Time now to conclude this two-part post, about shopping for fountain pens while on holiday in China. For Part 1: Meeting the Heroes”, follow link here: Part 1 . (Update: a Part 3 epilogue was later added).
After Shantou, we sped by bullet train at over 200 Kmph, southwards down the coast to Shenzhen, a city on the border of China and Hong Kong. Taking a short walk along a bustling shopping street near our hotel, we came to a shopping mall and department store and popped in to have a browse. The supermarket had a stationery section, with pens and exercise books. There were few fountain pens to be seen, but I picked up one which looked unusual.
This was the Maped Reload. In a blister pack, it was not possible to handle the pen before purchase, but at around £2.00 in our money, it seemed worth a shot. The name “Reload” is a reference to the filling mechanism, whereby you slide back a chamber in the barrel, insert a standard international cartridge, plus a spare one, and slam it home again, like cocking a Winchester. The closest thing I had seen to one of these before, was a Bic Easy-Click child’s pen. However, the Maped Reload appeared to have several advantages over the Bic, in that (1) at around 138mm uncapped, it is a full size pen and does not need posting; (in fact you cannot post the cap as it simply will not fit on the barrel); (2) you get a stainless steel nib with tipping material, rather than a butterfly, folded nib tip; (3) there is room to carry a spare cartridge in the barrel; (4) you get a strong, metal pocket clip.
The pen has a snap-on cap and a rubberised grip section with three facets and is reasonably comfortable to hold. On the down side, the pen is very plasticky as you might expect at this price point. However, that was not my biggest complaint. What really turned me against the pen was the force required to pull off the cap. Holding the barrel with my thumbs at right-angles to the barrel, I found myself exerting an ever increasing amount of lateral force on my thumbs until eventually my joints almost gave way. Moral: look after your thumbs; keep them in line with the pen, not at right angles, when dealing with stiff caps or caps of untried stiffness!
Just as we were leaving the shopping centre, I spotted a pen shop on the ground floor. The signage advertised Parker, SJ Dupont and several other well-known brands although the stock in the glass display cabinets was for the most part, either Parker or local Chinese offerings. The prices of the Chinese fountain pens were very modest and furthermore, there was a 50% reduction on all marked prices.
The first to catch my eye, was a bright red and chrome pen, with stainless steel nib and brushed stainless steel section. This brand was called Picasso and featured a cubist face logo on the cap and nib and the Picasso signature etched in the section. A converter was included. Metal lacquered cap and barrel. Metal threads. A decent gift box and a colour booklet. The cost? 98 RMB reduced to 49 RMB, about £6.00. And it writes beautifully.
In this sudden flurry of holiday shopping activity, I picked out another Picasso, a slightly different and larger model but again, a stainless steel nib pen with metal lacquered cap and barrel and a good quality feel. This cost a little more and was called the Pimio.
I later read on the included booklet, that Picasso pens are produced by the Shanghai Pafuluo Stationery Co Ltd (web site http://www.sh-picasso.com, which is worth visiting).
The last of my pen purchases, perhaps the most unusual and the one which had caught my wife’s eye in the display, was burgundy with three bands of gold glitter running down the cap and barrel. The pocket clip was of both silver and gold colour, nicely introducing the bi-colour 18K gold plated stainless steel nib within. This was the SZ LEQI 700. No, I had not heard of it either. It is crying out for a shimmering ink!
I hit upon this shop shortly before closing time and the lady was pleased to sell me three fountain pens in as many minutes. As well as the gift boxes that the two Picassos came in, she gave me one of her empty 10 pen plastic trays with see through lid which proved ideal for transporting the eight old pens that I had been given by an uncle a few days earlier.
Back at the hotel I enjoyed dipping the new additions and then inked them up with Aurora Blue Black, the only ink that I had on the trip. All wrote very well.
However, this was where my fountain pen spree came to an end. In Guilin, our next destination, after two full days of sightseeing, I was laid low with Sciatica for the remainder of the trip. Thus, once back in Hong Kong, I was not able to go searching for the elusive Pilot Custom 823. However, being incapacitated cured me from any urge for further pen shopping. So if you ever need a remedy for too much pen-purchasing, there it is. Sciatica.
Guilin, incidentally, is the place to go to see steep limestone pinnacles. A few hours’ drive from the city, we visited the Longji terraced rice fields which are spectacular even though the colours are not the best in December. We saw women of the Yoa minority whose custom is to not cut their hair. Many had hair of over 2 metres long and I end with a few more pictures.