Ma Chi-Sang was born in Shar Chung Village in Chung-Shan County in December of 1916. Ma Chi-Sang’s father was one of the first Chinese to open a major western style department store in China along with other village clan members. To this day the store is known as Sincere Limited Company located in in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
When the family members divided the family wealth, Ma Chi-Sang desired to leave China and set sail for a new life and adventures leaving the turmoil behind him. While in Hong Kong he fell in love and married Frances Lowe, a U.S citizen. Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, Ma Chi-Sang was forced to use the majority of his fortune in the black market loosing his identify and purchased his Paper Name – Lau Quin Young for an exorbitant amount of $5700.00. Somehow he was coined the name Bow Lau.
Bow Lau and his wife Frances, a U.S. citizen born in Portland, set sail for the U.S. in August of 1938. Bow Lau and Frances earned a living caring for a family’s home and Frances taught Bow Lau English. Shortly after, Frances was pregnant and Bow Lau was offered a better job in New York’s Chinatown on Mott Street where he learned how to cook. Due to the severe weather and his sensitive nose, he left New York for California.
Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, tragedy struck Bow Lau. Frances passed away Nov. 29, 1941. When the U.S. entered the World War II Bow Lau decided to enlist in the Merchant Marines. Due to his quick learning of household duties and cooking, Bow Lau was stationed on Catalina Island serving several Admirals and their families. It is on Catalina Island that a Caucasian friend liked him so much that he gave him an English name of Michael after his own father.
In 1948 Michael Bow Lau returned to China with his son and met and married Betty Yee who was carrying an Australian citizenship. After returning from Hong Kong, they settled in Los Angeles opening up a mom and pop grocery store near the LA Coliseum were European immigrants frequented their store. While raising a growing family, they decided to open one of the first Chinese take-out restaurants in the San Fernando Valley in a city called Reseda and named it Ho Gang Chop Suey in 1957.
Years later, Michael Bow Lau received a golden opportunity to go into partnership with a Chinese take out concession at the world famous Farmers Market until he retired. Besides gathering and writing his family tree that took nearly ten years, he was able to once again visit his place of birth with his son, one of his daughters, and one grandson to see for the first time places he always wanted to visit in China but was never allowed due to the Cultural Revolution and turmoil that existed when he was young man. He left a message on his personal story to his children and grandchildren “to encourage the younger generation to strive to do their best and be proud of their Chinese heritage.”
One of his last wishes for his family was to have his family return to using the real families’ surname of Ma rather than the Paper Name of Lau. Two of his grandsons all have middle names of Michael, one great grand-son’s first name is Michael, and one great grand-son carries both last names allowing him to one day decide whether he would like to drop the paper name.
After 911, the federal government insisted on having his name changed “for Homeland security reasons” and changed his name to Michael Bow Lau Ma. Michael passed away on December 6, 2012 as one of last remaining Paper Sons due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. He always claimed that he was a simple man. To his family and friends, we cannot even phantom or accomplish all that he did in his lifetime. When his daughter was with him at his father’s grave nestled in the hills, she snapped a picture of an elderly woman carrying a bamboo pole over her shoulders with two tin cans tied at each end watering her small patch of land. This daughter for the first time realized with a twist of fate, it could have easily been herself!