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Rough Road to American Dream
from the Hanford Sentinel

Lu Chi Fa in Hanford
Chinese author Lu Chi Fa speaks to students and visitors at
West Hills College Lemore on Friday afternoon.

The American dream isn't something to be taken lightly.

"In America - if you work hard, if you respect yourself, if you respect others - there is nothing but good opportunity," said author Lu Chi Fa to a room of about 30 people at West Hills College Lemoore.

Hanford, California 2011

Chi Fa, 68, spoke Friday about his book "Double Luck: Memoirs of a Chinese Orphan." The book is an account of Chi Fa's struggles as an orphan growing up in Communist China.

He was born to a family of five children. His parents died when he was 3, and he was sold to a communist village chief for two sacks of rice. The chief reasoned that 5-year-old Chi Fa would be easier to "train" than his 20-year-old stepson. Believing that having two sons would make him twice as lucky, he gave Chi Fa the name Shang Shii, or "double luck."

Chi Fa's adoptive parents didn't ease the loss of his birth parents and separation from his siblings. In one instance, his adoptive mother asked him to carry some sweet-rice cakes from the kitchen and place them in the other room in front of a picture of Buddha. The number of cakes had clearly diminished between the kitchen and the living room. His communist father punished Chi Fa by hanging him from the ceiling by his ponytail.

"It was just too huge a punishment for eating a few cakes," Chi Fa said.

Signing Book

A husband and wife from the village found him hanging and protested. They took Chi Fa with them to the countryside, where he was left alone without food while they went to sell their dry goods. He wandered the countryside and, by chance, he came across his uncle.

His aunt and uncle took him in, reuniting Chi Fa with his sister, who managed to buy her brother back from his adoptive parents.

When he was 7 years old, Chi Fa's sister managed to save enough rice to buy passage on a boat to Shanghai. The boat ride took several days, during which he only ate rice soup. When his requests for water were denied, he hung over the edge of the vessel to drink from the river. He lost balance and fell in, making him a laughingstock among the other passengers.

Double Luck

"Luckily, I didn't drown," he said.

In Shanghai, Chi Fa was reunited with his brother. His sister took them on a train to rendezvous with some human smugglers who would take them to the British-ruled Hong Kong.

After nearly 20 years of struggling, Chi Fa managed to emigrate to the United States, despite having no money and a very limited English vocabulary. It was another 15 years before he realized that he wanted to run a business. He took over a fast-food restaurant in Los Angeles. Within three years, he owned three locations.

In 1990, he sold the restaurants and moved to Morro Bay in hopes of opening a restaurant there. By chance, he found the Coffee Pot Restaurant.

"I took over with no experience," he said. "I made a deal with the sellers that, ‘I will work for you for 45 days for free.' ‘Free' is a key force because I actually worked harder for no pay. My vision was that this was my future. So 45 days later I took over the business."

Growing up not knowing where his next meal would come from, Chi Fa said he is particularly grateful to own his business, eat three meals a day and drink bottled water instead of scooping up handfuls of river water. He added that the American dream involves seeing opportunity and working hard.

"Some people know if you see the opportunity, to take it," he said. "Some people, when the opportunity comes, they don't see it."

Written by Mike Eiman
April 9, 2011
Photos by Gary Feinstein

Chi Fa also spoke to the children at Hamilton Elementary School.
Click here to see their good wishes to him.


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