How many people can reinvent themselves, especially in their senior years, and be truly successful at it? To most, it takes careful planning and a fail-safe in place, and even then nothing is guaranteed.
But 76-year-old “Grandpa Chan” finds himself with a new career revolving around the elements in life he loves most: art and family.
Grandpa Chan’s Instagram could be the envy of any struggling social media influencer, currently at 345,000 followers as of this publication.
Grandpa Chan explains:
“In the beginning, we used to treat this as my diary for the grandkids. We wanted to share small, everyday things. The view from our living room, things I saw in the park, different places in São Paulo, things that happened in different places around the world, our interest towards animals and plants, etc. As we looked for the subjects every day, our point of view widened. Also, as we shared our stories with Arthur and Allan [grandchildren], we wanted to remind them about Brazil’s nature and culture so they wouldn’t forget about them.
I made my drawings and uploaded them out of a sense of duty because my family insisted I did. But when the number of followers increased and we read the comments, we were touched and we felt grateful. We also became more thoughtful about the subject of the drawings, and we began to feel a whole new amazing world of possibility begin to open. Now at 76, I’m starting a whole new career I couldn’t even imagine a few years ago, all thanks to the internet. If I can do it, I believe anyone at any age can do it too.”
Grandpa Chan is originally from Korea but migrated to Brazil during the height of the Korean War. His son and grandkids Live in New York. In every post, the story is written in three languages – English, Korean, and in Portuguese. This widens his audience. Regardless of the language, however, the emotion behind every story is clear.
“My upbringing was very hard because of the Korean war and because my family was always very poor. My wife’s family wasn’t as poor but she also went through the war. For us, saving electricity, water, and being frugal have become part of who we are. So we are wary about this time of abundance. We hope they [grandchildren] grow to be people who can help those who are hungry and to treat their neighbors well.
It’s not much fun to learn about history through school books. So I try to teach thema little bit about Korean modern history through our short stories and drawings based on our past experiences. Korean history is sometimes sad, sometimes heartbreaking, and sometimes amusing.”
Ageism is still very present, despite the some of the regulations on equal opportunity that have been implemented. The wonderful thing about the internet, though, if one truly has the skill and talent, people will take notice. No need for social media marketing or hashtags. Maybe in Grandpa Chan’s case, it’s an anomaly. But still very plausible.
“I heard the word “internet” a long time ago, but I had no idea what it was and I had no interest in it. I started to read the internet news on the computer three years ago, and two years ago, I started to do the internet banking though my phone. I’ve never used email to communicate with someone.
“I never tried to learn it on my own. Still today, my wife teaches me: to look for news on the computer and on the smart phone, to send the photos from my smart phone as email, etc. I don’t like dealing with these things so it’s very hard for me to learn.
“For old folks like me, the internet can be very intimidating. And in order to use it properly, one must learn its capabilities and functions. Even after you learn it, if you don’t use it frequently, then you’ll forget. Also for me, learning Instagram in the beginning was so hard, I almost said I can’t do it. But my son’s perseverance moved me, and finally after many hours when I succeeded in uploading my drawing, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.
“Many old people’s problem is loneliness. When you step inside the internet, you can always find people you can talk to. The Internet also makes it easier for old folks to understand young folks’ interests and through this, connect with them better.”
His success wouldn’t be possible if not for Grandpa Chan’s family. It has been a collaborative effort. He illustrates, then his wife, Grandma Marina, writes the stories/captions. His son acts as the project manager. This gives the artist the creative freedom he needs.
“My wife and I work as a team. She comes up with the most of the stories and the subjects: Scenes from the streets, news, boys’ photos, animals, plants and thoughts she has. Then I draw. Sometimes I can draw well to illustrate a thought. Sometimes my drawings can’t express a thought well enough.
“Everyday we upload the drawings and the stories on Messenger and we have a group discussion. In this process, we learn a lot about each other. Grandparents in the world love to see their grandchildren more than their children by a thousand times.
“Whenever there’s a new feature in Instagram, I receive lots of help from my family so I can learn more about what young people around the world are interested in.”
His thoughts on new technology and its possibilities:
“I try all sorts of techniques, materials and ideas, but I’m often not happy with the results so I throw them out. Even with watercolor which is my favorite medium, things don’t always go well. I also try to use trash materials such as foam and cardboard to create 3D pieces in order to recycle them in interesting ways.”
On his growing community of fans:
I’m more and more amazed about the supporting comments from the followers who sound like family. I’m very grateful for their support, but at the same time, I feel the pressure. Sometimes I can’t sleep thinking about what I should draw. I want to make simple and warm drawings. My wife wants to write comforting stories, and sometimes she wants to write stories that make you smile. I try to always go back to the mindset of how I drew in the very beginning.
Attending to many requests, Grandpa Chan’s family made some of the drawings available as prints on his website. Part of the proceeds will go to support The Unloneliness Project, from The Foundation for Art & Healing. Founded by Dr. Jeremy Nobel, the project believes that creativity and connectivity are keys to help people overcome loneliness. Donations help get the word out and put programs together in hospitals, film festivals, and more. Another portion goes to his three grandchildren’s college funds.
In March this year, Looking Back, Life Was Beautiful, a collection of Grandpa Chan’s drawings and Grandma Marina’s writings for Instagram was released in book stores in Korea. The book is in Korean only for now, but hopefully will be released in English sometime soon as well.
Learn more at: Grandpachan.com
Book: Looking Back, Life Was Beautiful