I’ve spent the last two years as a missionary on the island of Taiwan. I spent my nineteenth and twentieth birthdays there, and giving up two years of my life—especially at such a young age—was formative and often difficult. From my missionary experiences, I learned Chinese, I learned how to love people, and I learned how to find common ground among cultures and traditions that are unfamiliar. I brought home countless memories, but not many physical souvenirs other than a black Pilot Juice 0.38mm rollerball pen.
Taiwanese people really appreciate good stationery. Fine-tipped pens are especially needed in Taiwan because of the need for clarity when writing complicated Chinese characters. I had brought some pens from home, but they were frustrating to write characters with. Luckily, it’s common throughout Taiwan to find stationery stores with multiple floors of notebooks, markers, pens, pencils, and erasers. I found one of these stores in a town called Sanxia and scheduled a pocket of free time to find the perfect pen. Surrounded by piles of rubber bands, envelopes, and paper, I searched aisles upon aisles of pens and pencils of different colors and tips. I considered the Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38mm pen I had seen other missionaries using, but it seemed a little bit too scratchy against notebook paper. After wading through mountains of office supplies, I was drawn to the clean display of Pilot Juice pens. Finally, filled with hopeful anticipation, I settled on a classic black Pilot Juice.
It was a match made in heaven. The Pilot juice holds rich ink with an ultra-thin tip that rolls out smoothly in the perfect amount. The ink never pools, even when you hold the pen in one spot for too long. The small white sticker on the side, giving a product description incomplete Japanese, helps me remember the novelty of living in Taiwan. I like the thin barrel, sleek design, and its comfortable weight. From a practical standpoint, I appreciate that the Pilot
Juice pens are relatively cheap, making it a reasonable purchase for a missionary on a limited budget.
As much as I love this pen, there is still room for improvement. I feel like the pen’s quality could be improved. The clear plastic casing is easy to scratch and looks cloudy after a few weeks of use. Peeling off the sticker leaves a gluey residue, which creates a gummy film that coats your fingers. The rubber grip is easily worn down, prone to picking up dust, and often feels sticky, especially in the heat and humidity of Taiwan. However, these flaws are easy to overlook considering the low price point of 30 New Taiwanese dollars, or one US dollar.
My Pilot Juice pen has served me well. But, the reason I like this pen so much isn’t solely based on its usefulness, sleek design, or low cost. The pen represents something deeper for me. I carried it from the relaxed surfing town of Taitung, Taiwan to the hectic streets of downtown Taipei, and now that I’ve recently returned home, I use it in the quiet suburbs of Draper, Utah. It represents my life as a missionary. When I feel its weight in my hand, I can’t help but think of the countless times I used it to practice writing Chinese characters, to write notes which I left on the doorsteps of church members or other friends, to doodle in the margins of my journal late at night, or the times I spun it in my fingers to help me focus on complicated Chinese phrases.
Now that I am home, I still use it, but differently. I sketch rough drafts of art projects I’m working on, or hold it behind my ear while I’m typing on the computer. I write letters to old Taiwanese friends and tuck it in my hair to keep hair out of my face. While I’m sure it will continue to be a functional and reliable tool as I return to college studies, it will always be more than just a pen–it stores a cache of memories from my two years in Taiwan.