A few weeks ago I found myself in Sabak Bernam. With nothing much to do, I browsed the few shops that lined what appeared to be the main street. For no apparent reason, my gaze locked itself onto a row of very old and very cheap-looking fountain pens displayed in a wall cabinet of a quaint little stationery shop.
While I wouldn’t actually call myself a fountain pen connoisseur, I have been known to collect a few pens now and then. Instantly, I recognised the pens in the as Hero 329s: the first fountain pen most of us – at least, those of us whose parents weren’t made of money – used at school. Little did I know then that my 329 was actually a Shanghai-made copy of the venerable Parker 51.
Since I had acquired a genuine Parker 51 a couple of years ago for about RM650.00, I was curious how much the 329s in the cabinet cost – just for the sake of comparison. Much to my disbelief, the Hero 329s were selling for RM3.90 each: not that much more than they cost back in 1972! Naturally, I am now the proud owner of those 329s.
After using the 329 again for some time, I came to an embarrassing and humbling realisation: I had been using my fountain pens – all of them, from the Montblanc 149 to the Pelikan M200 – as props! In short, I valued them for their ‘bling-factor’ rather than the way they wrote. At the sub-conscious level, they were to me, more of status symbols rather than writing instruments. Two weeks ago – before using the 329 again – I would have drilled a hole in my own skull before I would admit to this.
The fact is, the humble Hero 329 actually writes better, and is less idiosyncratic than most of my high-end pens, even the Montblanc 149. Try getting your hands on a 329 and you’ll immediately see what I mean. The 329s writes like butter and will not leak like a strainer. It is almost counter-intuitive to think that something this cheap can be so good.
Obviously, to me, writing with the 329 is a pleasure that ranks just a few notches below having great sex. Maybe that’s because I wouldn’t know what great sex is like even if it bit me in the ass. Then again, maybe I am biased because the 329 takes me back to the days when I could still fit (painlessly) into a pair of jeans. Or maybe it’s because every time I use it, I hear Uji Rashid and Hail Amir singing softly in the distance.
Then again, maybe its just because the 329 is a darn good pen.
Humbling Lesson: Expensive things aren’t necessary better quality – they just had a bigger MARKETING budget.