At 17, Charlie Zhang was forced to work in the rice fields as part of China’s Cultural Revolution.
Her father was arrested years before for breaking communist rules, and her mother had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
While the situation was dire, Zhang remained hopeful – all with the help of his clarinet. Self-taught, he sneaked around with his instrument and practiced. Her love of music got her through the toughest times.
“Music brings me joy, brings me my peace,” he said. “I feel that [every] while i play [the] instrument, this is the best moment… of my life.
In this episode of “LA Stories,” Zhang tells host Giselle Fernandez how a chance to go to school in the United States changed her life forever. With just a suitcase, his clarinet and $20 in his pocket, he traveled to Los Angeles.
There, Zhang worked in restaurants while pursuing her dream of playing music. The dream was quickly ruined when he injured his hand, ending his chance to play professionally.
Not to be discouraged, Zhang threw himself into his restaurant work, studying the Asian dishes that Americans preferred. Armed with this knowledge, he opened a chain of successful restaurants, including the famous Pick Up Stix, which brought him his fortune.
“It’s a people thing,” Zhang said. “I think everything [that’s] success [depends on] the people.”
Zhang is well known for his many philanthropic endeavors, but he is most proud of having established OC Music & Dance, a non-profit performing arts school that aims to make the arts accessible to all children.
For Zhang, being able to share his love of music with children is his greatest achievement, and he hopes to leave this earth one day with just the same $20 he came to America with.
“My next career in life is to give back all I can to the country that loves me.”
Watch “LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez” at 9 p.m. every Monday on Spectrum News 1.