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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Chan Hoy's Nephew at S. Division St. School

by Abe E. Geldhof

The latest foreign recruit to the school is Chu Lum, nephew of Chan Hoy, who returned to America with his uncle but recently and has been a pupil of the school about two months. Lum is a bright lad of 11 years who appears to be 8. He learned a little English in a school in Hong Kong before coming to America. There he learned that American people shake hands when greeting friends and Lum has learned to shake hands like a politician. In fact, his teachers are already planning for him a bright future as a successor to Wu Ting Fang, the brilliant Chinese diplomat. He is a great favorite with both children and teachers.

When Lum enters school in the morning—and by the way, Lum wishes in known that Lum is his first name and not Chu, in spite of the transposition in Chinese—when he enters school in the morning he goes the rounds of all the rooms in the building and shakes hands with the teachers. At noon when he goes home he shakes hands all round again, and on returning in the afternoon and leaving at night he goes through the performance once more. If handshakes mean votes, when Lum gets to be a politician he will have no trouble getting all he wants.

Lum is very bright in his studies and is most anxious to excel. In this he is helped by two good friends of his, Leon Lam, who is employed at George Sing’s Chinese restaurant, and has passed through the South Division Street School, and Harry Lam, his brother. Harry is attending a higher grade at present and he helps little Chu Lum when he grows discouraged.

Lum couldn’t get the number lesson a while ago so he promptly sat down and cried. He cried like a true Chinese boy for a while and nothing his teacher could do, not even promises to show him how to get his lesson, could stop him. Finally Harry Lam was called upon as a court of last resort and he came down and tried policy in Chinese. After talking to the lad a while, Lum jumped up, throwing off his friend’s hand in anger.

“You stop talking Chinese to me,” he shouted.

And he got his lesson.

Lum spells everything out and if he is in doubt as to the spelling he inquires as to the correct form. When asked his name he replied, “C-h-u, Chu: L-u-m, Lum.”

Asked about any object he spells it first then pronounces it. He is bound to get ahead and already assists materially his uncle at the cash counter in his restaurant.

“How do you like America?” he was asked.

“Too cold, I don’t like cold,” was the reply.

“Don’t you like America as well as China?”

“No,” with a vigorous shake of the head. “In China I can see my mamma.”

“What are you going to do when you grow up and get through school?”

“Sell chop suey, like my uncle.”

Then all of a sudden Lum’s purely unselfish nature showed itself. “I know where all my teachers live, and I send all of them Chinese card for Christmas,” he said.

Already he has been spending his spare time in his uncle’s restaurant writing on the backs of his business cards and giving them to his teachers. Just lately he presented each teacher a card on which was written the following:

“I am a Chinese boy. My name is Chu Lum”

“My brother’s name is Chu Wai.”

“My uncle’s name is Chan Hoy”

“We all live at 28 Pearl Street.”

The Historical Commission thanks Mariann Watson for the photograph of Chu Lum. Although her family was from Grand Rapids, she is unaware of how the photograph came to be in her family's collection. A possible clue--her great-grandfather was a teacher and may have taught at Chu Lum's school. 

Story excerpted from a Grand Rapids Herald article, "Thirteen Nationalities Represented in the Roster of South Division Street School," December 20, 1908, page 3

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