Reading Cabin is an… imaginative name. It sells fountain pens, primarily. Even though eventually you get to read the work produced by these instruments, it is a convoluted indirection. Kinda like naming a blacksmith shop The Burning Logs. I don’t think my argument on convolution would get a pass from the owner anyway. Normal young girls watch Alice In Wonderland growing up, well, she is the Wonderland. Defeated, my only spiritual victory is to think that a shop selling devices that put shapes into thoughts deserves an elaborated name.
Tucked in the alley of 18a Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, in the middle of a mega city of stacked lives, the cabin is a neat little shop: one story and half a mezzanine. The shop owns a distinct look in a neighborhood of high-rise serviced-apartment buildings. To be more specific, it looks like a midget. The showroom is consequently small. Rows of shelves on the two sides of the room, a counter in the middle, and a reception desk timidly hides in a corner. Don't be fooled by the setup though. If you are familiar with Moleskine and the likes, you would be fine. If you are not, there is no other way to put it, a pencil goes at $2 and pen $25. Quality is free, if you pay dearly for it. After all, pens are unassuming creatures, unlike smartphones.
Above a small wooden staircase, whose brilliant acoustic design is meant to amplify anything but the lightest feet, is the mezzanine I mentioned earlier. It is a dedicated reading space. So after all, Reading Cabin is an honest name, I am just a cynical prick. Stacked on the selves around the space is a curated book collection of the owner, mostly fiction. The works are mostly contemporary but some are hidden gems from an older time. The space is essentially free, open for everyone wanting to take a break from Saigon’s exhilarating energetic lifestyle. Where were you when I was a broke student, Cabin?
I can’t help but feel a bit out of space whenever I pay Reading Cabin a visit. Though the feeling subdues over time, it never entirely vanishes. A pen to me is a device of utility, a means to an end. For practical reasons, I immensely appreciate my ballpoint pens for working on all papers, drying instantly, and no glitch on an airplane or in freezing weather. Putting aside my ballpoint and picking up a fountain pen is akin to making the switch from a digital camera to a film camera. The nature of the tool requires a different mindset. The feedback loop is longer. You need more time to horn your skills, get the basics right, and carry out everything with attention. But the experience is undoubtedly richer and the result is filled with emotions. As an act, it is an anti-statement to instant gratification.
A fountain pen is by no means a disposable item. The weight, the robustness, and the attention to details emit a sense of longevity. You’ll feel it better once you hold one in your hand. A bare minimal pen consists of a nib, a feed, and a reservoir. Each of these components varies in material, shape, and construction. The combination produces a pen with a particular purpose: daily writing, calligraphy, signing, or John Wick’s instrument of death. Don’t be worried, the staff at Reading Cabin would be more than happy to assist you in finding one of the few items that you use everyday and grow old with.
Since the 60s fountain pens sales began a long and steady decline all over the world. The arrival of smart phone delivered a deadly blow. The emergence of places like Reading Cabin pays homage to the internet’s ability to connect enthusiasts and yet is still a major leap of faith. Cabin is not a space for everyone. Really, the space is small. But just as pens give shapes to thoughts, Reading Cabin gives a point of gathering to people falling in love with the romantic notion that words and ideas change the world. In the world where film camera’s golden day is long gone, everything happens and evaporates in an instant, those people are a hopelessly optimistic bunch. The exact kind of bunch to whom I want to retreat from a world where practicality dominates everything.
My final personal note on the matter is that a disproportionate amount of people who favor this choice of delayed gratification are ghostly girls in maxi and flat footwear. It’s funny because it’s true.