Last month a publishing company sent out the usual distribution email offering a copy of the book “The Donut King”. I was intrigued by the remarkable sounding rags to riches life story of Ted Ngoy. I asked for a copy and it was promptly sent and received.
It’s a small book, 169 pages long. It is written in the first person by Ted Ngoy himself. It is very well written. His voice throughout is honest, sometimes painfully so. There is no arrogance or self-pity. I related to him because of his honesty. He describes his story with self-reflection, and the drama and intrigue that colours his story from beginning to end is the result of life happening, not Hollywood embellishment.
Ted Ngoy and I couldn’t be farther apart. I’ve never experienced hunger, war, fear, served in an army, or had a wet and cold bed to sleep in. I’ve also never built an empire of donut shops, been wealthy, or rubbed shoulders with people with political influence.
Ted Ngoy is from Cambodia, and his story starts and ends here. I was born in 1967, and I remember hearing Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot in the background through the 1970’s. I had no idea then what it meant, and am ashamed to say I didn’t learn about it until reading Ted Ngoy’s book this past month. I did some internet research as well and am saddened by what happened between 1975 and 1978 under Pol Pot’s evil regime. Estimates are up to 3 million people were killed in this time. To give that perspective, that is 75% of the population of Alberta.
Ted Ngoy was able to flee Cambodia by the skin of his teeth. He recounts his dramatic exit in 1974, amid explosions and an anxious pilot who was waiting for him well past his departure time upon the request of a friend.
In America, Ngoy built wealth and respect by learning about the donut business. He was generous with his knowledge and shared it with other Cambodian refugees, making them successful in their new country.
Where Ted Ngoy gets real for me is when he gets obsessive with gambling. It is here in the story that a multi-millionaire becomes very, very human. He gets addicted to the energy and euphoria that happens to some when gambling. In his case, his addiction started in Las Vegas. He forgets everything else, and loses all his millions. When Ted Ngoy wants to stop, he starts bargaining with himself. Very much like me when I have eaten too many chocolates, or drank too much wine, and make promises to myself that that I Will Never Eat Another Chocolate, or Drink Another Glass of Wine in My Life again. The humanness of what Ted Ngoy went through this dark time is very relatable. If I’m honest as he is, I will admit there was a certain pleasure about reading a story about someone so unimaginably successful, crashing and burning.
To preface that statement, you need to know this. In the promotional material I received from the publishing company, it says the author goes from rags to riches, not once but three separate times. “Come on!” I said to myself. At that moment I had little sympathy for someone who would allow this to happen once, let alone three times. You must also understand that my husband and I are the sort of people who do not take any risk whatsoever with our money. So I made a judgemental “tsk” and started to read the book. I warmed to Ted Ngoy with his early life and escape from Cambodia, but when he got bedazzled by the lights and smarmy surroundings in Vegas, I cooled a bit. “Got what you deserved Ted” I shouted at the pages.
Our Ted Ngoy though is one resilient human being. He builds himself up again after that. He does find religion. He also finds politics. He becomes a Republican supporter in the United States, and also finds his way back to Cambodia and rubs shoulders with the politically influential.
Back in Cambodia he shares a fascinating story about his foray with the Chinese and hybridized rice. The Chinese had developed a miracle rice that could produce three to five times the amount of regular rice. This would be particularly important in Cambodia as most of the country is agriculturally based, and the increased yield would benefit farmers and backers alike.
Again, his humanness struck me. Most of the world understands that business conducted in Asia is done with calm, respect and ritual. Ngoy loses his temper with a Chinese entourage who get all huffy and hoity-toity when there is a mix up and the Cambodian prime mister Hun Sen is not available to meet them. His outburst made me smile. How many of us wouldn’t want to lose our sh*t when keeping a level of decorum becomes impossible to contain?
I was moved by Ted Ngoy’s story. To me, it’s not so much about rags to riches, but about resilience. Something that I strive to have, even in my protected life of first world problems.
After an amazing journey, Ngoy is dedicating his life to helping the country and people of Cambodia. From teaching English, to giving property and business advice, he becomes (again) a highly respected individual.
As this is a food blog after all, I must link this in some way to food (yes donuts are food, but you know what I mean). When I reached out to the publisher I asked for a recipe that Ted Ngoy might want to share. In reply, I was told a favourite traditional Cambodian dish is Amok. Although I suspect there are as many recipes for amok as there is people on this earth, Ted Ngoy did recommend this particular one at Saveur. Wikipedia describes amok as “a thick soup cooked with fish, meat, vegetables, eggs and coconut milk.” I’m anxious to try this at home, and challenge my foodie friends to give it a go. Or, if you’ve had experience with this delicious sounding dish, let me know what you thought – would you have it again? Only in Cambodia? Anywhere in Edmonton that serves it?
My little blog serves mostly the people of Edmonton, Alberta. There are a handful of regular readers around the globe that combined is enough to generate enough interest to land my email address on public relations and marketing distribution lists far and wide. It’s because of that list, I was introduced to the fascinating life of Ted Ngoy.
Although worlds apart (except for donuts), Ted Ngoy has opened a world to me that I was completely sheltered from. I have learned and been saddened about the history and current state of Cambodia and its children. By writing this review and reflection of his story, I hope that you read Ted Ngoy’s story, learn about Cambodia, and consider if you can do something to support the children. I know I am.
If you are interested in supporting Cambodia’s children, there are many wonderful charitable foundations available out there. I list a few, but if you find you are in a position to donate, recommend you do your own research and make sure your money goes to a place that has the same values as you.
Thank you Ted Ngoy for sharing your story with us. It is inspirational and provides hope that any adversity can be overcome. His book will be available in May 2018.