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 Parts II-IV) 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 V: Taiwan (1954-1969)
In Taiwan, Lu Chi Fa's life took a completely different turn for instead of begging for his daily meal, he was given the opportunity to go to school! He knew how to speak four Chinese dialects, and though he was uneducated, he was determined to learn how to read and write. Chi Fa says, "I was ashamed that I was uneducated, but I knew in my heart that reading was a skill I could master. Chinese symbols are not like words spelled with connected sounds. For each Chinese word, there is a different symbol. There were so many symbols to memorize, often I struggled...When I could not read a word, Brother would hit me. 'You are so stupid, Chi Fa. You are a big boy, and still you cannot do second-grade work'" (163). But Chi Fa knew he was not stupid; in fact, when he finally learned to read and write, his paper won the writing contest at school.
In 1955, Auntie sent for Chi Fa. She treated Chi Fa like her own son, giving him nice clothes to wear, a bath, warm food, and peaceful conversations. One day, on pg. 169, she shared with Chi Fa his mother's favorite poem:
With coarse rice to eat,
with water to drink,
and my bended arm for a pillow-
I have still joy in the midst of these things.
But Chi Fa says his summer with Auntie went by all too soon when it was time for Chi Fa to return to brother. But this beautiful scene on pg. 170 between Chi Fa and Auntie during their last evening together is worth sharing:
"Now," she said, pointing a straight finger at a lone [orphan] star that twinkled in the sky, "there it is. Make your wish."
I gazed upward. Over the big moon, one star sparkled brightly. "I want to go to America," I whispered.
Upon Chi Fa's return to brother's, it seems that all hope was shattered for Brother told him, "Chi Fa, instead of going back to school, you must get a job" (171). First, Chi Fa got a job working for Mr. Yu as an office worker at Mr. Yu's construction company and he was in charge of buying small supplies and keeping track of everything in the big supply room. After the first day, Brother said, "Chi Fa, it would be best if I kept your money and invested it for you. Someday, when you are a man, I will give it all back to you with interest. Then there will be enough for you to get a good start in life" (173). Reluctantly, each day, Chi Fa gave his money to Brother, knowing that he had no choice. But one spring, Mr. Yu came to the office with the purchase of a new broom and Chi Fa noticed the receipt was over six dollars; hence, without thinking, he yelled, "Oh, Mr. Yu, you paid too much for this broom. I buy brooms at the store on the corner, and they cost only two dollars - under two dollars. You paid way too much" (174). Just like that, Lu Chi Fa was fired.
But like Sister said from the beginning, Lu Chi Fa is lucky and within a week, he found the job of being a busboy at an American officer's club with the help of Koa, whom he met from Mr. Yu's office. The club was an hour walk from Brother's and most nights, Filipino musicians played and occasionally, Bingo was played. On American holidays like Thanksgiving, the Chinese workers were fed too. While at the job, Chi Fa says, "I soon learned to understand the English language. Serving American officers each day intensified my desire to go to America...They looked proud and important in their uniforms, and I hoped one day to be respected like they were" (175). The American workers even gave the Chinese workers English names because they couldn't remember their Chinese names; therefore, Lu Chi Fa was given the name Gordon.
Though things went well at the American club, Chi Fa had to walk an hour home each night and he dreamed of being able to bike to work. Therefore, he asked his Brother for money that his Brother had "invested" in order to buy a bike only to hear his brother say that the money is not available at any time; instead, one must draw the highest number in the lottery in order to get all the money. But Chi Fa wasn't satisfied and didn't trust his own brother, as shown on pg. 179:
"I have provided you a home and food to eat," [Brother] countered.
"No!" I shouted. "I paid the rent. I bought the food. I am the one who has provided for you. Your son, who is only one year younger than I, has never had to lift a finger to help the family. He is precious to you. I am your brother, but I am not respected. You make me your slave. Think about how you have treated me!"
With obvious effort to regain control, he recited, "I am thinking of you. I have been saving your money for you. Someday your money will all be there. You will thank me then. Trust me."
Down the line, Chi Fa would never get his hard earned money back for Brother spent it on a house for Nephew and his wife. That night though, Chi Fa moved out of Brother's house for good.
Chi Fa told his supervisor of the fight with Brother and he agreed to raise Chi Fa's pay and directed him to a room for rent. On pay day, Chi Fa bought a shiny, new bicycle and radio. But in a few months, Nephew went to Chi Fa and said that Sister-in-Law was sick and that he needed Chi Fa's money and for the next three years, Nephew repeatedly asked for all of Chi Fa's savings. Until 1961, "Brother never bothered to come to see me. He never came to ask, 'How is the food? Are you warm enough? Is there anything you need?' No, Brother only sent Nephew to me when they needed my money. Even though I was free from living in Brother's home, he still had a hold of my earnings, because I felt an obligation to my family" (184).
But in 1961, all the boys in Taiwan were asked to join the military and so did Lu Chi Fa, because there was no choice. Two years later, after getting out of service, Chi Fa worked at Club 63, an American non-commissioned officer's club, as a waiter. But there, he would learn that he could wish endlessly to go to America but it was nearly impossible for a Chinese man like him to go to America because men under 45 were forbidden to leave the country.
However, in 1969, good fortune found Chi Fa when a solemn man came to the club telling Chi Fa that his friend flew to America and he would never see him again. Excited that someone had gone to America, Chi Fa quickly asked how his friend was able to leave the country. He responded that a man named Mr. Ching helped him, so the next week, Chi Fa had a meeting with Mr. Ching arranged.
First, Chi Fa surprised Auntie with a visit and the next day, he went to visit Mr. Ching, who was, according to Auntie, "a link in a chain of events that will change your life forever" (191). After telling him about his dream to go to America, Mr. Ching remarked, "Well, about the only young Chinese men who are allowed a visa to go to America are those who work in the import and export business. Will you come to work for me as a delivery man?" (192). Of course, Chi Fa said yes and within a few weeks, Mr. Ching helped him apply for a passport and visa.
Part VI: America (1969-Present)
On October 29, 1969, Lu Chi Fa flew to America to experience the "American dream" for himself. And in 1996, Lu Chi Fa had the opportunity to return to Shanghai to visit Sister again, nearly 50 years later. Though he would never see his Sister again from that point on, it was because of the help of his Sister along the way to shaped who he is today. He eventually obtained American citizenship and he says, "Today, I own a successful restaurant in California. Over the years, I have found America to be everything that I had heard as a child and much more. I eat three times a day, and, indeed, I am too full to swallow sorrow. My house has many rooms with a view of the Pacific Ocean" (206). Below is a video interview with Lu Chi Fa where he shares more about his life in America.
Video Courtesy of Elliot Gong
Lu, Chi Fa., and Becky White. Double Luck: Memoirs of a Chinese Orphan. Holiday House, 2001.