The Rice Cooker

By Kyunghee Kim

May 14, 2021

Umma asked me what I needed as a wedding gift. I said we didn’t need anything. She was offended.

In her silence, she browsed around our home as if she was expecting to find something missing, broken, or something she could replace for the better.

Months later, Umma and Appa came over with a brand new pressure cooker rice cooker – the Cuckoo Pressure Rice Cooker – the same one they had at home. All I’m thinking is, we have a perfectly fine rice cooker and we don’t need another one. But, when I saw the excitement on Umma’s face, how proud and satisfied she looked as she showed us all the functions, I forced a smile too. Not because I wasn’t grateful, but I knew how much these pressure cookers cost. The money could have been better spent elsewhere for them. Annoyed.

Umma and Appa should take full advantage of the fact that they have raised their daughters to be independent, not needing a single thing from them. But, more often than not, as she is getting older, my umma asks what I need, if she can buy me anything.

Recently when we went over, she had 3 houseplants ready for my husband and I to take home. How we needed more plants. How it will help us breathe better, give us clean air. She has memorized the layout of our home, where the light hits best in the morning and phases out in the late afternoon. How many windows we have, where each plant should live.

Umma is a plant lady, so she knows to get ones that I would keep alive, without mothering it.

I called her to thank her for the fancy rice cooker because the rice tasted so much better – Seriously. The best. Fluffy, moist, soft. She laughed and said now we can all eat good rice. She told me how she hasn’t been able to enjoy it because I also needed to experience it.

Now she can fully let herself enjoy it. Connection. Jeong. Communing beyond the physical space of being together.

For our Korean family, rice is survival, our basic need, our way of connecting- one we never outgrow no matter how long we’ve been living in the States. It’s one of the ways we share our Korean love. We may not express with words “I love you” or “I am thinking of you”, but that doesn’t make our love less true. I am still learning. What I know so far is that our love in some ways feels deeper even when it doesn’t appear that way on the outside.

I could never fully express the meaning behind this Korean feeling and commitment of jeong. Unity, community, affection that is deeper than skin-to-skin, bond, intertwined beyond death. No English word can adequately capture it. But, as a Korean, you know because you know – in your being. This story of the Cuckoo rice cooker is one of many examples of jeong between my umma and I. Umma wasn’t able to enjoy her bounty of perfectly cooked white rice because of me. It’s not guilt. It’s love that makes you utterly and gratefully responsible for the other being.

Even in her absence, she needed to feed me.

When your parents want to treat you, even long after you have outgrown their need, never say no. There is a gift behind the gift. The need for their giving to be accepted is a greater gift than we outgrown children will ever know. Perhaps the time is now they are finally able to give more than what they could provide back then and they fear it’s too late.

Never let them feel it’s too late.