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Keeping Tradition Alive

SCHOOL TIES: Kids study the old way.
Greg Girard/Contact Press Images for TIME .

Chonghakdong, South Korea
By HANNAH BEECH Chonghakdong

Chonghakdong village is defiantly old economy. Men pad around in the traditional Korean dress of pajama-like pants, and schoolchildren sit at wooden desks poring over ancient Korean analects. There isn't a computer or a microwave in sight.

As South Korea grew into the world's 12th-largest economy, folks in the tiny hamlet at the foot of Mount Chiri continued to live as their ancestors had. Theirs was a village modern Korea just about forgot—and then rediscovered.

When the country was pummeled by the Asian economic crisis in 1997, city folk started worrying that Korea had lost its soul. So Chonghakdong, once a place of exile, has started educating a new generation in old values. Hundreds of parents nationwide have sent their children to study there. Kim Chong Sun, 35, presides over four students in a calligraphy class. "Modern knowledge-based education makes you smart," he says, "but it doesn't build the good character needed for a strong nation. For that you need moral-based schooling."

Park Song Hee, 10, is practicing calligraphy and obedience, even though he fully intends to return to Seoul to study computer science. Despite homesickness, he says he'll stick it out for now. "If I stay here I will learn how to be strong and not to brag," he says shyly. "But I still miss the Internet."

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