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South Korea‘s hottest YouTube star of the moment is not a style guru, an up-and-coming K-pop idol, or pro-gamer. Rather, the social media personality that people across the peninsula are falling in love with is a 70-year-old grandmother whose unabashed style and effortless humor are a refreshing change in a country that is known for its obsession with youth, beauty, and financial success.
When 27-year-old Kim Yura was told by a family doctor that her 70-year-old grandmother, Park Makrye, had a high risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease, she quit her job as an acting instructor so that the two could spend more quality time together. Soon thereafter, Kim took her to Cairns, Australia and documented their journey online.
The heartwarming video, which showed Park swimming in the ocean for the first time and running around in a child-like fashion, was a hit with viewers. Now, just six months later, Park has a quickly growing following of more than 400,000 fans on YouTube and Instagram.
Park’s videos, which are edited by Kim and uploaded on the YouTube channel “Korea Grandma,” follow the everyday life of the spirited senior citizen. Whether giving make-up tutorials (wrinkles are in!), meeting up with friends, or trying new foods, Park beautifully and entertainingly illustrates her elderly life in the raw.
Talking candidly without pretense, Park touches on topics that are often considered taboo in ultra-conservative Korea, such as women’s issues.
Park, herself, struggled financially when her former husband incurred large amounts of debt and abandoned her and their three young children. To make ends meet, she was forced to wake up every morning at four to run a restaurant, not returning until the late hours of the evening. She was able to ensure that all of her children finished high school.
Park’s unabashed willingness to share her story with the world, as well as her openness about her lack of education, appeal to young South Koreans, a demographic that often feels pressured to excel in (or at least appear to) every aspect of their lives as a result of the highly competitive nature of Korean society.
Young Koreans find Park’s unfiltered commentary so funny and relatable, in fact, that conglomerates such as Samsung and Lotte have hired her as a brand ambassador. In addition to hosting a home shopping show and appearing in multiple commercials, she also posed for a spread in Woman Donga, a monthly women’s magazine.
Despite her newfound stardom, which has, in her words “flipped life like a pancake,” Park still wakes before dawn to operate her restaurant. And, while the no-frills Korean eatery has recently become a wildly popular tourist attraction of sorts, she has no plans to quit her job anytime soon.
As Park continues to work as hard as she has her entire life, all the while enjoying the ride, the South Korean grandma will no doubt inspire an adoring nation by proving that age is just a number.