On May 12, 2005, Simon Sek Man Ng, a 19 year-old Hong Kong Chinese student in Queens, New York, wrote the following blog post:
“Today I missed my Japanese class again, since I have gotten a bad throat. I only went to the class once this week … Anyway today has been weird, at 3 some guy ringed the bell. I went down and recognized it was my sister's former boyfriend. He told me he wants to get his fishing poles back. I told him to wait downstair while I get them for him. While I was searching them, he is already in the house. He is still here right now, smoking, walking all around the house with his shoes on which btw I just washed the floor 2 days ago! Hopefully he will leave soon…”
What looks like the rather mundane post of a teenage slacker turned out to be his ghostly digital epitaph as Ng was brutally murdered the same day. His blog still lives online.
The post left a big clue for police and led them directly to the killer, the sister’s ex-boyfriend Ng mentioned.
It is the premise for the new film short “Today Has Been Weird,” which premiered recently at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival. In it, Chinese-Canadian Director Quentin Lee adapts Ng’s story to the Vancouver environment he knew as a student, when he too had “parachuted" into a foreign culture for an education, alone and far away from his family back in Hong Kong.
Lee first heard Ng’s story in 2005, when he was a blogger on the same Xanga network. The story stuck with him through the years, and he jumped at the chance to bring it to the big screen.
“I had always been moved by [Ng’s situation]. My parents just shipped me off,” Lee said. “For Thanksgiving, I stayed in my dorm. I felt isolated and not connected to the culture.”
Lee said he was moved by the dramatic irony of Ng’s story. Ng wrote so many blog posts that no one read, seeking connection from imaginary friends.
“The first time his blog became popular was after his death.”
Lee did take some artistic license, moving the scene of the crime from Queens to Vancouver, changing the protagonist to a video blogger named Clement, and making the killer Caucasian.
The real murderer was 23 year-old Jin Lin, who also killed Ng’s sister later the same day.
While Ng’s brutal murder was unusual, his desire for connection in a foreign culture is common among “parachute kids,” primary or secondary school-age children sent alone to study in the U.S. or Canada.
“The stress of immigration, coping with separation from parents, and having high academic expectations greatly affects the psychological and emotional well-being of parachute children,” write Yuying Tsong and Yuli Liu in Asian American Psychology: Current Perspectives. “Whether the children live alone, with relatives, or with a paid caregiver, many of them expressed experiencing loneliness and homesickness.”
And it’s not just a few cases. While exact numbers are hard to come by, it’s estimated that since the 1980s, hundred of thousands of Asian youth, mostly from Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and China have come to the U.S. and Canada without their parents, some as young as eight.
In an interview, Tsong, a psychology professor at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, California, said the numbers from Taiwan and Korea are decreasing as the education systems there improve, but anecdotally she sees an increase in kids from China and other countries.
“I know for Taiwanese and Korean parents, what they’re looking for is essentially a better opportunity to have a good education, which leads to better careers, which I think in traditional Asian countries leads to supposedly better lives.”
"Parachute kids" usually end up living with siblings, like Ng did, or with other relatives or friends of the family.
“Typically these parents don’t drop these kids off in Akron, Ohio, where there aren’t other Asians,” said Tsong. “They drop them in Irvine [California] or in communities where there are Asians around, and they know people. There is a sense that if [the child does] anything, [their] parents are going to hear about it.”
She said the majority of these students adjust fine, but that the media only talks about the one percent who become Nobel Prize winners or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, those who fail miserably.
“I think the norm is that there is quite a range,” Tong said. “It really comes down to how parents try to maintain the relationship.”
And that, she said, is a struggle for every family. When asked if she thought Lee’s movie fairly reflects the culture of parachute students, Tsong said except for the comment about the boyfriend wearing shoes in the house, “Today Has Been Weird” could be about any teenager trying to find a connection.