Chapter 5: Fun at the Folk Village

After visiting the sights of Seoul, the next stop on my grandma’s June 1979 tour of South Korea was the Korean Folk Village in Yongin, a suburb south of the city.

While I lived in Korea for seven years, I never actually went to this attraction, though I visited similar ones. The Folk Village opened in 1974, at a time when Korea was developing rapidly, emerging from decades of poverty, war, and colonization.

As part of the Saemaeul Undong, or New Village Movement, there were efforts to develop and improve living standards in rural areas, including by replacing traditional thatched roofs. Thus the Korean Folk Village was created as a place to preserve the history that was being systematically razed, and to promote tourism.

More than 200 Joseon Dynasty-era structures from around the country were relocated to the site. The structures include schools, workshops, and homes originally belonging to farmers, craftspeople, and gentry. There are a variety of performances and activities including music, archery, and traditional games.

Today, the Folk Village is not only a window to Korea’s past, but a place to experience one of contemporary Korea’s top cultural exports: The village is, for obvious reasons, a popular filming location for historical K-dramas, drawing visitors from around the world.

Signs of globalization can also be found in the theme park’s staff. The Folk Village employs hundreds of people who live and work there, dressing in historical clothing and showcasing traditional crafts and skills. But for some of the jobs, such as the equestrian martial arts show, the performers are usually immigrants.

Although are are a ton of photos in my grandma’s album from the Folk Village outing — although I’ve realized that it was not she but her hosts who took the pictures — she only included a couple cursory sentences about the experience in her notes. But as with all the photos in her album, it looks like she’s having a really good time.

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