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From $100 To A Real Estate Dream

Stanley Lo's Epic Journey - Part I & Part II

Discover Stanley Lo’s motivation, philosophy, and attitudes towards life, business, and health.

An Autobiography Series Of Stanley's Life And Experiences •

A Spoiled Beginning

I entered the world in China as a premature 3-pound hairy little baby born into a wealthy and influential family. Soldiers always encircled us, serving as our bodyguards and escorts wherever we ventured out of our home. Our household staff included cooks specializing in Northern & Southern Chinese cuisine, Vietnamese delicacies, and even a French chef. Each child in our family required the attention of two nannies. During dinner, six helpers attended to our needs at the table. I remember the master’s bedroom adorned in gold. We owned streets and blocks, even a park in the Downtown area where we resided. Whenever my grandparents celebrated their birthdays, it was a week-long extravaganza with performers and an opulent banquet. It was an unimaginable dream-like existence.

From Riches To Rags

However, this dream abruptly shattered when Communist China invaded our city. We lost everything. All our possessions were seized, and the ordeal was so unbearable that some family members chose to end their own lives. My grandfather, once a figure of authority and the richest man in the city, was reduced to work as a gardener of what used to be his home. For our safety, we had to escape the country. The former government arranged a chartered flight for us to Hong Kong.

Life took a drastic turn in Hong Kong. The luxurious homes, security details, and servants were gone. Fortunately, our grandfather had a connection in a high-ranking position, and through his assistance, we lived a modest life. However, due to my father’s high-ranking role in the previous Chinese government, for security reasons, we had to flee again, this time to Taiwan.

A Tough Life

Our journey to Taiwan involved a terrifying boat ride across tumultuous ocean waves. Survival seemed uncertain during that voyage. Upon arriving in Taiwan, poverty greeted us. It was a stark contrast to the life we once knew. We lived in a small, leaky shanty where our entire family squeezed together. My mother cooked with coal, using an old menu to fan the flames. We subsisted on vegetables daily, boiling water for bathing with the same coal. We lacked basic amenities like air conditioning, hot water, and transportation. I remember walking barefoot for hours to school. To put it mildly, local kids disapproved of me wearing shoes. These conditions contributed to my development of asthma, leading to oxygen tank reliance during attacks. I often wished for an end to the misery. I was determined to be a fighter. I had nine brothers and sisters and they positioned me as head of the family; they made me the leader.

The Fight Back

Instead of succumbing to despair, I used these hardships as motivation. Recalling my previous life of wealth, I was determined to regain it. I believed the pathway was through excelling in everything, starting with academics. I pushed myself to be number one every day, even while enduring blisters on my feet during the long walks to school. Eventually, I achieved academic excellence and earned numerous honors. I was elected to be the class leader. My first-place awards filled a wall in my parents’ room.

This dedication caught the government’s attention, securing my admission to college. While pursuing a degree in political science, I balanced part-time jobs as a translator and tutor. Although these commitments affected my academic standing, I persisted and graduated.

Military Life

In Taiwan, military service for two years was mandatory. After I graduated college, I found myself in the Marines, enduring harsh conditions in tents by the ocean where the wind always blew sand all over our food that we had to eat due to hunger. Moreover, social difficulties arose due to tensions between the Taiwanese locals and Mainland Chinese, compounded by disdain from uneducated sergeants towards college-educated individuals. Desperate to leave, I staged an incident atop a flagpole, feigning psychological distress to secure release from the military. This idea succeeded and I was released from the mandatory military life.


With a desire to chase my dreams, I aimed for the United States. To get authorization to leave for the U.S. you were required to take a difficult test. Although admitted to the Taiwan Air Force due to my size being ideal for flying jet fighters, I received news at the last-minute that I passed the test to go overseas, and I was approved to leave for the U.S. I embarked on a flight to Kansas City, Wichita, opting for the cheapest option via Northwest Airlines, becoming the first in my family to depart for the U.S.

During a stopover in Seattle, an asthma attack led to hospitalization. Upon discharge, I changed course, taking a Greyhound bus to San Francisco based on advice regarding better weather for my asthma and a larger Asian community. Arriving in a city where I struggled to comprehend and communicate in English, I settled into a questionable, budget-friendly hotel, reliant on a meager $100.

Surviving on a tight budget, my diet consisted mainly of hot dogs with excessive relish until store owners intervened and ejected me for my routine. Determined to pursue education and secure a job, I found work in Chinatown as a dishwasher, climbing the ranks to waiter, bartender, and eventually learning culinary skills. Despite pressure from employers to forget about college, I persisted and applied to San Jose State University. Lacking recommendations, I sought aid from a priest and gained acceptance, choosing electrical engineering for its promise of a green card upon graduation.


Living in San Francisco, particularly in my neighborhood, was an uphill battle. I recall being stopped at my apartment door by individuals demanding a “protection fee” just to step outside. Money was tight, yet I had to pay up. It was evident I needed a new job to make ends meet..

To cover my expenses - rent, schooling, and daily living - I found work as a busboy at Phil Lehr’s Steakery, a renowned spot in San Francisco at the time. On my first day, I faced a daunting task: carrying a hefty tray loaded with 20 glasses of wine. Being small-framed, I struggled and ended up spilling the glasses, much to the owner’s fury. “You’re fired,” he bellowed in front of everyone. Desperate, I refused to accept defeat and proposed a deal privately. With broken English, I negotiated to work for free for two months to keep my job - a deal I honored diligently, but aking advantage of the complimentary meals. During that period, I went above and beyond, taking on extra tasks and impressing the owner with my dedication, eventually earning his respect and support..

However, the income from the steakhouse wasn’t enough. So, leveraging my electrical drafting skills acquired at school, I secured a job in the heart of the San Francisco Peninsula. Days became a whirlwind of early mornings for school, afternoons as a draftsman, and evenings at the restaurant, followed by late-night study sessions - a hectic routine that defined that phase of my life.

Asian-American Recreation Club (AARC)

Despite pursuing electrical engineering studies, I soon realized it wasn’t my calling. Yet, finishing school was crucial for a chance at a green card. I ventured into leadership, running for president of the Chinese Student Association. I transformed it into a vibrant, profitable entity. Yet, I felt its scope was limited to San Jose State, prompting me to expand. I initiated a new Chinese club and assumed leadership over all chapters across the nation.

Discovering the steep costs faced by Chinese students traveling to China, I devised a solution: charter flights. Through relentless effort, I rallied students nationwide, forming the Asian-American Recreation Club (AARC). Negotiating with airlines and tapping into underutilized flights, I organized affordable trips, fostering a thriving travel club. The venture gained momentum, eventually leading to being recognized by top airline executives, paving the way for lucrative deals.

Takeoff and Turbulence

Launching four flights annually garnered a sizable membership base. Expanding to overseas accommodations and return flights, my venture soared, generating considerable revenue. With nearly a hundred employees, I relinquished my previous jobs, yet the demands of school persisted. Juggling studies amidst business expansion took its toll - risking expulsion due to frequent absences from classes.

Simultaneously, corporate giants felt threatened by my disruptive business model. Accusations and investigations surfaced, leading to my sudden deportation and I had to operate the business remotely from Japan. The subsequent legal battles, including immigration hurdles, IRS complications, and criminal allegations, amplified my challenges. Moreover, with a burgeoning family and mounting court appearances, life became an arduous balancing act.

Back to Where I Started

Against the odds, I graduated, albeit to the surprise of professors. Concurrently, immigration issues resolved, business thrived, and investments in real estate burgeoned. From an initial property deal in Los Altos Hills to a burgeoning real estate portfolio, I ascended to millionaire status, earning accolades in the Chinese community and media recognition.

However, a financial storm hit with skyrocketing interest rates and industry deregulation during the Carter Administration, forcing the closure of my charter flight operations and straining my real estate ventures. I faced a stark reversal, transitioning from opulence to renting a house, relinquishing luxuries, and enduring a divorce. It brought me back to when I was young. Seemingly overnight the glory days were gone again.

All the super-rich billionaire “Friends” I use to eat and drink with suddenly started avoiding me, did not return my calls, and my pleads for help, highlighting life’s capricious nature. I was banned from entering Taiwan for trying to do business with China. So, I could not go to Taiwan to raise money to save all the real estate. It seemed life had come full circle but now in my 30s. Navigating financial ruins, I learned invaluable lessons: Not all friends are true friends, the good times will never last, and lastly, when you are living the high life people especially your competitors will try to pull you down – no doubt about it.

A New Chapter

Forced to pivot, I delved into real estate brokerage. This marked a new chapter in my tumultuous yet resilient journey.

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