In Namwon, South Korea, craftsman Jung, Sang Gil is busy meticulously stacking about 30 bowls to fit perfectly inside one another. These wooden “nesting” bowls are known as balwoo bowls, and he is one of the few craftsman left in the world making them by hand.
“I was actually curious about how many pieces I could possibly pile,” says Jung. “I want to face the challenge. I think I can reach 40 quite soon. I want to make a 50-piece set before I die.”
His passion comes from his 28 years of handcrafting the bowls every step of the process, from chopping the wood to carving each bowl on a lathe, from sanding to staining.
The bowls were originally designed for Buddhist monks. They are created with as little space in between them as possible when they’re stacked into one another, which is helpful with transportation as well as saving storage space. Secondly, since silence is very important to the monks’ eating rituals, wood is a much quieter material than say metal or plastic. “If we do not understand this culture, there could be a mistake in the production,” says Jung. Lastly, the various sizes of the bowls help them perfectly proportion their meals as to create as little waste as possible.
“When you actually observe balwoo alms in Buddhist temples, there are no leftovers in the balwoo. The cleansing water is drunk too,” Jung says. “I think the ideology is good. If you eat with the same belief, then it will be treated more preciously, and food would be appreciated more, in my opinion.”
Check out the full video to see Jung’s meticulous handmade balwoo process, from start to finish.