February 2, 2008



In her book Things Korean, O-Young Lee writes about a traditional measuring cup called the kobong. Used to measure grain, especially rice which was a main form of currency for much of Korean history, she writes:

Kobong is a concept which has no one-word equivalent in other languages... It means heaping the measuring cup till it overflows, and even then some.

... To provide a some idea of how high it is heaped, a dishonest measure in Korea is one where the grain is heaped to overflowing only twice, not three or four times. If it is not absolutely spilling over, that is being pretty stingy. p.14

In other words, the kobong was not a measure of scientific accuracy, but of inaccuracy. And it's importance was not so much the grain itself but what it meant relationally.

I love this because Koreans aren't anything if not relationship oriented. And I love that once, in our highly ordered Confucian culture, even the smallest objects had a place and it's purpose too was relational.

On the flip side, I think this is what was especially hard for Korean immigrants to the US. To come from the highly ordered to the un-ordered, and because meaning itself was found in the order, for many, meaning itself was destroyed.

I am thinking of someone, of course, as I write this. An uncle here, another there but in general of all the Korean men who moved here and found themselves as grocers and dry cleaners and janitors despite their educations and degrees, and slowly lost themselves to their invisible places as non-Americans. For them, I wish kobong.

posted at 03:37 PM by jenn

Filed under: books


11/10/08 10:33 AM

I think Jesus also recommended a Kobong measure in our personal relationships. Here's what he said about this, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, 6:38: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

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