Dr. Art Liu of Boulder Creek has come a long way since he slept in the streets and shined shoes by the Pagoda Pier in Tsingtao, China.
Liu Cahn Deh, who later took the name “Art,” was born in Shantung Province in 1936 or 1937, depending on how one calculates his birth date. In China, a baby is considered to be 1 year old at birth.
“I was an only child,” Liu said. “I don't remember either of my parents. They were both killed by Japanese soldiers. The little I knew about them, I learned from my uncle — the only family I had. Uncle was an opium addict and never worked. I slept on a mattress pad next to his bed.”
One day, when Liu was about 6 years old, his life suddenly changed.
His uncle died, and he had nowhere to live. Without money, family or offers of help, Liu gathered his few belongings and moved out to the streets. He met other orphan boys who taught him survival skills — how to find food and how to stay safe.
“We often found leftover food in garbage cans behind the restaurant, but many days, we went to sleep hungry,” Liu said. ”Whenever possible, I would work at odd jobs to earn money for food.”
To avoid the Japanese soldiers who occupied China during World War II, the boys were constantly on the run. Liu also remembers horrific violence.
“Sometimes, the soldiers would toss babies up in the air and catch them with their bayonets before stabbing them,” Liu said. “I had reoccurring nightmares that haunted me for years.”
A new hope
When World War II ended in 1945, U.S. Marines and sailors arrived by aircraft carrier in Tsingtao, landing near Pagoda Pier. Liu and his friend, Bobby, realized their opportunity to make money.
“We made a shoe stand and bought Kiwi (shoe) polish,” Liu recalled. “Among our regular customers were two (U.S.) Marine sergeants, Art McCartney and Vernon Caskey. We became friends, and they invited us to move on base and become their mascots. I immediately agreed, but Bobby remained behind.”
In 1949, when the Communist Party took control in China, McCartney legally adopted Liu by paying a local Chinese man the sum of $30 and a cigarette lighter to say he was Liu's father. Liu also took McCartney's given name.
To get Liu to the United States, the Marines wrote letters to senators and congressmen. Finally, in 1949, Rep. Helen Gahagan Douglas (D-Calif.) introduced a special bill so that Liu could enter the country. He became a U.S. citizen in 1955.
Because McCartney was serving in the Marines, Liu was taken in by Arnold and Inez Newman of Santa Ana.
“They had two older boys and owned a jewelry store. I liked my new home right away,” he said, adding with a chuckle: “My brothers were very protective and taught me how to be a typical American.”
Liu attended grammar school and learned quickly. He became active in sports and made friends easily.
After graduating from high school, Liu went to University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in medicine. He attended University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.
In 1961, he married Alice, a teacher from Anaheim. They lived in San Francisco near San Francisco General Hospital, where Liu was performing his internship. The couple went on to have three children, two girls and a boy.
After medical school, Liu served two years in the U.S. Air Force at El Paso, Texas. He was then accepted for general-practice residency at Riverside General Hospital. A year later, he went into private practice.
In 1994, the couple moved to Boulder Creek to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Liu joined two other doctors in family medicine once in the valley, and he retired in 2000.
Today, Liu, 75, enjoys spending time with his family and friends. He also plays tennis and likes to travel.
His philosophy of life is that you are what you think.
“Surviving so many hardships over the years helped me learn to cope and become resilient,” Liu said. “It has made me more grateful for what I have now and given me a desire to make things better.”
- Sandi Olson of Scotts Valley is a writer, speaker and teacher. She writes about interesting people in Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley. Email her at email@example.com.