- Emily Pan
Double Luck: Memoirs of a Chinese Orphan (Parts II-IV)
Double Luck tells the story of Lu Chi Fa, a Chinese American who escaped Communist China and made his way to America. In 1944, Lu Chi Fa's parents died and at the time, China was facing tremendous political turmoil as the Communist party was coming into power, and very few families were willing to care for orphans. Even Lu Chi Fa's family was unwilling to take him in; hence, Chi Fa was often hungry, cold, and beaten. But through all of life's challenges, Chi Fa held onto his sister's words: "You are lucky, Chi Fa. Good fortune will find you" (8). Indeed, in 1969, Lu Chi Fa had found good fortune for he had the opportunity to immigrate to America, a land he always dreamed of seeing because of its legendary ideals. Today, he is a successful restaurant owner, owning the Coffee Pot Restaurant in Morro Bay, California. Here, we will give a brief summary of Lu Chi Fa's bitter childhood (see Part I) and immigration to the United States, but no one could tell his story as well as himself, whose words are forever contained in his autobiography, Double Luck: Memoirs of a Chinese Orphan.
Part II: Shanghai (1950-1951)
Lu Chi Fa's story continues after he rode the barge to Shanghai to his brother's place. Chi Fa was in charge of making rice for the family, but it seemed that Chi Fa could never satisfy brother, as shown on pg. 108:
Brother looked in the pan where I was washing the rice and said, "This rice looks dirty!"
Before I had time to say I would rewash the rice, he picked up a sharp bamboo stick and began hitting me with it. Yelling, "I will not eat dirty rice!" he chased me around the room, battering me with the bamboo stick.
Each blow stung and cut my skin. Soon welts on my back and arms and legs were bleeding.
In the spring, Sister and her family joined Chi Fa in Shanghai after the Communists took their land. But just as Chi Fa had created a bond with his nieces, Chi Fa was told that he would be leaving with Sister-in-Law and Nephew to meet brother in Canton.
Part III: Canton (1951)
At that point, the Communists had come into power and as they were taking a train to Canton, Sister-in-Law warned, "We're going to face a lot of uniformed men who are going to question us. No matter what you are asked, your only answer will be, 'I don't know.'" (120). From there, they met a man and his wife who promised to help them escape to Hong Kong. They were put in the attic of a hotel with many other men and women who were also making the escape out of Communist China. They were often asked to remain as quiet as possible for fear of being found. Then one day, they made the narrow escape to Hong Kong by sneaking through the back exit of the nearby movie theater to the long alley that brought them to a mud-lined path that led to the Hong Kong border. Chi Fa recalls, "After a few more hours, we reached an iron fence that was much too tall to climb over. It divided the Communist land from the English land. Standing on the Communist side, through twisted metal links, we could see freedom on the other side. Shivering from the cold, we all stood and waited as the coyote took out a pair of wire cutters and began cutting a hole big enough for a person to crawl through the fence" (132). It was a narrow escape for the guards and guard dogs heard the cutting noise, but in the end, the dogs stopped and everyone made it onto freedom's side.
Part IV: Hong Kong (1951-1954)
Lu Chi Fa, Sister-in-Law, Brother, and Nephew took a ferry to an island that was part of Hong Kong but not controlled by the Communists and there, they were separated into different areas based on the province they were from; therefore, Brother took them to Area Number Five. Chi Fa describes the scene like living in military barracks, where families slept together with many, many, families. But to eat, each individual was given a ticket to get food; however, because so many people had escaped to Hong Kong, the government stopped giving meal tickets. Instead, Lu Chi Fa was handed a can by Brother and told to beg for a few grains. But no one would share.
At day's end, the woman working in the kitchen told Chi Fa that although she can't pay him, he could sweep the floor and eat the rice in the dirt pile. Then, Chi Fa hurried back to his family with the dirty rice, but he "remembered the beating Brother had given me in Shanghai for 'dirty' rice. I didn't know what to do, so I sat down on a large, flat rock to think. In the end, I decided that Brother would not look past the dirt and see supper. So I poured out the contents of the can on the rock. Carefully I separated each grain from the dirt and polished it on my shirt. By the time the sun had completely disappeared for the day, I had a can half full of shiny, white rice" (146). Unfortunately for Chi Fa, Brother remarked, "It took you all day to get this little bit of rice?" and for most of the year, Chi Fa would go every day and beg for rice (146). Some days, if Chi Fa was lucky and got more rice than his family needed, he would sell the rice for a few nickels and buy pork fat to flavor the rice.
One night, an old man who slept next to Chi Fa said, "Chi Fa, I see that sometimes you have more rice than your family needs. I was wondering if, on the days when you have extra rice, you would share it with me?...I have two sons living in America. If you will share your rice with me, someday I will be able to repay you" (148). From that day on, Chi Fa always gave his extra rice to the old man and he would tell Chi Fa about a legendary land called America. He said, "America is a land of plenty. In America people eat three times a day. In America they are too full to swallow sorrow...In America people live in houses with many rooms. Men drive their own cars, and little children own bicycles...If a boy can catch the Orphan Star in the sky before any of the other stars begin to twinkle, and he makes a wish, that wish will come true" (150). For the old man, his wish came true and his sons let him go to America. Chi Fa was fascinated by America and the old man promised Chi Fa that he too, would one day see America.
Meanwhile, Brother told Chi Fa that he would sell all the extra rice and save the money to take the Ferry to Kowloon where he hoped there would be work opportunities. But when they arrived, Brother realized there was no work available and every day, Chi Fa would stand at the bus station, tell his story about his bitter childhood, and beg for money. With his begging success, he rented a small wooden house for his family. Then one day, when Brother asked for Chi Fa's coins, after he realized Chi Fa hadn't received the "usual quota for the day" he beat Chi Fa with his fists and slapped him. Chi Fa was afraid to go home so he stayed out begging until he received enough coins to cash for a five-dollar bill. He slept on the street but when he awoke, he realized someone had stolen his five-dollar bill.
When he gained enough courage to return to Brother, Chi Fa recalls that he had been begging and supporting his family for nearly three years, although he was only 13 years old at the time. The flicker of hope grew dimmer with each day's begging until his clothing, shoes, and spirit were all ragged from begging. Luckily, within a week, news came that Chi Fa's Auntie arranged for the family to move the Taiwan. And it is from Taiwan that Lu Chi Fa would go to America, which he heard about from the old man. We wrap up Lu Chi Fa's story in Parts V & VI.
Lu, Chi Fa., and Becky White. Double Luck: Memoirs of a Chinese Orphan. Holiday House, 2001.