Instagram’s Most Heartwarming Account Belongs to this Korean Grandpa

A work by Grandpa Chan depicting a family memory of a Korean holiday.
A work by Grandpa Chan depicting a family memory of a Korean holiday. | © Chan Jae Lee
Mimsie Ladner

A 75-year-old Korean haraboji (grandfather), who not long ago was inept at social media, recently found a way to interact with his family living abroad using Instagram and his artwork. In doing so, he has become an internet star. We wanted to find out more about this inspiring man and his project. Here’s what we learned.

Following his retirement, Chan Jae Lee, who today lives in Brazil, volunteered to take care of his two young grandchildren, Arthur and Allan. Lee found great joy in taking them to school, playing games with them, and spending quality time with his family. But a few years later, his grandsons and their mother–his daughter–moved back to South Korea. Being so far away, with limited means of communication, Lee felt a great sense of loss, and began to miss his family terribly. When a third grandchild, Astro, was born, his sadness only intensified.

It was then that his son Ji, a designer living in the US, proposed that “Grandpa Chan,” a once-avid artist, take up drawing again and share his works on social media. At first, Lee was hesitant, having no experience using a social platform, Google, or even email, but with a little help and motivation from his wife, who was proficient in Instagram, he agreed to go forward with the plan. With his grandchildren as inspiration, Lee picked up his drawing tools. The collection of drawings became known as “Drawings for My Grandchildren,” which is still frequently updated with Lee’s works.

There are photos of city scenes, landscapes, Korean and Brazilian landmarks, dinosaurs (Astro’s favorite animal), and of course his grandchildren. Each of the images are posted with a heartfelt story directed at the children–written in English, Korean, and Portuguese–about Korean culture, life lessons, or special memories.

Some of these memories are happy, recalling visits to a park or watching a movie together, while others take a more comical tone, such as the time Grandpa Chan learned of his son being born. “Although my colleagues congratulated me, I couldn’t really get a grasp of being a dad, and I couldn’t refuse my friends who wanted to buy me congratulatory drinks,” Lee writes in an Instagram post. “As soon as I arrived at the warm maternity room, ugh… I threw up on the floor. Astro, the night your dad was born, your grandma had to crawl and sweep the floor while washing the dirty cloth in the cold water. Sigh! Why do I have so many embarrassing memories?”

Lee notes that by sharing these drawings and stories, the family is able to communicate on a daily basis, and that the children will have something to remember him by in the future. “This is how we show and tell everything we want to share with them for now and for the future,” he said.

As well as sharing his work on Instagram, Grandpa Chan has two book deals, has participated in a number of exhibitions, and also has been commissioned by National Geographic. He also sells his prints online and uses the profits to help cover the costs of his and his wife’s trips to visit their family.

Lee plans to continue to expand his collection of stories on his Instagram account and, in doing so, will certainly inspire not only his grandchildren, but thousands across the world through his beautiful art works.

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