The Lunar Village: Sudoguksan

Today we visited a Korea of the not-too-distant past: Korea in the 1960’s and 70’s. The Sudoguksan Museum of Housing and Living (수도국산달동네박물관) is located in Dong-gu, Incheon and displays the lives of the residents who lived in the slum town of Sudoguksan in the 60’s and 70’s. The museum’s brochure describes itself as “a modern and contemporary history museum [that] provides you with a hands-on experience around the common people’s true lives from the 1960s to the 1970s”.

Our journey started off with stairs. Lots and lots of stairs.


It makes sense as Sudoguksan was a Dal Dong-Nae (달동네), which literally translates to Moon Village, villages called so because of their location high on the hilltops, where residents could easily see the moon and the stars. These villages were usually home to the impoverished, who had settled outside the city for economic reasons. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, “although the word ‘Daldongne’ reminds many Koreans of trying times in the past, it also conjures up an image of a time when neighborhoods worked hard and shared what little they had with each other.”

That seemed like the general attitude towards Sudoguksan– a place to be remembered as one of hardship and trial but also almost celebrated with a sense of nostalgia towards the community and the resilience of its people. It’s hard to describe the emotions that ran through me as I walked through this museum– humbled, tinged with sadness, full of respect, and also full of wonder simply at the history.

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Here is the back view of the museum itself.

The museum had collected actual artifacts, from actual residents, on display that gave visitors a sense of the history of the place, as well as recreated what the village would’ve looked like.

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A recreation of what the village would have looked like. Houses were crowded close together and shabbily assembled.
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The line for the bathroom, I’d imagine, would be a struggle every morning
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The bathrooms. Yes, those are holes on the ground which one would have to squat to do their business into.

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What the village would have looked from far away

Today, the town of Sudoguksan has been torn down and a highly gentrified neighborhood has replaced it.

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They had a stream. A waterfall. Public exercise equipment, a playground, a garden.

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Me in front of said random waterfall

All beautiful, wonderful things. But at what cost do these things appear?

It’s interesting and more than a little ironic that they tore a village down only to then make a museum recreating that village. But in doing so, the people of the village were displaced and replaced by attractions to draw wealthier people in to increase the land value. Places like this become interesting museum finds but are considered ills of our society when they still exist. We come to the same problem as last time; the process of modernization tugs at one’s conscience in weird ways. And there seems to be no clear solution to this. It was still neat to get to see Sudoguksan as it would have been in the past and I’m glad the museum does at least exist so people like me today can learn of this once-Daldongne’s past.

Photo Aug 11, 4 33 01 PM_Fotor.jpg“To me, the moon village of Sudoguksan was not a place of embarrassment, or sadness, or pain. It was the strength that has allowed me to live on to this day.” -Hyun Sook Kwak

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