Our recent holiday in China saw us spending time in the cities of Shantou, Shenzhen and Guilin plus a brief stay in Hong Kong at each end. Shantou and Hong Kong are where our Chinese friends and relatives live, whilst Guilin was purely for sightseeing, in a spectacular region of strange limestone hills, ancient terraced rice fields and quiet rivers.
My pens chosen for this trip were the humble blue plastic Parker Reflex, filled with Aurora Blue and a red Conklin Mark Twain crescent filler, in which I had put a Jinhao nib. I judged it best to fly with the Conklin empty but carried a bottle of Aurora Blue Black ink, a recent favourite, to use when I got there. The box makes a handy pen cup.
I had rather hoped that there might be time to do a little pen shopping in Hong Kong and possibly track down a Pilot Custom 823 and had even noted down the address of a shop to look for. As it turned out, this did not happen, owing to unexpected events but I still managed to come home with a staggering seventeen additional fountain pens (old and new) that somehow attached themselves to me during our travels.
First, on arriving in Shantou some cousins presented me with a very smart, hefty, black lacquer and chrome fountain pen, a Hero 912. Hero is a long-established and well regarded pen manufacturer in China. This model has a bi-colour stainless steel nib, a push on cap and a Hero branded, slider-type converter similar to those made by Parker. Nib and feed were friction fit. I inked it up with the Aurora Blue Black and was very pleased with the result.
Also tucked into the box as an extra gift, was a brushed stainless steel pen, which looked at first glance to be a ball point but was also a fountain pen. There were swirly patterns on the barrel and cap and the words “Beijing 2008” and so this was presumably a souvenir from the Olympic games. The stainless steel nib had some scroll work and the word “CHINA” and an Aerometric style push bar filler. This one had been inked before and had a little corrosion at the end of the section. I took it apart and gave it a quick clean but found that the sac struggles to draw up ink. Still, an interesting specimen and I will enjoy tinkering with it.
It is customary to visit the older, senior relatives first and we arranged to visit my wife’s elderly uncle, whose flat was just a couple of blocks from our hotel in Shantou. He lives with his son and daughter in law and grand-daughter, a school student. In his younger days he had been fond of writing although his eye sight was now such that he had no further use for his pens. To my surprise, he gave me a bag of eight old fountain pens, assuring me that he did not need them any more, that no-one in the family would want them and that they would otherwise only be thrown out. I was thrilled at the prospect of giving them a new home and cleaning each of them and trying them out.
Uncle’s pens were all Chinese and included four with hooded nibs and steel caps, of the Hero 616 type and similar – being a Parker 51 Aerometric copy. He had one each in teal, burgundy, grey and black. Then there were a couple of brushed stainless steel pens and two laquered pens with the name “Jin Rong” and one which appears to have a fude nib. All eight pens had the Aerometric style push bar filler. I shall enjoy cleaning them up and seeing how they write.
I had an interesting chat to his grand-daughter, aged 17, who had studied English since the age of 10. Her bedroom in the modern flat was a marvel of storage space solutions, with hidden compartments under the floor, under the bed and under the bench seat in the window. School starts at 8.00am each day and they have nine subjects for homework.
During our few days in Shantou, we did visit a modern shopping mall, on three floors with a huge Walmart supermarket and car park occupying the basement levels. We browsed around, what were mostly clothes and shoe shops. I did not find any stationery shops. However, in Walmart, to my delight, there was an entire aisle of stationery – with writing materials on one side and notebooks on the other. There I saw some Lamy Safari-style pens (shall we say, Safari tributes or homages), plus some other models not available at home in England and at very low prices, all hanging up in blister packs.
Perhaps the most inviting of these was a Hero 975, in a metallic blue finish and gold. Displayed in a sealed pack but in its opened gift box within, the pen appeared to have a screw on cap which appealed to me. Add to basket. I leafed through the other models behind it on the peg. One pack had been sliced open and the pen removed, which was sad to see, given its modest price.
Also there was another Hero, the 2017. Again, I had not seen one before and it was notable for its very rich coloured laquered cap and barrel, (in blue or burgundy) and a hooded nib in a half metal section. At just a few pounds each, I took one in each colour. The blister pack also included a 15ml bottle of ink! I picked up a nice bound A5 notebook too.
I may review these in due course. For now, I should add that the Hero 975 does not have a screw cap and that what appear to be cap threads are just part of the design. The cap simply slides on over them. Still, it is quite a handsome pen.
As for the Hero 2017, with its hooded nib, this came with a converter and performed reasonably well. The finish is lovely. However, the bottle of ink that it came with turned out to be almost useless. Instead of the jet black that I had expected, it was a very weak wishy washy sepia and barely legible and I threw it away. I cannot believe that this is how it was intended to be and so it was perhaps just a faulty batch or past its best.
More China pen stories to follow in Part 2.