Gritty grandma grips nation to become YouTube sensation
YONGIN, South Korea — One of the country’s hottest YouTube stars is a 70-year-old grandmother whose cool, undaunted style and hilarity are a breath of fresh air in a social-media universe that exalts youth and perfect looks.
Park Mak-rye’s videos are all about showing off her wrinkles and her elderly life in the raw. Young South Koreans find her so funny and adorable that big companies like Samsung Electronics are banking on her popularity.
Despite her new life as a celebrity, she still gets up before dawn to run her diner.
Serving kimchi while clad in a dotted pink top and short skirt with a kitchen-hygiene hat on her head, Park isn’t exactly the most stylish icon.
Yet, South Koreans love watching her give makeup tutorials, reunite with an old friend or try pasta for the first time in her life in her Grandma’s Diary YouTube videos
“She’s real. She’s not fake,” said Lee Injae, a 31-year-old living in Seoul. “It’s refreshing to see the world through the eyes of a grandmother.”
In the past, Park said, her life was “dead like rotten bean sprouts”.
“I used to think, ‘Since I’m over 70, my life is over’,” Park said, sitting in the living room that she turns into her YouTube studio by taping a broad piece of paper on the wall.
“But as I started doing this, I realized life starts at 71 years old,” she said, adding an extra year as is the custom in Korea and many other Asian countries.
Park’s stardom defies the conventional expectations of the elderly in South Korea, often depicted in mass media as suffering from poverty or as angry patriots protesting for conservative values.
South Korea has the highest elderly poverty rate among developed countries. It has been struggling to provide better social-safety nets or jobs to its elderly population, with fewer young people supporting their aging parents as they are get less attached to the Confucian traditions of revering the aged.
Encouraged by a granddaughter to start making videos as a way to stave off dementia, Park is living it up. She’s posed for a women’s magazine spread, hosted a home shopping show for a retail giant and will be appearing next week as a model in a YouTube commercial for Samsung TVs.
Her fans travel from across the country to eat at her diner where one can get filled with a rice-and-vegetable meal for just $5 in a remote part of Yongin, a city 34 kilometers south of Seoul with no easy public transport access.
They love her unfiltered comments in her local dialect, such as a remark about Korean soap operas: “Those things get pregnant days and nights.”
Asked how long she would run her diner, Park replies in a second.
“Until I die.”
I used to think, ‘I’m 70, my life is over, but after this I realized life starts at 7 1.”