As a young boy from the countryside in Cambodia, I never could have imagined that one day I would be shaking hands with U.S. presidents and living in a 7,000-square-foot mansion in Southern California. I didn’t even know anything about the palm trees and what the Golden State was. I was born very poor and raised by a single mother in the small town of Sisophon, far from any opportunities in life. My mother knew that my only chance out of poverty was education, so she spared food for herself and sent me to the best schools she could, outside of our small town.
My life changed when I met the girl who smelled of flowers. It was in the French high school in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. She was my classmate, Suganthini. It was love at first sight, but we were worlds apart—she was the daughter of one of the richest and most powerful families in Cambodia and I was the son of a single, impoverished mother. Eventually, through dramatic events too long to get into on a single page, we were allowed to marry and we had three kids. It was bliss. But, in April 1975, just before the Cambodian New Year, life as we knew it ended.