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Ung was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the sixth of seven children and the third of four girls, to Seng Im Ung and Ay Choung Ung. Her actual birthdate is unknown; the Khmer Rouge destroyed many of the birth records of the inhabitants of cities in Cambodia. At ten years of age, she escaped from Cambodia as a survivor of what became known as "the Killing Fields" during the reign of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime. After emigrating to the United States and adjusting to her new country, she wrote two books which related her life experiences from 1975 through 2003.