The Playstation 5 was a near-impossible-to-get-your-hands-on gift this holiday season, but “Kim’s Convenience” star Simu Liu wanted to be sure one single dad in Toronto was among the few to receive the newly launched gaming console for his kids.
“This year for Christmas, I really wanted to just spread good cheer and highlight the efforts of someone in the community who’s doing real good, and the person we’re visiting today is Stan,” explained Liu, in the video below, originally posted Sunday on the actor’s Instagram account.
The Stan in question is Stanley Chang, who has been raising his two children Jolène, seven, and Dylan, five, alone, since his wife and their mother, Joanna (Jo) Duong Chang, died at age 38, in July 2019.
“I think about how hard it must be to be going through that, but also ― of all times and of all places ― to be going through it in the middle of COVID and lockdown and whatnot,” continued the actor, as he drove through Toronto to drop off the surprise gift.
On his arrival at the unsuspecting family’s home, Liu spoke with Chang in the doorway, while the children looked on with curiosity ― and perhaps a hint of suspicion ― as the present was handed over. “We brought you a little something that’s brought me a lot of joy, in the last few weeks in particular, since it’s come out,” said Liu. “I’m hoping that it will bring you guys joy too.”
“I equate this grief as a widowed parent to pushing a large boulder up a hill with the kids behind me. If I stop pushing, the kids and I will be harmed so stopping isn’t an option.”
Before leaving, Liu addressed Chang again to say he’d also be donating $1,000 to the foundation created in memory of the kids’ mom. Visibly touched, the single dad thanked him for the gesture.
Later, in an interview with HuffPost Canada, Chang spoke about how losing Jo has affected the family, this past 18 months.
“I would say we each have handled her death differently,” he said. “Dylan was three, so his memories of Jo are vague. He says he remembers (and misses) Momma’s kisses and tickles.” Chang said that grief therapy has helped the children; they started it before their mother’s death, to help them process her illness. Dylan is comfortable with expressing the full range of his emotions as they surface. “The other night after lights out, he was making a scrunched up face (like he was wincing in pain). I asked him what was going on and he said, ‘I’m crying because I miss Momma,’” said Chang.
Jolène was six when her mother died, so her memories were clearer, but she tends to be more private in her grief, explained her father. “She often talks about how ‘it feels like Mom is just away on a long trip.’”
Chang described his own transition to being a widowed parent as “extremely difficult.” He said, “The hardest part for me was the realization and acceptance that the dreams and future we talked about will never be fulfilled ― we had been preparing to take a year off work and travel the world with the kids.” In spite of his own feelings of loss, Chang has focused on being there for his son and daughter:
“I equate this grief as a widowed parent to pushing a large boulder up a hill with the kids behind me. If I stop pushing, the kids and I will be harmed so stopping isn’t an option. There are little plateaus here and there to rest, but ultimately, there is no end. It goes without saying, but dealing with the loss of a spouse ― especially with kids ― really turns the world upside down.”
For Chang, running the Joanna Duong Chang Memorial Foundation has helped to honour his late wife’s memory and her values as a champion of girls and women. The goal, according to the Foundation’s website, is to raise $100,000 by the end of this year, “to break down barriers preventing girls and women from reaching their full potential.” The money raised will be re-distributed to various woman-focused charities, such as Dress for Success and Black Women in Motion. It will also fund a scholarship for a female Business major in the Math Faculty, at the University of Waterloo, Jo’s alma mater.
“He plays a likeable and warm-hearted character in "Kim’s Convenience," and seeing him talk to the kids, I can see the character is a close extension of who he really is.”
“Jo was the youngest of five kids, which likely nurtured her ability early on to carve out her place at the table,” explained Chang. After graduating from University of Waterloo with a Math and Business Administration degree from the Math Faculty, she took a 100 per cent commission-based job with Xerox, then had a stint in real estate, before ultimately launching Henkaa, in 2010. The company she founded creates special-occasion convertible dresses and tops that can transition into daywear; the garments fit and flatter women’s bodies of all shapes and sizes, through wrapping, knotting and styling ― no tailoring required.
“Jo always had a huge heart so helping and supporting others in their own efforts was natural for her,” said Chang. “She believed everyone (especially women) has the ability to start a side business and to be more financially independent.” Her life motto? “Don’t be afraid to zig even if everyone else zags.”
Chang described his wife as someone who cherished her children above all ― an excellent reader of bedtime stories with a voice that was magnetic to little kids. “She didn’t want the kids to see her in pain or suffering, she wanted them to remember her smile, her joy and her love,” he said. “She just really wanted them to love life and live each moment to its fullest and she took every opportunity to teach and guide them in how to be a better human being and make the world a better place.”
Asked how the children responded to their surprise gift from Simu Liu, Chang said, “Funnily enough, they didn’t really know what a PS5 was at first ― I hadn’t really introduced them to video games yet. But Jolène liked the ribbon that it was wrapped in and Dylan liked the Sackboy character on the game cover.” However, once they gave their new toy a try, they were “beyond excited.”
As for their reaction to being visited by a famous actor, Chang said, “Jolène watched ‘Kim’s Convenience’ with me, so she was smitten and giddy with actually meeting him in person ― after she figured out who it was since he had a mask on when he came to the door.”
He went on to explain that Jolène had already expressed an interest in becoming an actress, “but during the summer she came to me in tears and said ‘My dream will never be fulfilled because [Chinese] people like me aren’t in movies.’”
Shocked that his daughter had already picked up on the dearth of diversity in casting, Chang related that after that day, “I started seeking out any movies or shows that had Asian actors, such as Awkwafina in Jumanji and the family in “Kim’s Convenience.”
“Seeing an Asian actor in person seemed to really make an impression on her,” said Chang, adding he didn’t think it would hit Dylan until Liu’s new Marvel movie was released. “When he sees Simu in the film, it’ll really connect ― he’s a huge Marvel fan.”
Chang himself appreciated the surprise visit. “I really want to thank Simu for taking the time to come to our house,” the dad said. “He plays a likeable and warm-hearted character in ‘Kim’s Convenience,’ and seeing him talk to the kids, I can see the character is a close extension of who he really is.”
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