In Korea, academia is big, and taken very seriously. Children will go to school until 2pm, and then ‘academies’ (학원) until the evening. Primary school children usually go home at 6-8pm, and then do their homework. High school kids will attend classes until 9-10pm, then stay in the library until midnight-2am or so. Compared to UK children, Korean kids get very little sleep due to their workload (maybe explaining their penchant for scoffing sugary snacks throughout the day) and spend much of their time studying.
It is inevitable, then, that the novelty stationary is massive in Korea. Ramyeon-shapped erasers, panda pencilcases and cartoon stickers jazz up children’s school time, and encourage them to be enthusiastic about learning. Maybe it’s as simple as putting a bit of fun into the classroom, but the children that I taught every day could not get enough of these items. When I ran class competitions, they would beg for the prize to be ‘a mechanical pencil’ or ‘bunny rabbit ball-pen’, and there were similar stories when writing letters to Father Christmas!
Although the UK does not quite share Korea’s strict emphasis on education, we are starting to fall in love with its funky stationary. I’m not ashamed to say that I use kitty-shaped post-its as I work, and a Miffy pen to write letters.
My Korean-language classmates (https://kimchisoul.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/art-k-pop-and-back-to-skool-londons-kcc/) and I occasionally meet for a study group. To keep us motivated, Di (a friend who is also like a second teacher) rewards us with stickers for good work. I used a similar sticker system myself when teaching, and now that I am the student, I completely understand why it was so successful. It sounds silly, but the stickers Di gives us are so adorable that I am willing to work hard for them!
For a huge selection and guarantee of ‘cute’, Artbox is a safe bet (https://kimchisoul.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/new-artbox-open-in-selfridges/). Over the last couple of years, more upmarket Paperchase has followed suit, and brought out a great range of quirky items that would not look out of place in a Korean stationary store. Recently, though, I discovered a new favourite tucked away.
Mr Panda is a very cheap, very cheerful alternative to the aforementioned shops. Its shelves are jam-packed with bright, useful goodies, including genuine character brands like Doraemon. It is not as organised or professional as the other establishments, and has a real market atmosphere, but I see this as a refreshingly good thing. Shop around a little, and you’ll find some real bargains. As far as I know, the prices here are unbeatable. I bought a very cute, full-sized backpack for £12 (similar ones are £25 in Artbox).
For anyone bored of their plain black biro, office notepad or old jam-jar pencil pot, I would highly recommend the bazaar that is Mr Panda. I look forward to my pricey Paperchase writing paper running out, so that I have the perfect excuse to seek out some more Mr Panda bits n bobs.
- Kimchi Soul ❤ Mr Panda @ 55-57 Charing Cross Rd, Chinatown Market, London UK-WC2H ONE, closest tube Leicester Square