I don’t normally write reviews. A couple of short paragraphs on some of the books that I have read perhaps, but that’s more of an overview for myself, rather than a full-blown review for others to read and make judgement on. I don’t profess to have the expertise to describe an item or location that will provide others information to enable them to make a decision, be that of financial nor time.
I have benefited of descriptions of this place when I searched for it on the internet, thus I am somewhat obliged to return the favor for any other person who finds themselves in the same situation that I was in.
What was supposed to be a decent 24 hours in Taipei had been reduced to mere 16 thanks to last minute changes in scheduling. I had a couple of things planned, but the itinerary had to be curtailed, taking into account that I would be in Taipei after suffering through a sleepless night of flying for eight hours. As part of my preparation for the time in Taipei, I had Googled places to get fountain pens, and this one shop stood out. I have had my sights on TWSBI pens, Taiwanese made and figured that this would be a good place to get them to add to my collection.
Taipei is well supported by an extensive mass transit system, and that was the option that I had planned for, with the information that I had obtained from the websites. While I was looking at the Google Maps application at the hotel, I realized that due to the connection between different train lines, it would take me the same amount of time to walk there as it would to take the train. Taking the cab would have been the quickest, but I did want to get some physical activity done after being sedentary in-flight. Plus, I had noticed that a little cardio during the day improved the quality of sleep that I get at night.
So off I went with the walking direction on my mobile phone and knapsack containing a bottle of water as Taipei was pretty warm that day. One of the previous website entries that I had read mentioned that the location on Google was not correct and that he had to call the shop to come and pick him up. Well, the location was definitely not as per the directions, but as the shop was marked clearly as ‘Pen Shop’ on Google Map.
The sign board was quite easy to see and it clearly left no doubt that one who is looking for the shop would have found what they were looking for. Though it looks quite ordinary, I was surprised to find that it was quite busy inside. For a Saturday afternoon at 5, there must have been around 15 people on the ground floor and another 8 at the basement level.
Quite a distinctive sign board. I also liked the logos to the left, which pretty much encapsulated all that they had to sell inside.
My presence was immediately noticed by Mr. Lee. Like many shop keepers, he had the uncanny sense that someone in his domain needed assistance. He came across and asked if he could be of assistance. I paused for a second as I was still taking a fill of the interior and sectioning the various cases to my internal brain plot. At last, a jumbled word ending with ‘TWSBI’ got him to direct me to a counter and place a few different models of the brand to try. He said to take my time and he will look in later. I inquired if he had inks in store and he pointed at the steps that led down to the basement section.
I decided that I should have a look downstairs first before getting caught up with the pens and I made my way downstairs. At the end of the steps, there was a landing with a shelf of notebooks, with the Midori Travel Book taking most of the top part. There were some other brands as well and a couple was busy thumbing through the sheets, testing out the quality.
There was a wall filled with inks, with the other 3 parts of the square room adjoining the stairs filled with display cases for more pens. I saw Cross pens displayed and remembered that I needed to get a converter for one of mine. The chap behind the counter got me one and painstaking ensured that I understood that the converter was only usable for Cross pens and no other brands. The communication process wasn’t difficult at all, just some points of confirmation to guarantee the right message gets through. I asked about Lamy converters and he said I needed to check upstairs where the Lamy display was. I surmise that they divide the store up to pen brand, ink and paper sections.
I came down to look for the Iroshizuku inks, hoping to add a couple more to my small collection. A quick currency conversion showed that I should wait a couple of weeks for my Japanese trip as it does not make too much sense to pay the premium asked. I did, however, pick up a Diamine ‘Purple Pazzazz’ for Dina who just loves anything and everything purple. The added gold ink with the purple is supposed to add the shimmer to the words on paper. They had an ‘Ink Book’ with the samples of all the inks they had for sale so that you can decide on which ones to get based on the outcome on paper.
Back upstairs, I went across the other displays, Pilots, Sailors, Faber-Castell, Lamy and a few of the more upmarket brands. Having completed my circuit I went back to the TWSBI counter and started to try the different models and nib sizes. Mr. Lee turned up with a cup of cold water and asked if I had everything that I needed. He directed one of his assistants to help me out and went back to playing host for the other customers. Spent a couple more minutes with the pens, made my decision and asked for a few Lamy converters for the kids Safari’s. I think they are now old enough to transfer across from the cartridge to the ink fill.
Having made my choice (I went with the Diamond 580 AL in green pastel).
As I was preparing to settle the bill, I noticed a sign that they were having a special deal on the Platinum 3776. I asked to have a try and was floored by the smoothness of the gold nib. The testing pad that was given to me had at most a few simple lines from those who were trying out the pens on display. I ended up filling out the whole page with gibberish on how I was enjoying the pen so much, the flex of the nib creating shades and variation in the words on paper. The shop assistant did warn that that demo pen had been used for a long time and as such had developed the flex, something that would not be so apparent on a brand-new item. I wasn’t planning to get anything other than the TWSBI, but in the end decided that the offer was too good to turn down for such a nice pen. Along with the special price, it also came with a pen case and a converter as well.
Paid the bill, had a little chat with Mr. Lee who gave me a memento in the shape of a metal bookmark in the shape of oversized nib with some Chinese characters etched. He said it was a famous Chinese saying about the belief in being fast and correct in every task that one does. I thanked him and the shop assistant for a wonderful 40 minutes and made my way back to the hotel.All in, it was a good visit, one which I hope to repeat in the future. As mentioned by others, Mr. Lee carries a good range of stock, very well versed with the products that he carries and perhaps his best quality is the ability to create an atmosphere that allows pen aficionados to browse thoroughly with little pressure to purchase.