My thoughts exactly.
For the first two months of being here I didn’t understand the fascination or appeal. I recalled picking out school supplies at the beginning of the school year and being excited for school to start, but I would not have been ecstatic about getting a new pencil case for my birthday, especially at the age of thirteen. Also, at the age of thirteen, I wouldn’t have let losing my favorite pencil bum me out.
Here’s an actual conversation from Friday.
Me, “How are you?”
Student, “I’m bad.”
“I lost my favorite pencil.”
Me, perplexed and thinking maybe it was really fancy pencil but saying anyway, “Can’t you get a new pencil?”
How insensitive of me, I know.
Student shaking his head, “No, it’s my favorite pencil … It’s blue with penguins. We have a long history together …”
No. I did not start laughing.
Through his tone of voice and demeanor, he had actually convinced me that there could be nothing worse in the world. Luckily, about five minutes later, he found his favorite pencil, and there was much rejoicing. Oh, and it wasn’t fancy, it was a wooden pencil with a colored wrapping.
Another scenario, prior to me finding out part of the reason why Korean students love school supplies.
Me, “How are you?”
Student, “I’m Great!”
“I got a new pencil case. It’s very cute. It has Rilakkuma on it.”
These are not isolated incidences. In fact, often, students will write about getting a new white out pen for their birthday or giving a pencil case as a gift.
Monday I discovered the reason for this.
Previously, I had been inside a store that sells stationary, but I was distracted by the variety of socks and pillows or the plethora of cutsie barrettes with Hello Kitty and the like. I ignored the stationary section because I didn’t expect anything of it. I didn’t need any of it. It’s stationary for crying out loud.
Monday was different. I looked at the stationary. Not only did I look, I delved. I got excited. I wished for all these things when I was a kid. I wished I was going to school so I had an excuse to have these things. Monthly, weekly, daily, and hourly planners with the most adorable pictures that encourage students to keep track of their various academies, homework, and tests. Scented highlighters. Hello Kitty and Rilakkuma notebooks. Mechanical pencils which were so darn cute, I couldn’t help but touching them. Pencil cases of every shape and size with the most adorable characters on them.
Suddenly it hit me.
In the midst of near euphoria, it hit me.
For a teenager in Korea, life is school and school is life. Cute stationary encourages this. It assists students to overcome the stress level that builds from waking up early, going to school, going to academy, doing homework, studying for tests and having no time to be children and get in trouble. Cute stationary attempts to make up for the lack of sleep these children get and the pressure society puts on them to achieve. Cute stationary encourages them (and me) to be good consumers. Cute stationary, parents, and teachers, with the occasional reprieve of a PC bong (internet café for gamers) or sport, make up a Korean child’s life.
Korean students have an obsession with cute stationary, and so do I.