The life and death of Daniel Hong

Several months before I moved to Hong Kong I stumbled upon a web site that was so disarming, so ingenious and creative and full of energy that I contacted its proprietor, a college student living in Massachusetts named Daniel Hong. I told him how much I admired his work and that I’d be privileged if he’d allow me to write articles for the site and help edit his own copy. Daniel was Korean, and his English needed polishing, though I found his writing, mistakes and all, to be endearing and charming.

Some of the early pieces in this blog were actually essays I wrote for Daniel. The post on the ice-skating star Chen Lu was for danielhong.org, as was Kicking the Bucket, the first post to get me a link on another blog (thanks, Conrad). Daniel was a web designer, and his site was a treasure trove of stories and interviews and reviews of new web sites. It was also a webcam site; Daniel had a webcam in every room of his apartment, and he seemed to enjoy being the center of attention.

He was also selfless and giving. He was always participating in Walk for AIDS and Walk for Breast Cancer and Walk for Hunger, always raising money for charities. All this, and he was only in his early 20s. I knew him mostly via the Internet and we only met once, in 2001 when I was visiting my family in New York. He was one of the kindest, sweetest people I ever met, with just a little touch of devilish humor.

I don’t remember when the last time we spoke was, though I think it was early 2002. I called him and he sounded terrible. “I can’t talk, Richard,” he said. “I need to go on Prozac. I’ll tell you about it later.” I left him alone, and I never heard from him again. When I tried to send him emails with new essays, they bounced back. I thought I did something to offend him, and that I was on his “refuse” list. I was quite upset.

I wrote an email to Daniel just two days ago because I wanted to get in touch with a mutual friend. The email didn’t bounce back this time, but there was no reply. Then I located the friend using google, and in my email I told him about my blog and I mentioned Daniel. What happened later was a little awkward; the friend read one of my posts and put in a comment that mentioned Daniel and how sad he was that Daniel had passed away — he presumed that I knew all about it.

When I saw the comment, it was a though a rat had bitten me. I looked at it and I kept re-reading it, trying to make sense out of it. Passed away? Dead? Daniel Hong? He’s a kid! He’s probably only 25 years old.

I wrote a frantic email to our mutual friend. I’m afraid I put him in the awkward position of having to break the awful news to me. (If you’re reading this, thanks so much for bearing with me last night; I was a bit hysterical.)

The reason for the tragedy: Daniel had been trying to get his green card for years, and apparently the INS denied it. Daniel was so distraught he took his own life.

I’ve had to deal with the deaths of friends and loved ones before, having lost my brother in 1996 and my closest friend in 1991. This was, however, the first time someone I loved had committed suicide.

As I heard the reason, I felt a rush of pain, of rage and of confusion. Daniel was so talented, he could do anything. He could have designed web sites and run businesses from Korea and come back to visit anytime. Yes, maybe he was crushed and disappointed — but is that a reason to take your life? And so young? So full of life and wit and brilliance? Why? How could he do it to himself, and to those who love him, his mother, his family?

I don’t know all the details yet, but I know enough for this to be a very dark day. I knew he was upset when I called, but I had no idea he could even be thinking about suicide. Not Daniel. I knew Daniel was going to be rich and famous. He had everything going for him.

And so, once again, I face the sad fact that people are not always what they appear on the outside, and sometimes those who appear strong and resilient are the most weak and fragile of all.

I tried to put myself in Daniel’s place, to understand how hopeless, how totally miserable he must have felt to actually kill himself. I can’t do it. He must have been totally shattered, every dream wiped out, with no possibility of hope, ever. Or at least it must have seemed that way to him. Why didn’t he call me? Why didn’t he say something?

It will take me a few days or weeks to deal with this. I spent the morning using google to pull up bits and pieces of his cached web site, the only part of Daniel that remains.

Wherever you are Daniel, please know that a lot of people miss you. Your little site lit up the world, and you brought happiness to everyone who knew you. I hope you’re at peace now. We all love you.

______________

Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 11 Comments

A moving tribute. Condolences, Richard.

Kevin

November 8, 2004 @ 9:32 pm | Comment

Sorry Richard.

November 9, 2004 @ 12:22 am | Comment

I keep coming back to this disturbing post, to try and make sense of his death.

I imagine the sense of helplessness caused by an immigration process with thousands of pages of rules requiring petitions, lawyers and thousands of dollars over many years, but which is finally decided in a judgement call by a bored clerk.

And in that moment your life in America, your last several years, and all your future plans are laid to waste.

Thank you for writing about him, Richard.

November 9, 2004 @ 7:40 am | Comment

Thanks guys. Boo, it was an agonizing post to write and I cried as I wrote the last paragraph. I

November 9, 2004 @ 7:50 am | Comment

My Prayer to Daniel

Dear Daniel,

I learned only a few days ago of your departure; the news has saddened me greatly and I am grieving your loss. At first I was in denial, hoping that it would not be true. When faced with the sad truth, I was devastated. Even though we never met, you were a dear friend. Now that you are gone, I wish that I could have been a better friend for you. I am remorseful that I was so hard to find the last couple of years of your life.

You changed my life. With your departure, once again, you are making me do some soul-searching.

I hope that your spirit lives on so that I can reach you with this prayer. I want you to know that we are doing well. I had been trying to reach you to tell you how I was doing; in each case the email bounced. I wondered what had happened to you, and why your web site wasn’t being maintained. I assumed that maybe you had been deported or just decided to get away from the web.

I wanted to tell you that I have finally been dieting and working out like I wrote about on your site all those years ago. My son is now 5 years old and in kindergarten. He is very artistic; in fact, he is by far the best artist in his class. I think that you would be proud of him, Daniel. As for me, I am happy although dealing with the day-to-day struggles of life.

I don’t understand why you took your life, Daniel. It is very hard for me to accept. I know you had your troubles but you could have worked them out. You had much going for you. You were kind, caring, and charming, with a way to connect to others that few possess. You could have gone a long way with those qualities. Your website was a wonderful gift that you gave to the world.

I have many fond memories of you. I remember how you congratulated me on your website when my son was born. I remember the movie reviews I did for you and the interview we did together. I remember the many lengthy chat sessions we had together on AIM. I’ll never forget you, Daniel. G’Nite Hugs, and good-bye.

“Kevin” of danielhong.org

November 24, 2004 @ 8:30 am | Comment

Song told me this morning and then pointed me to this site and now I have read Richard’s posting. I don’t know….

Over these last 2-3 years Ihave tried to find Daniel again. Searchin on Google, visiting the old web address, even looking for old files on WinMX that might be posted from Daniel’s saucier days. I wrote to Lloyd once in fact and each time I was disappointed that I could not learn what had happened to Daniel. Now I konw.

We had corresponded for those few years while the site was active. I wrote one piece for him after he took such interest in my illness. He flew out to San Francisco once to visit — when was that? Before dialysis surely — ’98, ’96?? Daniel was 22 then, I think. He was here for a few days, and visited the City. I think he enjoyed himself. I always considered myself lucky that we got to actually meet and enjoy a few moments. But now… I don’t konw…

I wonder if they know in Finley. I hope there is someone there who kept in touch. I see the Boston Boys site is still running. Two boys from Boston. More, now less, it seems.

Well… it’s just a distrubing morning, though I am thankful that time was taken to pass this word around to the scattered individuals that knew Daniel Hong and got a kick out of his website, or his quirky personality, or a moment in the little spotlight he set up, or a cheap thrill. It was all there. Not always clear, but not much held back. Such a sincere guy. So early on that bandwagon.

I have thought about Daniel more than would have been expected by our minor contact. People have an impact sometimes.

– Daveysan

November 28, 2004 @ 11:53 am | Comment

David, thanks for the comment. I learned that Daniel was not quite as happy or as light-hearted as a casual visitor to danielhong.org might believe. I read his cached article about his father beating his mother when he was a boy and how frightened he was, and I realized he was a lot more tortured than any of us ever knew. Lloyd is still running the Boston web site. He held a memorial service for Daniel shortly after his suicide in March 2002. I wish I could have been there. I’m sure he let all of Daniel’s old friends know about the tragedy.

If there’s anything you’d like to share with me about Daniel, please feel free to send me an email.

November 29, 2004 @ 6:52 pm | Comment

What a tragic end to a bright and talented young man. I had been a frequent visitor to Daniel’s web site and enjoyed his unusual perspective on life. I’m very saddened to learn of his death and I pray that he has moved on to a happier place, and that those who loved him, and those of us who knew him from the edges can find peace. Daniel made me smile, and that’s what I shall remember…

January 24, 2005 @ 9:17 pm | Comment

We go through life expecting that those we have met and loved are living their lives – hopefully happy – wherever they may have landed. Our lasting impression is usually the last one made. We carry on through life with that image of the person who has touched our heart never changing until the next contact, the latest update. Assumptions don’t make an ass of us, they break our hearts. Findlay did not know about Daniel. We envisioned him in Boston, gleefully working on his website, meeting new people and caring about everyone. My last contact with Daniel was a surprise call. Somehow he got my cell phone number shortly after I ventured into the world of advanced communications, and he just wanted to say hi. He told me about Boston – how much he loved it, his new life and his new “job” which was never much of a job to him but a well-loved hobby that paid. Rumor had it he had accepted who he truly was, but he never mentioned it to me. He said he would keep in touch. You know how that goes. Today – how many years later? – I learned he is dead. Findlay had only known for a couple of months. His fraternity brothers found out via the internet. I found out via his fraternity brother. You speak of the awkward position of forcing someone to break the bad news. Today the news was unknowingly broken in conversation. I am grieving for someone who has been gone so many years. Just a few weeks ago I ran across pictures of our “date” to one of his first fraternity parties. I remembered thinking I had never gotten a chance to see his website he was so proud of. Now I guess I never will, for it seems even that piece of Daniel is gone. If I had known he needed a Green Card…

[Kate, I posted this for you after re-opening the thread. Richard]

February 26, 2006 @ 8:00 pm | Comment

I am going through some old papers and come across a program entitiled “In Celbration of the Life and Work of Daniel Hong 24 February, 1977 – 23 June, 2002″ I still recall that day as if it was yesterday…
I was a college classmate of Daniel’s, and the news struck like a knife. The only vivid recollection I have of a conversation with him was a couple of months after 9-11, when he asked me how there could be a G-d in the world that would let this happen. I didn’t realize the enormity of his question…
It was only after his death that I learned about his wonderful website and how he had helped so many people.
The world has truly suffered a loss.

July 4, 2006 @ 5:46 pm | Comment

[...] fanatics out of the woodwork. For a while that thread was a circus. Another post dear to my heart dealt with the suicide of an old friend of mine. I had presumed, wrongly, that all his friends knew of his death. Most of them learned of it [...]

April 18, 2012 @ 11:07 am | Pingback

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