'WHERE IS Ting?"
The question must, by now, stalk Amy Ting in her dreams. It's been beaten
into her head almost from the time she entered basic training in the U.S. Air
Force just after Christmas. Sergeants shouted the question every time she had
to fall in for duty. Officers shouted it whenever she was supposed to report
for some rudimentary detail work.
"Where is Ting?"
Which happens to be a good question to ask this Friday, when "Miss Wonton"
opens at Cinema Village in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. Not only does this
independent movie mark Ting's first starring role in a feature film, it's
Ting's first feature film.
One would think that an actress would want to be in town for such an
auspicious occasion. If Ting could be around, she would. But the 23-year-old
Malaysian-born New Jersey resident is now beginning the second phase of her Air
Force training at Sheppard Air Force Base near Wichita Falls, Texas.
It's just the latest stop on a winding journey that began its more radical
detour on Sept. 11, when Ting barely escaped being one of the casualties of the
terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center while trying to help others
survive through choking, blinding debris.
It was her harrowing experiences that day that made her decide that, movie
or no movie, she wanted to do something that would serve her country and help
people at the same time. Hence, the Air Force, where she has chosen to study
"After something like [Sept. 11] happens to you, what is my purpose in
life? What should I do?" explained Ting, whose last job was as a desk clerk and
management trainee at the New York Marriott Financial Center in what once was
the World Trade Center complex [CORRECTION: Actress Amy Ting had worked at the
Marriott World Trade Center hotel. Due to an editing error, the hotel name was
incorrect in a story in yesterday's Part 2. pg. A02 ALL 3/7/02].
She was at the concierge's desk at about 8:40 a.m. on Sept. 11 when she
heard "a thundering sound. All I could think about was whether someone had
dropped heavy equipment on the second floor. Then the alarm came on and that's
when we first thought something had really happened, but no one knew what it
It would be hours later, after finding safety in Staten Island, that Ting
learned airplanes had crashed into the two Trade Center towers. "We had to
evacuate the guests first. That's hotel policy. Of course, not a lot of people
cared what management thinks, and they ran. But I didn't think it was really
serious then. So I just sort of forgot to think of myself."
So Ting helped handicapped guests reach a safe place, worked the phones to
get medical help, found water for rescue workers and other hotel employees.
Sometime shortly before 10 a.m. she heard a firefighter shout, "Run, you guys!
The building's collapsing!" Before Ting could even think about the
improbability of such an event, the first of the two towers came down. The
force of the collapse was powerful enough to blow her across another part of
the hotel lobby.
That devastating moment seems far removed from the first months of 2000,
when Ting was working in front of director Meng Ong's cameras for "Miss
Wonton." She plays Ah Na, a simple-minded girl from a small town in China,
forced to flee to America when falsely accused by her villagers of carrying the
AIDS virus. She gets a job as a waitress in a restaurant in New York's
Chinatown, where she also must share cramped quarters with other immigrants.
She has vague, unfocused dreams of fame and riches, but finds sordid and
heartbreaking adventures when hanging around with other immigrant Chinese women
at Grand Central Terminal, looking for work and/or men.
Ong, a recent graduate of New York University's Film School, said such
cruising spots are commonplace in Singapore, though not at Grand Central. He
was moved to cast Ting, who auditioned for the role, "because I wanted someone
who was fresh-faced and natural, but still had a streak of glamour. Amy was
perfect because on the one hand, she comes across as the kind of person you
just happen to talk with on the PATH train. And yet, her mother was this big
singing star in Singapore."
Ting was raised in Singapore until she was 10, when she and her mother
immigrated to America. She'd been studying pre-med at Rutgers University while
taking on modeling and acting jobs in commercials. "I wanted to act and sing
and dance," she said. "But you need backup, right?" So she applied for a job
Since enlisting, Ting has found herself in demand for special interviews on
her experiences and her acting arranged by Air Force publicists. "Where is
Ting?" has become a mantra. Just last week, she said, she'd been nodding off in
a room full of other recruits reporting for duty at Sheppard when she heard
that infernal question again: "Where is Ting?"
She immediately snapped to attention. "Yes, sir! Here, sir!"
The officer asked, "Are you the Ting who is a movie actress?"
"Yes, sir," she shouted.
"Are you the one who was at the WTC on Sept. 11 and stayed to help others?"
"Sir. Yes, sir!" she shouted.
Everyone in the room, officers and recruits, stood up to applaud.
It's not like being close to home for your first film. But it'll do.