Monday, January 8, 2018

5 Questions with Patrick Ng

Patrick Ng has been my Traveler's Notebook hero for the longest time. In my mind, Traveler’s Notebook is Patrick Ng, and Patrick Ng is Traveler’s Notebook. It’s almost impossible to think of TN without Patrick. It was through Patrick that I discovered the joys and functionality of the TN, and for years, I have followed his TN adventures through his blog Scription, and I have been a fan since 2009. I have followed him in his travels, and read and reread every single TN post, hack, and DIY that he published. I even made a faux TN using board paper as cover, patterned after his "Pozor" passport TN. (TN was not sold in the Philippines until 2011.) For a while, I used the Chronodex, Patrick’s GTD creation that fits a regular TN.

Through the years, I communicated with Patrick a few times though email. We have not met in person, and a visit to Hong Kong was not in my immediate travel plans. Fast forward to August 2017. In a conversation with Sharon Mae Santos of Scribe Writing Essentials, we thought of inviting Patrick to a TN Meet in Manila that was scheduled in September. I then mentioned the invitation to Patrick, and in a few days, his Manila TN journey became a mind-boggling reality!

In September, Patrick visited the country for the first grand Traveler's Notebook Meet in Manila. Patrick delivered his signature TN Talk, and shared his 12 years of TN journey to more than 100 TN users in attendance. At lunch, it was hard to believe but I was fortunate to be seated next to him! I was a little shy, but I asked him a few questions, five of which are published here.

How did your partnership with Traveler's Company start?

Patrick: When I picked up the job as a buyer in city’super/LOG-ON in 2003, I started to learn more about Midori’s products and people, trying to promote their new product ranges one after another. It is one of the most outgoing Japanese companies I’ve ever worked with and I was particularly impressed by their president’s determination to take the company to the next stage, which was to incorporate higher design philosophy into their brands and products, thus the name Designphil was created.

“Pozor,” Patrick’s Midori passport-sized Traveler’s Notebook.

In 2005, during a trade show in Japan, they were exhibiting in their booth dozens of ideas from designers. Each guest had three votes to cast on their favorite. Traveler’s Notebook was one of them, I casted two votes to it and eventually, it won second place in the campaign. The next year they shipped the products. I got one of the earliest samples to use and was being asked to give feedback to the team.

I was a die-hard Moleskine user back then, however as the company grew bigger and being acquired by different venture capitalists, I felt like losing touch with the brand and doubted their authenticity. While Traveler’s Notebook was selling in our stores, one interesting fact was that customers kept asking if they could buy the sample notebook on display, the leather covers were battered and scratched, yet somehow people would love to buy such samples instead of getting a new one. I did personal leather craft projects once in a while so I knew how people fell in love with something personal like TN. I gradually started using TN to replace my Moleskine and because of this, I asked the Japan team a lot of questions. 

Patrick with TN users during the Manila TN Meet in September 2017. 
During the Meet at SM Aura, Manila broke the record for most TNs in a meet with 114 TNs!!!

What was the concept behind it? Who actually proposed the idea? How did they expect customers to use it? Things like that. Sooner or later, I became a person knowing a little bit more here and there, the team also accepted my opinion both as stationery buyer and user. I created campaigns called “Travel Photo Cafe” to mix product categories such as leather craft, photography, biking, vintage decorations, and others for store display. I also created workshops inviting “travelers” who had different experiences from their professions to share with other users. So over the past 10 years, all these little efforts evolved into today’s Facebook user group, gatherings, and special editions.

That’s how I got close to both customers and the design team, the authenticity is impeccable and I enjoy so much being part of the collective minds to influence the next campaigns.

What does it take to be a TN ambassador?

Patrick: There is no such thing, officially. I guess it was because of my outgoing nature on social media, I was giving out tips and creative ideas quite often and that’s how people recognize me as “the” Patrick Ng, who’s somehow related to TN but never quite know who I am. Honestly, as the user community is now pretty global, the TRC team is probably observing if there are other users they can connect to in various countries/cities. Maybe one day the network of ambassadors will come true.

Left: Patrick giving his signature TN journey talk.
Right: Patrick’s luggage that has toured the world with him.

How many TNs do you own and how many do you actually use?

Patrick: I guess I have 16-20 TNs, regular and passport size included. I don’t like to own but not using them, so I use them alternately, my favorites are regular size Camel, Olive, Blue, and the original Brown. I would change the cover every few months and have fun color coordinate my tools around the chosen one. Sometimes by doing so, inspirations come, that’s why you would see me posting new customization ideas once in a while. I don’t use passport size at all. Some of the TNs I own were gifts from artists who did something to the notebooks, while special editions like Tokyo Station I do try to collect but as I say I would use them instead of just for collection. My recent adventure was to paint my unused brown notebook with white silk screen printing ink and let it scratch to reveal the brown beneath as I continue to use. I love the effect and have been pairing it with white pen, white tag, etc. I’m still looking for a lovely white charm and thinking of how to make a white pen loop. See, that’s a lot of fun!

Some of Patrick’s TNs that he brought with him to Manila. Also in the photo are two Manual Factory bears -- a first generation and a more recent one.

Patrick’s brown TN that he painted white.

Why did the Traveler's Company shift from Midori to Traveler's Notebook?

Patrick: Designphil is the mothership, they have corporate services, distribution business and stationery business. Midori name is that stationery business. Traveler’s Notebook was a stationery product range only and it was under Midori. As the brand grew, with their own retail shop, sales channels, and overseas projects, it was decided that they should spin off this brand in order to give it freedom to grow instead of using the existing Midori infrastructure. So this individual company is now called Traveler’s Company. As much as having their own freedom, there are numerous challenges ahead for this spin-off.

Two leather TN covers, the black is from the Midori period while the blue sports the new branding.

What's next (future plans) for Traveler's Notebook?

Patrick: I guess connecting the global community is already challenging enough. I believe they will continue to release interesting editions, through these projects the TRC team gets to know each country/city more in order to determine what can be tailored for those countries/cities.

(Below are Traveler's Company Caravans and limited edition notebooks. Details about these events and notebooks are available in the Traveler's Company website.)

Traveler’s Company Caravan was held in Taiwan’s Eslite Bookstore in April to May 2016.
Details available here.

The Hong Kong caravan was held at LOG-ON Festival Walk on July to August 2016.
Details available here.

In April 2017, the Traveler’s Notebook Olive Edition was launched. It was the second limited edition color after the blue was launched in 2015, and an additional fifth color to black, brown, camel, and blue. 

A collaboration with Hong Kong lifestyle store LOG-ON, a Mister Softee collection was launched in July 2017.

The most recent collaboration with Ace Hotel and Traveler’s Company Caravan was in the US in November to December 2017. Events were held in Ace Hotels in Los Angeles and New York. 

Patrick Ng is a blogger and the world’s top TN ambassador. He is also the Concepts and Merchandising Manager at LOG-ON in city’super, a chain of lifestyle stores in Hong Kong. To see his TN customizations and hacks, visit his blog Scription, or follow him on Instagram (@patrickng) and Facebook (Scription). 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Fountain Pen Review: 2017 Special Edition Lamy Safari Petrol

After surprising fans last year with a matte purple pen, Lamy launched another matte-finished Safari in 2017. Done with the batch of flashy green neon pens, Lamy makes up with two consecutive matte-finished, black-trimmed pens: Dark Lilac and Petrol.

Lamy's Special Edition Safari pen for 2017 is called Petrol. I have a fountain pen, but the Petrol Safari collection also includes a rollerball and a ballpoint. Petrol is not a 'limited edition' pen like the previous ones, but a 'special edition' Safari. I received the Petrol fountain pen and its matching ink in this review at no cost from Lamy's authorized and exclusive distributor in the Philippines, Times Trading Company.

Petrol Safari fountain pen in box. 
Times Trading, through its sellers in the Philippines, includes a T10 ink cartridge
and a Lamy Z28 converter for every purchase of the Petrol Safari.

Lamy released the Petrol Safari fountain pen in a packaging similar to that of the 2014 Neon Coral and 2016 Dark Lilac. Instead of the old, bulky plastic pen box, Lamy now uses laminated cardboard boxes with the year's color theme for their special and limited edition pens. The laminated pen box is enclosed in a sleeve of simple white board.

Many waited for the Petrol Safari's release after its announcement in December 2016. Similar to the Dark Lilac, the 2017 special edition pen is not glossy and bright (read: neon). Instead, the Petrol has a muted and subdued deep teal color in a matte finish. After the 2016 Dark Lilac, Lamy brought back the combination black clip/black nib used in the early edition Safari pens. The combination looks better on the Petrol, instead of the shiny chrome clip and nib.

The Lamy Safari is a student pen, called 'starter pen' by fountain pen enthusiasts. The Petrol Safari with its matte finish is still made from the sturdy ABS plastic – the same material used in Lego blocks, keyboard keycaps, inner walls of refrigerators, and the filament commonly used in 3D printers. Designed by Wolfgang Fabian, the first Safari pen was presented during the 1980 Frankfurt exhibition (read more in Lamy's Company History) and has been in Lamy's regular production since then. Despite some fountain pen enthusiasts' low regard for this plastic pen, a number of fans around the world collect the Safari and its aluminum cousin, Lamy Al-star.

The Petrol Safari's parts are: barrel, section (grip + feed + nib), converter, and cap. The Z28 converter (new version of the Z24) was included in the box, together with a T10 cartridge in blue. Safari fountain pens measure 5.5 inches when capped, 5 inches without the cap, and 6.5 inches if the cap is posted. It's a lightweight pen and can be used for extended periods of writing. The cap with the oversized clip is 2.5 inches long, the length from the nib to converter is 4.6 inches, while the barrel measures about 3 inches.

Lamy's proprietary piston operated Z28 converters are used to fill the Safari fountain pen with ink from a bottle, but T10 Giant Ink cartridges are also available.

Petrol shares the same finial (top cap button) with those of previous limited edition Safaris: Lime Green (2008), Neon (2013), Neon Coral (2014), Neon Lime (2015), and Dark Lilac (2016). In their previous limited edition pens, Lamy used different finial styles such as the button-type for 2009's Creme Gelb and Pink limited edition pens, and the cross-type finial in the same body color used in Aquamarine (2011) and Green (2012). Below is a photo of different Safari finials from my review of the 2015 Neon Lime.

Safari fountain pen finials. 
Lamy issued different finials for the limited and special edition Safari fountain pens.
Lamy's triangular grip. 
It's a helpful feature for beginners, but some people find it uncomfortable.

Some people do not like the Safari's triangular grip, saying it is uncomfortable and annoying. This feature, however, is designed to make writing easier — it is meant as a guide for users to have a firm and secure grip on the pen. An anti-slipping brake near the end of the section prevents a user’s fingers from slipping into the nib while writing. I do not find the triangular grip uncomfortable at all. I actually do not notice it when I'm using my Safari pens.

Lamy's interchangeable nibs are very useful. A Safari fountain pen uses the same feed and nib as those on the Vista, Al-Star, Joy, Nexx, and Studio. Due to the color difference, my nib options for the Petrol is limited only to a broad nib from an older Safari. For calligraphy, I used a 1.5 nib on it, but the color difference bothers me. But that's just me. Any Lamy nib for the Safari, chrome or otherwise, will fit the Petrol.

Safari fountain pens bought in the Philippines have medium nibs, but other nib sizes are available: extra-fine, fine, broad, and left-handed. The Safari can also be fitted with an italic nib ranging from 1.1mm to 1.9mm.

Lamy Safari through the years. 
Limited and special edition Safari fountain pens from 2008 Lime (topmost) to the 2017 Petrol (bottom).
Safari fountain pens in matte finish: Umbra, Dark Lilac, and Petrol. 
The first Safari, Savannagr√ľn, and the Terracot and Griso pens that followed all had a matte finish.
Fans are waiting for Lamy to reissue these pens.

When Times Trading sent the Petrol Safari pen to me, they kindly included a bottle of Petrol ink, a matching ink color for the 2017 special edition fountain pen.

The 50ml Petrol ink is in a Lamy T52 bottle that comes with a roll of blotter that can be used to clean a pen after filling or to blot writing. The bottle has a small basin at the bottom, to allow filling when the ink level is low.

Lamy offers special edition inks together with their special edition pens beginning with the 2014 Neon Coral Safari. I love blue inks, and the 2017 special edition Petrol, a perfect color match to the Safari pen, is an excellent addition to my growing collection of blue inks. Petrol has a deep blue-green teal color with red sheen. It has medium shading that is easily seen when used in a wide nib such as the 1.5 italic nib I used in my calligraphy doodles (photos towards the end of the review). Petrol is a highly saturated ink, but flows smoothly and is not too difficult to clean off the converter and pen.

Petrol's deep color makes it suitable for daily note taking, or for business purposes. It is sold in 50ml bottles, but ink cartridges are also available.

Petrol ink writing sample.
A dark blue-green teal ink with medium shading and red sheen, Petrol can be used daily for business.
Petrol ink swab.
A single pass of Petrol shows the depth of this dark teal ink. 
Petrol ink swab.
Twice swabbed, Petrol is dark and deep, and the sheen is now visible.
Petrol has sheen!

Below are photos of calligraphy doodles I wrote using the Petrol fountain pen/ink combination. I swapped the medium nib of my pen to a 1.5 italic to write these. Both photos are posted on my Instagram page,

Similar to the Dark Lilac, Petrol's unique color makes it a stand out -- the deep teal changes with the light, or its background. It can look very dark in soft light or bright background, but changes to a lighter blue green against a dark background. It's a different Lamy Safari, and another one to add on to my Lamy Safari collection.

If you want to get a Petrol Safari, you better get one now. It's almost sold out, and to date, Lamy will not be making this special edition pen and ink combination anymore. Go get yourself a Petrol pen and ink now!

Lamy Safari pens are widely available from pen sellers worldwide. For a global search of Lamy retailers, visit:

In the Philippines, the Petrol Safari (and other Lamy products) is made available by Times Trading Company, through branches of National Bookstore and Scribe Writing Essentials.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Fountain Pen Review: BENU Classic Ghost White Silver

Since 2008, I have reviewed a number of fountain pens from Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and the United States. I have also reviewed pen-related products from Australia, China, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Now, for the first time in Rants of the Archer, I am honored to write the first-ever review of BENU Pens' Classic fountain pen, an emerging and promising pen brand from Russia.

I came across BENU Pens in October last year, a few months after the Moscow-based brand was launched. I was impressed by their wide selection of vibrant pen colors and material textures. I saw colorful, shiny, and pearlescent pen barrels, some of which have gold and silver inserts. In March, I was surprised to be discussing pen reviews with one of BENU's founders, Kate Dmitrieva, who let me choose three pens to review at Rants of the Archer.

Fountain pens from BENU's Classic Collection: Turquoise Blue Silver, Midsummer Bronze, and Ghost White Silver.

One of the pens I chose was a white pen, and Kate sent me the Ghost White fountain pen in silver trims. It was love at first sight. The Ghost White fountain pen is elegant, sophisticated, and classic. I am excited to review this beautiful and unique pen, but before that, here is a short glimpse into my fascination with Russia.

I have always loved reading even as a young elementary pupil, and my fascination with the country began with reading books, and looking through an old, tattered world map in our school's small library. Russia's vastness mesmerized the 10-year-old me, and I believe Robert K. Massie's words summarized my fascination: "So immense were the Tsar's dominions that, as night began to fall along their western borders, day already was breaking on their Pacific coast."

It was a book which I salvaged from a trash can near my high school that truly stirred my interest in Russia. Frederick Forsyth's The Devil's Alternative was both entertainment and education, and I was left craving for more. That led me to Ludlum and Clancy. In college, I hang around with the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov for several semesters while I studied classical conditioning. But it was Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov that eventually took me to St. Petersburg.

Snippets from Fyodor Dostoevsky's novels.

Recently, a friend tagged me along when he joined the postcard exchange program The postcard exchange took me on a virtual tour of Russia. I saw churches: The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, St. Basil's Cathedral, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior; and monasteries: Novodevitchiy Monastery and Kurskaya Korennaya Pustyn. I also saw the State Historical Museum, the Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge across the Neva River, and the Moscow Kremlin.

From Russia with love: postcards and fountain pen.

I read and learned about Russia through literature and postcards, but my conversations with Kate and the pens that she sent brought me closer to the country. And to Pavlov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov.

BENU Pens is a young pen company launched in early 2016 by co-founders Alex Semanin and Kate Dmitrieva with one goal in mind: to make writing instruments and desk accessories for those who prefer bright colors and new designs that are playful, stylish, and fun.

Alex and Kate previously worked together in Russia's fine watch industry. Alex was the Chief Designer and Director of Product Development and Innovation at the Nika Group Company, where he helped launch several collections of gold and silver writing instruments, accessories, and watches. When Alex decided to create his own line of writing instruments, Kate decided to join him, bringing in her experience as the General Manager of Konstantin Chaykin, a daughter company of the Nika Group.

BENU Ghost White fountain pen inside the box.

BENU fountain pens are presented in elegant gray cardboard boxes that are lined with thin and long shreds of paper. Inside the box, the pen is wrapped in kraft paper and secured by jute twine. Printed on one side of the kraft paper is a brief description of BENU Pens, and product care for their pens.

The pens have uniform shape and size, all handcrafted and made in-house in the company's own Moscow-based workshop. The pen in this review is a fountain pen, but it is also offered as a ballpoint.

The company currently offers three collections of fountain pens and ballpoints:
  1. The Classic Collection includes fountain pens and ballpoints in over 30 color combinations. Most pens in the Classic collection have pearlescent or aventurescent effects and various inserts, such as golden and silver leaves, to achieve a luminous, eye-catching look and to enrich pen’s color.
  2. The Ornate Collection includes fountain pens and ballpoints with geometrical or skull pattern. 
  3. The Sublime Collection includes a limited number of fountain pens with contrasting color combinations. The Sublime collection is produced in limited editions, numbering from 1 to 10 pens only.

The Ghost White Silver fountain pen belongs to BENU's Classic Collection and is also available with gold-plated trims. BENU Pens designed it to echo the alluring romanticism of ghost stories. Crafted from misty, airy pearlescent material, the Ghost White fountain pen is drenched in the mystique and lightness of a white phantom.

I used the Ghost White fountain pen daily for a week, and found it to be an excellent pen. It's a good pen for all fountain pen users -- newbies/beginners, collectors, students, and artists. Uncapped, it weighs 22 grams (similar to a Lamy AL-star's weight) which is just right in the hand. This bullet-shaped compact pen measures 4.9 inches long (only a bit longer than a Kaweco Sport). The Ghost White fountain pen is a light and compact pen that is just right for daily use: note-taking, journaling, and even sketching.

I also noticed the pen's exceptional gloss and shine. The cap, section, and barrel are spotless, shiny, and very smooth to the touch. The aventurescent resin from which this pen was made from was perfectly polished to a beautiful shine.

Due to their streamlined compact size, fountain pens from BENU's Collections are not fitted with converters and can only accommodate cartridges. Each fountain pen is packaged with a short international Schneider cartridge, but I filled the Ghost White fountain pen with Iroshizuku Asa-gao.

BENU Pens has indicated that they are about to launch a new fountain pen collection soon. The new fountain pens will be longer in size, fitted with converters, and will have clips and postable caps.

The Ghost White fountain pen parts: barrel, section (feed + nib), and cap.

The cap and barrel of this pen are made from high-quality, non-toxic, scratch- and wear-resistant aventurescent resin. BENU pens are created from high-quality resin of different colors with glossy, pearlescent, or jewel-dazzling star effect. To ensure one of a kind look, BENU's artisans prepare the resin for each pen separately, and carefully matches the colors by hand.

BENU Pens took great care in creating a pen ergonomically designed to fit a hand perfectly. The cap and barrel of this fountain pen are bullet-shaped and taper off toward the end, making the fountain pen comfortable to use.
It is noteworthy that in BENU pen production, the last step is cap assembly. Their fountain pens have screw on caps, and to secure the locking mechanism of the pen’s cap, the company uses the square thread. Though difficult to fabricate, the square thread has the lowest friction, which makes it the most efficient thread form known.

This pen's design does not include a clip, and won't allow the cap to be posted as well. But that's fine, as I do not post my pens. I am missing a clip, though. Also, I am not comfortable that I cannot fully take apart this fountain pen. I usually disassemble pens for thorough cleaning and even drying. Cleaning pens for reinking or storage is always a must for me.

BENU pens have decorative cap rings in rhodium plated brass or gold plated brass. These rings are attached to the cap and bear the BENU logo.

BENU logo on the cap ring.

BENU fountain pen parts are handcrafted in-house, except for their nibs. BENU fountain pens are fitted with Schmidt nibs that have high-quality JoWo and Bock nibs. The available nib sizes are Fine (F), Medium (M), or Broad (B). My fountain pen has a medium nib that wrote very smoothly out of the box. I did not experience a hardstart, skipping, or ink blobbing. I love writing with it, especially in my bullet journal.

The Ghost White fountain pen's section is very comfortable in the hand. Despite its gloss and shine, I did not experience my writing fingers sliding in the section's surface.

The Ghost White fountain pen's section is comfortable even in prolonged writing sessions.

Another white pen with a medium Schmidt nib, Retro 51 Scriptmaster II Maryanne.
BENU Ghost White with Retro 51 Scriptmaster and Pelikan M400.
Iroshizuku Asa-gao is a perfect ink partner for the Ghost White fountain pen.
Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekov would have been proud of this pen. 

If you are a new fountain pen user or a collector, this fountain pen (and other BENU pens) is for you! The Ghost White fountain pen is elegant, yet strong. It writes smoothly, durable, and is available in more than 40 colors! What are you waiting for? Order your pen now! To order, visit BENU's Online Store.

The Ghost White fountain pen in this review is provided by BENU Pens where it retails for US$90. For more details on purchasing pens from BENU, visit their website at
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