome snowstorms. The even more awesome snowblowers. Windows iced over and frozen shut.  Children in colorful snow suits romping about in the snow.  Timbits.  Ice capps.  NorthFace.  The Canadian “eh?”.  Peaches in maple syrup jam from Première Moisson bakery.  The glorious summer.  And especially my hundred-year-old local library.  Thank you and goodbye.

My heart still leaps when I behold a postal van in the street…

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…and the famous snowblower in action :)

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Shocker

I belatedly went over the blog stat report WordPress sent me at the end of the year, and I see that, of the five most popular posts of 2015, not one is about pencils. Three are paper-related and two are fountain pen reviews. As Charlie Brown would have said: Good grief! Would you folks like something else instead? Resorting to some cedar and eraser green tea to revive myself… ;)

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Why Pencils?

A while ago WordPress informed me that this blog had survived a year. I’m not big on anniversaries – in this case more so because I really don’t understand how I ended up writing a pencil blog. As I’ve mentioned before, I came to stationery fandom through fountain pens, and this blog could just as easily have been about my search for a grail pen or ink, anything from vintage flex to Montblanc editions to complete Iroshizuku sets. But no, it had to be the humble pencil. And maybe this is a good time to indulge in one of those philosophical posts that inevitably come up in these kind of blogs sooner or later.

For me, the biggest appeal of a pencil is that it somehow feels more natural: a combination of wood, graphite, clay, and wax, instead of, for example, plastic, metal and colored water. It’s all about wood and earth, and it achieves even greater harmony when it comes into contact with paper, another woody element. They are uncomplicated and straightforward, and inexpensive to boot.

I find I like vintage pencils better than vintage pens. Old pencils are simple enough in their construction to yield clues about their identity, function and quality upon careful observation alone. Also, even with age the deterioration is often minimal: pencils decades old write like new straight out of the box. With vintage fountain pens, however, you are dealing with a number of technical issues that need to be addressed before they can be coaxed into service. If you’re not the kind who likes fiddling with stuff, vintage pens can be a headache. Pencils don’t need any maintenance, and they don’t have any parts that need to be replaced.

Also (I know this is crazy but I have to admit it), I prefer pencils because of the amount of lettering on them (in this aspect many modern pencils as well as fountain pens disappoint). In the past the sides of a pencil were wonderfully chock-full of letters that were, depending on the time and age, quaint, stately, elegant, playful, or boxy; I find that typography encapsulates the prevailing aesthetic of an era better than anything else. Pencil boxes tell a similar story, and I love observing the transition from realistic pictures to art-deco design to utilitarian stripes and sans-serif logos.

Lastly, pencils seem to do a better job of bringing together a curious brotherhood of fellow enthusiasts. Old pens survive because they are good at advertising their value, even to people who know nothing of them; people keep pens because they assume they are worth something (witness the dozens of pens in antique shops, their nibs beyond salvaging, sporting absurd price tags). But it’s so much harder for a pencil to survive in this world. It could so easily be used up, broken, chewed, lost, given or thrown away. If you’re holding a particularly old pencil in your hands, it’s probably because more often than not another person just as crazy as you thought that pencil worth preserving. Sometimes the very existence of a pencil can move you beyond words; its survival is a cause for celebration.

In the early days of this blog I tried out a number of styles, and I think I’ve gotten a bit better at putting posts together, and especially getting long, thin objects to fit into an oblong frame. This blog gets many more comments relative to the number of page views, and I am grateful for it, because that’s why I started this blog in the first place – not to show anything but to engage in conversation. Thank you everyone :)

Happy New Year!

Wishing everyone an excellent, amazing, and bountiful 2015!

여러분 새해 복 많이 받으세요^^ 어설프게 시작한 블로그인데 방문해 주셔서 감사하구요. 새해에는 여러분과 더 많이 교류하는 한 해가 되었으면 합니다.

필기구 블로그의 세계에 입문한 뒤로 많이 드는 생각인데요. 우리나라 사람들은 아는 것도 많고 관심도 다방면으로 많은데 댓글로 선뜻 의견을 나누는 것에 굉장히 신중한 것 같아요. 저도 예전에는 읽기만 하는 편이었는데, 아무리 오래된 블로그라 하더라도 하루아침에 없어지고 하는 걸 보니 있을 때 잘해야겠다는 생각이 들더라고요 ㅋ.ㅋ 누구 말마따나 물거나 해치지 않으니 (제 블로그 이외에도) 많이 참여하셔서, 공통의 관심사에 대해 이야기하는 즐거움을 만끽하셨으면 합니다. 한글 댓글 환영해요^^

그럼 자주 뵈어요!

The reason why I’m starting a blog is…

I am by nature a rather private person and I don’t like publishing things about myself.  I don’t do Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.

But I do have some hobbies that I like talking about with fellow enthusiasts.  So far, the online forum Penhood in Korea has served me very well, and I have to date around 2,700 posts on that site on subjects such as fountain pens, ink, paper, calligraphy, miscellaneous stationery items, and snapshots from life.  I have briefly served as one of the administrators there in the past, and I feel comfortable posting where I know most of the people and many people know me.

Unfortunately, Penhood (like most of the internet forums that exist in Korea) is a private forum where you have to register separately on the host service and apply to get in.  You cannot read posts if you are not registered as a member.  I appreciate this privacy but in recent months I have felt the need to communicate with people outside of the Penhood community, particularly on the subject of pencils.

So this blog is my effort to reach out to those fellow pencil enthusiasts from whose blogs I have benefited much in the past, to say thank you, ask questions and chat in general about graphite and clay and wax and wood.  If I could, as an Asian, introduce some new aspects of stationery appreciation to bloggers out there, I would be very happy :)

Welcome to this blog!

Sola