Dr. David W. Chan

Dr. David W. Chan

Dr. David W. Chan

Chan family finds land of opportunity in Tri-Cities

By Wanda Briggs - Herald business writer

America is the land of opportunity.

​​​​​​​If you doubt it, ask David Chan.

Chan, a Kennewick chiropractor, arrived first in Corvallis, Ore., and later in the Tri-Cities after a difficult journey that led him from his native China, via Hong Kong.

He was 19 years old when he decided to follow an older brother, Austen, 'to the land of opportunity.'
He had only a seventh-grade education and spoke no English when he arrived in the U.S.

He'd been forced to quit school to help support his family, but what he wanted more than anything in the world was to go to school.

'They said I was too old in Hong Kong. Then my brother told me that in America you could go to school at any age,' said Chan, 41.

So at an age when most high school seniors had been out of school for one or two years, Chan entered Corvallis High School as a junior.

He skipped from seventh to 11th grade and the transition was almost more than he could handle.

'I failed chemistry, American history, and English that first semester,' he said.

But he persevered and in 1966 graduated as the oldest senior in his class of 503 students.

Along the way, he changed his Chinese first name - which no one could pronounce - to David because those were the five letters of the alphabet that he could readily recognize.

The only problem he had as an adult high school student, he said, 'was that others wanted me to teach them karate. What do I know about karate? I told them it was tradition to bow in front of a Chinese man and then I'd knock them on the head. They believed me and I got a laugh out of that.'

Completing high school was one of his goals. A college education was another.

He worked as a Fuller Brush man, janitor, and dishwasher - sometimes working all three jobs at once, to pay his way through Oregon State University and Brigham Young University where - after five years - he earned his business degree.

After college, he returned to Hong Kong to marry the woman he had met in 1962 when both became members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

They returned to the U.S. and Chan went to work for General Motors in Flint, Mich., but he soon realized that the business world was not his cup of tea.

'When I was busy, I was happy. But they paid me money many times when I wasn't busy. It didn't seem right,' he said.

He wanted to change professions. He met a chiropractor who directed him to the Palmer Chiropractic School in Davenport, Iowa, and after graduating from the school, he moved to the Tri-Cities to open an office.

He bought two old trailers and a small house and because his practice wasn't established, he couldn't get a bank loan. As a result, he remodeled the office at 4339 W. Kennewick Ave. nail by nail. He will show it off in an open house Saturday.

Changing professions seems to be a family trait, Austen Chan left Westinghouse and opened a Chinese restaurant with his wife, Nora. He, too, has become a chiropractor and the couple is in the process of moving to Renton.

David Chan said he has great respect for his adopted country and the freedoms it offers because he and his wife, Jennifer, know first-hand what living under a communist regime is like.

The couple came from wealthy families, but by 1949 when the communists came to power in Canton, Mrs. Chan's father was dead and Chan's father had left the country.

The mothers of both Chans, because they were the heads of wealthy households, were tortured and imprisoned for nearly two years.

Chan's mother was hung by her thumbs to a high ceiling and when she fainted, urine was thrown on her to revive her.

Mrs. Chan's mother was forced to crawl through a room full of broken glass and was forced to drink water until she felt as if she were drowning.

Austen Chan was able to leave the village in 1956, at a time when the communists seemed to be allowing more freedom. The rest of the family were able to go to Hong Kong six months later.

Eventually, Chan's whole family, including his parents, a brother, and three sisters emigrated to the Tri-Cities.
Mrs. Chan's mother was finally allowed a visa to visit her daughter in the Tri-Cities.

'We wanted her to stay, but there was such a language problem. She speaks a different dialect than we do, and we speak differently than our children do and she couldn't even talk to them,' said Chan.

Briggs, W. (1985, November 22). Chan family finds a land of opportunity in Tri-Cities. Tri-City Herald, pp. A6.

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