Before being an American, I was a Cambodian refugee who was primarily identifiable by my serial number “3/3 T.31817”.

I was a leaf at the mercy of the wind. The wind carried me from one remote part of the world to another. It blew me through turbulence and catastrophic weather. It took me to a Khmer Rouge labor camp and lingered for an eternity. It dehydrated me and nearly starved me to death. I helplessly watched the most devilish mother of all winds ruthlessly crush my tree into lifeless pulp. Like an almighty Olympian god, when the wind wanted to toy with me, it blew me through minefields, rockets, and bullets. While two million leaves disintegrated, I persevered. Through an extraordinary journey, I discovered myself. I am fortunate, and I don’t easily perish. I was a golden leaf:

        golden leaf (gōl'dən lēf) – n., pl. golden leaves (gōl'dən lēvz)
                1.      a survivor of a heinous act against humanity, especially genocide.
                2.      Golden Leaf (pl. Golden Leaves):
                         a.       A person who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide:  “Golden Leaf, A Khmer
                         Rouge Genocide Survivor” (Kilong Ung, KU Publishing LLC, ISBN: 9780982350201)
                3.      one who survives against extreme odds

Between 1975 and 1979, I survived the Cambodian genocide that killed two million Cambodians, ten members of my family (including my grandmother, parents, and youngest sister), and over fifty of my relatives. After my escape into Thailand in 1979, I came to the United States as a refugee, learned English in high school, graduated from Reed College with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and graduated from Bowling Green State University with a master’s degree in applied statistics and operations research. I started my consulting career with Andersen Consulting (aka Accenture) in 1989.

Twenty years after my escape, I returned to visit Cambodia for the first time in 1999. During my visit, a childhood friend of mine approached me and offered to kill a former Khmer Rouge village chief who put me and my family through hell. For 800 USD, I had a man’s life in my hand. With my utmost consideration, I walked away from the temptation.

Against all odds, I survived, laid down roots, and became a tree.

Professionally, I am a software engineer. Aside from my profession, I am a member of the Ambassadors for Peace (Oregon chapter), Advisory Team of the Project Enlighten, Rotary Club of Portland, Royal Rosarians (official goodwill ambassadors for the City of Portland), and Oregon Council on Civil Rights.

I am a board director of the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon, Golden Leaf Charter High School, Golden Leaf Education Foundation, Rotary Club of Portland, Cascade Pacific Council of the Boy Scouts of America Executive Board. I am also a member of the 2010-2011 Royal Rosarians Council (Royal Scribe).

My past civic involvements include the Portland Immigrant and Refugee Task Force, the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Advisory Committee's Housing Subcommittee, and Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement Director Hiring Committee. I also served as President of the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon (four years) and Board Director of the Portland Village School (public charter school).

As a tree, I am lying down to serve as a bridge between communities. I am dreaming of building schools and libraries for poor children in Cambodia and around the world. Unfortunately, I can only yield so much wood; so I need a forest.

As a founding member of the Golden Leaf Education Foundation, I am more than a tree; I am part of a forest, a force that makes the world a better place.

Through the publication of my memoir "Golden Leaf, A Khmer Rouge Genocide Survivor", I became a speaker. In the reflection of my own past, I have delivered motivational speeches that inspired people to celebrate life, put things in perspective, hope, dream, have courage, overcome obstacles, live a balanced life, and help others.

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