Mun Guey means stationery in Cantonese. I believe I sort of have an ancestral memory for all things written on paper.
My paternal grandfather traveled all around the world with his friends when he was in his twenties and thirties. He’s been to practically every country in Europe and Asia. He has brothers in Taiwan and Brazil. My grandma has boxes upon boxes of the postcards he would send back home, always written in Cantonese.
Stationery in East Asia is a whole other game and I have seen its increasing influence on Western culture.
I remember sticking out as a kid in my Texas and Arizona elementary schools. I always had a pencil bag with Japanese characters on it. My mom always got me a Hello Kitty backpack. My paper was colorful. I always had stickers to decorate my schoolwork. Even my stapler was sparkly and pink. It wasn’t until middle school, I wanted to be like everyone else and opted for a solid colored Jansport backpack, Mead notebooks and Crayola supplies from Target. My mom always took my sisters and I shopping for cute stationery. There was a Japanese stationery shop downtown that my mom always took us to on weekends, our little downtown outing, when we were still in school.
Washi tape is just becoming the new “it” crafting item and it’s been something that I’ve had at my house since childhood. My relatives all have mechanical pencils and ink pens that are specific down to the model and size of led they carried. Hello Kitty, decorated school supplies, mini-versions of things – all aspects which I associate with my Asian side and traveling in Asia – are all now getting mainstream here in the US. I’m glad I don’t have to fly back to Taiwan just to get skinny pens or save my money up to go to San Francisco’s Japantown just to pick up new rolls of Washi tape. I’ve seen entire stationery stores with Asian products in Austin, Portland, and San Jose.
I try to think about why East Asian cultures value
stationery so much, but I haven’t come near to understanding it. For
now, I’ll continue enjoying the small greeting card shops that have
popped up in the US as of late, and supporting independent printing
My grandfather that I never met in front of the grocery that he owned in Tucson, Arizona in the 70’s and 80’s.
My mom says my grandfather, her dad, always loved stationery and had always bought them notebooks as gifts. I never got to meet him but it’s a characteristic that I proudly find in my family history. She did the same for me and my sisters as kids. And I’m not the only one to retain this – my sisters hoard notebooks and cards as well.
Whether it’s photos or writing, families share a lot of precious written media between them. I love going through old photo albums, reading my mom’s iconic cursive script on a label next to each scene. Photos and paper share something timeless. It’s fun to go through them and even more rewarding to create new memories.