The unusually squat-shaped mechanical pencil that rests in the forward compartment of my desk organizer is one of the few pleasures to be found in completing a lab packet, but only one of many delights I have from stationery shopping. Its pale shamrock-green grip, comfortable hold, and conveniently capped eraser lure me deeper into the rabbit hole of stationery shopping. My supply of stationery is more than enough to last me a lifetime, an assortment of adorable animal pens, colored ink ones, partially used notebooks, happy birthday pencils, pencil cases, mechanical pencils, washi tape, stickers, and a miscellany of pens received from events over the years. The relationship I share with my stationery has never wavered, a love born out of elementary school, China trips, and participation pencils received for minimal effort. But in all these moments, the stationery I’ve purchased and received plant stories and emotions, each tied to a particular pen, pencil, and paper and different from the next.
Nearly every summer, my family and I board the 13-hour flight headed to Beijing, China, and a few weeks of unending fun. Along with the joys of seeing our relatives and inhaling the familiar scents of city and food, shopping is something I look forward to—stationery shopping, specifically. Of all the relatives on my mom’s side, my aunt is my favorite (no hard feelings!). Each time we return to this busy city, she never fails to bring us to restaurants that cook with the best ingredients, tourist destinations, and enormous, brightly lit malls. Each day is like a treasure hunt, each new discovery never that far off. Last August, my aunt took us to five malls, some familiar, others newly constructed, each with exquisite restaurants, clothing brands like Nike and Adidas, and of course, stationery stores. The malls buzz with the same endless energy, a hum of giggling children, young couples, and stationery fanatics such as myself. Why would I be bubbling with such enthusiasm, when I could purchase the same adorable pens on Amazon from the comfort of my own home? Well, for one, there are the affordable prices assigned to each aesthetically pleasing pen, paper, and sticker pack. Forget about pricey Muji pens or expensive Faber-Castelle pencils! Here, where the selection of micron pens fills shelves, purchasing them in-store is no question, and the uniqueness and quality of each pen deserves applause. Unlike the happy birthday pencils teachers hand out with a plastered smile, the smooth, glossy mechanical pencils I select from these aisles give off an exuberant feel that tingles even after I dump my findings into a paper shopping bag. There’s a sense of satisfaction, pleasure, and relief, like each notebook is designed and personalized for me and the store manager knew I would be the one to choose it.
Sometimes, as I dive deeper in the stationery shopping journey, the electrifying sensation of picking up the perfect pen feels like it will last forever. But alas, as our days in China begin to count down, we pack our bags, stuff the goodies we’ve found, and take them home where I distribute them among my desk organizers and drawers. Like the squat-shaped mechanical pencil that rests on my desk, the rolls of washi tape, stickers, and pens I’ve brought home from China each remind me of the day I bought it, how I felt picking it up, and the excitement of hearing my mother say, “Let’s get that one.”
Sometimes, if I try hard enough, I can hear the music playing through the speakers, make out my aunt’s voice, and feel the tingles running through my fingertips once again.
Author: Hannah He
DeclarASIAN Blog Contributor