Ng pursues career and passion at Princeton

By Karin Dienst

Princeton NJ -- Attending Princeton allows Tze Wei Ng, who goes by the name "Frankie," to accomplish two things important to him personally: He is fulfilling the expectations of his family by majoring in economics, and he is pursuing his own dream to make films.

Tze Wei Ng
"The etymology of my name is 'noble son," said Ng. "I made a lot of decisions when I was younger based on what my dad thought was best. He came to Singapore as a young child from China, so my family has a pretty typical middle class immigrant kind of story. My parents wanted to give me all the opportunities they could not have."

Ng is the first person in his immediate family to study overseas. His undergraduate education is sponsored by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, which annually offers up to 20 scholarships for international and domestic study. There are strings attached; after graduation in 2004 Ng is expected to return to Singapore and work for the central bank for six years. His economics training at Princeton and future work experience will give him a solid foundation from which to pursue a career in the financial sector, should he choose. Meanwhile, he is eager to explore his passion for the arts.

During high school, Ng was involved in theater, rapidly becoming ever more excited about the arts in a densely populated city-state that generally emphasizes financial success and professionalism.

"Academics in Singapore are competitive and rigid, and the arts are underfunded," said Ng. "Also, there's a huge stigma to being in the performing arts. I would hear things like: 'What's a straight guy doing in theater, and why do you want to waste your time instead of making money?'"

Ng felt this conflict at home, and was eager to get some distance from Singapore and to study in a more open environment.

"I put Princeton on my list because it is prestigious and I spoke to a lot of alumni," said Ng. "I also thought Princeton was just outside New York, but now I know that you can't just go in to the city for an afternoon."

Once on campus, Ng pursued his interest in theater by writing and staging a play in his sophomore year called "Binds," which is about three ghosts. Ten students were involved in the production, which had four shows and was supported by the International Center, the Fields Center and various academic departments.

But a new passion was growing that Ng lost no time pursuing once at Princeton: filmmaking. He took a course in video production his first semester and "made up his mind to be a filmmaker."

He bought a camera and worked on projects such as filming plays for the Program in Theater and Dance. The camera became another eye through which Ng looked at life in the United States and at home in Singapore. When he was awarded the 2002 Martin Dale Summer Scholarship, he focused in on his family and life in Singapore in an experimental documentary called "Homecoming."

"It was a powerful experience because when I went home a lot of things happened," he said. An elderly relative passed away and another family member was seriously ill. He also was struck by the amount of construction occurring on the small island, and was interested in what was being lost as more buildings shot up.

"There was a story much discussed that summer about how the Mass Rapid Transit subway system was being built through graveyards, and they were taking out bodies and putting them into tiny concrete blocks," said Ng. "I went to the site and spoke with the contractor. I drew a parallel between those blocks and the way we live in Singapore with the huge HDBs everywhere."

Singapore's landscape bristles with high-rise public housing buildings known as HDBs, which stands for Housing Development Board.

"In Singapore we live and die in these cramped spaces, and there's less space over time and more people dying," said Ng. "So my film was about that and about going home and reconnecting with my family after a year away."

In the United States, Ng shot a film in Baltimore with a fellow student and other friends. "It was an ethnically and racially mixed group, and the method of filming was very experimental," he said. "I was in Baltimore for two months, and we worked nonstop. We were shooting in a neighborhood where the KFC had bulletproof glass to protect cashiers at the counter."

Currently Ng is working on a documentary of the International Center with Paula Chow, the center's director.

When not behind a camera or doing course work, Ng spends time with friends, whom he describes as an "esoteric bunch of people."

"I try to solve my friends' love problems, and that takes time," he joked. "It's hard not to be social because Princeton is so small; the key is to pick your friends well."

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