Tears in Phnom Penh

I never know when the tears will come but I know they are there.

Whenever I mention my kids in Cambodia, my beautiful kids that I lived, worked and shared my life with, I feel hot tears stinging the back of my eyelids. I secretly clench my fists, hold my breath and pray to get through another conversation about my old life that feels so far from the beach in Thailand that I live on.

Just recently, after 18 months, I landed back in Phnom Penh with a smile from ear to ear as I sat in the back of the tuk tuk and was reminded of the smells and sights of this beautiful and broken city. Chaos is the best way to describe this place. And it is home.

I saw my Khmer family and friends; my old housemates, ex-pat friends, local friends, my old boss and brother ‘KK’ and all my kids who are now grown up. I made it through the whole week without crying. Even when I saw ‘Frog’ who I met at 15 as a troubled teen with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Frog, who would run away often, get back on drugs often, who I took to Italy to visit a drug rehab community … and even ran away from there! Frog, who I hadn’t seen for five years now because he had run away when I left the country. I had dinner with him. We ate tacos. He is now 20 years old. I stared and stared in disbelief at this adult before me and the two of us got the giggles. But I didn’t cry.

I saw my two boys I worry about most. The two that have been to hell and back more times than anyone ever should. ‘Tra,’ still with his girlfriend and ‘Kha’ smiling and trying to hide the sadness in his eyes. We hugged and hugged and stared at each other. We held hands, we smiled, we chatted and we knew. But I didn’t cry.

Then one night we sat around chatting about ‘Ya’. My beautiful, beautiful Ya. Ya, with the voice of an angel. Ya, who found English mind-boggling. Ya, who sang on stage with me in Australia and New Zealand in 2012. Ya, who I spent months teaching one sentence to in English so he could perform it at TEDx. Ya, who sang to me at my farewell party ‘Srei s’art Romi, mokpi Australi, ’ ‘Beautiful girl Romi who comes from Australia.’

Ya, the incredible young man I met at 19 who took extreme poverty to a level I had never seen before, even working in the slums. Yet he was humble, generous and forever shy.

Ya, who in 2012, was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.

Ya, scared and penniless didn’t have any money to pay the police or eventually the judge to get out of what would become a 12-year sentence, later reduced.

Back at the bar, one of my girls picks up her phone, dials, hands it to me and says ‘Ya.’ And Ya is on the phone. I run outside for some quiet and start talking to him in Khmer language. He answers in English. I do it again. English again. I am confused and start to wonder if it is actually him.

“Ya?”

“Yes”

“Ya?”

“Yes mum” and I know it is him.

“But you’re speaking English.”

“Yes, I study English in jail,” and he giggles.

He tells me he is ok and will be out in three months. He wants me to come back to celebrate. Three months!

We hang up and I am left standing in the streets of Phnom Penh in silence with a phone in my hand. And I cry.

I cry and cry so much my chest hurts. I can’t breathe. The owner of the bar Darin, comes out to me, her eyes full of concern. Darin who herself understands my kid’s lives better than anyone. Darin, the greatest success story off the streets of this poor country.

“What’s wrong?”

“Ya… jail … he speak English … three months… all grown up … my kids, they all grown up … Frog, Tra, Kha … all of them … they ok … they all grown up … I hug them … I see them … I know them …”

She stops my words by hugging me deeply.

“I know, I get it” and I know she does in a way that maybe no one else in the world could.

Asia Pacific Writers Conference, Manila.

“APWT is the largest, longest running, functioning literary network I know of in South East Asia and the Pacific”

Says Philipino Jose Dalisay better known ‘Butch.’

What an absolute pleasure it was for me to join this gang of amazing writers, publishers and translators. This is my third year at this conference which is in a different country every year. 2015 was in Manila with the theme ‘Against The Grain.’

To summarise my time there, I:

– I was on a panel titled ‘True Stories Need to be True’ with Beth Yahp (Malaysian), Irena Cristalis (Dutch), Neil Garcia (Philipino) and moderated by Qaisra Shahraz (Pakistani).

– I attended Tim Tomlinson’s incredible workshop on learning how to write/say a pitch.

– I did a public reading of my story ‘Climbing the Walls’ published in Griffith Review: New Asia Now to a full room. I was also pleasantly surprised (actually straight out shocked and excited) to arrive at the reading and find my name and a photo on a large projector… naturally I took a photo of me… and me… having a moment 😉

“One day I just let go…“

I love what I do!

Last month I held my ‘Writing from The Source’ workshop and the beautiful Mannu joined our group. By the next day he had written and posted his gratitude and expressed his new found voice, which I feel compelled to share. He wrote the most magnificent piece from one of the exercises we did in the class. Just stunning. Below is his post and story:

Today I went to a workshop called “Writing From The Source”, led by my lovely new friend Romi Grossberg.

She is a very inspiring and loving woman and I’ve been very lucky to share some very interesting conversations with.

Yesterday, as she was explaining me more about her work not only as a writer but a counsellor and therapist, she very kindly offered to put together a workshop where she could help me face some of my fears and blockages when it comes to writing.

I’m very excited to put to use all the tools I learned, not only for writing more intuitively and authentically, but also for writing more often even as self study and examination.

One of the exercises consisted in finding something in the nature around us and then write about it in only 3 minutes.

Immediately I thought I was not going to choose randomly but I was really to search for something in this nature that I could really relate and connect with. Something that maybe was going through the same process or “life” circumstances that I’m going through right now.

This is the result of that:

“And after all this time and all this struggle, I let go.

I held on to you for as long as I could. Maybe even longer. Like a drunk to an empty bottle.

I breathed just for you. I held on through pouring waters and typhonic winds until I realised there was no point anymore.

One day I just let go. I didn’t clench anymore, I just relaxed and let go.

It was very peaceful. The same winds and gusts I always feared just seemed to caress me as they floated and danced me around.

At the end I didn’t even hit the ground hard. I just flowed into it with grace.

To you and most, I might just look old and rugged and beaten; rotten and perhaps dead.

But trust me I’m everything but dead. I’m the possibility of life itself once again.

As I slowly melt into the earth, I just wait in blessed silence to see what I’ll become tomorrow.

A Dry Dead Leaf”

 

I am a Writer not a Hooper

“I am a writer not a hooper.”

These words somehow gave me comfort. They were also a pretty good excuse not to try. I have spent years watching incredible hoopers – dancers, performers and tricksters – Francie, Nola, Adam, Charlie and newcomer to our bay, Tammy Firefly. Many hoopers float in and out of our hooping bubble and I sit and watch … watch being the operative word.

I often thought if I had I joined in years ago at our weekly hoopjam instead of watching, drinking coffee, juggling, socialising and dancing, maybe I could be good too. But I hadn’t. What if I wasn’t? So I didn’t. Their tricks were advanced, their routines seemed flawless and their grace effortless.

I can poi,

I can juggle

and I chill…

Don’t get me wrong, Sunday’s hoopjam has always been my favourite event of the week. The energy is contagious as are the smiles on everyone’s faces. But to hoop? No, not for me. I am a writer… not a hooper. I did recently pick up poi though. It is great fun. I love that I can dance, laugh and make mistakes whilst spinning these things and it always looks deliberate. I can’t do that with a hoop though. Why? Well, because I am not a hooper of course.

I am told “you are a natural” but maybe they are being nice and saying that to everyone? I hoop and spin and follow each Master’s steps until I find myself lying on the ground spinning a hoop in the arch of my foot held high in the air. Seriously? I learn a bunch of tricks and then work out how to piece them together in to a sequence that looks like I have been rehearsing for years (well that might be a slight exaggeration, but you get my point).

The longer I go, the more my confidence grows and I am learning more tricks, more transitions and dancing, yes dancing, with my hoop! I am exhausted but cannot stop. One more trick. One more try. My favourite trick is what I call the ‘bum move’ that Francie taught us. Hayley and I dedicate some time to perfect this bum move whilst giggling and cheering each time we get it. I then very proudly call out to Francie to show her the little sequence I practiced that of course ended in, the bum move. It was like being a 5 year-old and getting your first hand stand down. And yes, I felt like a 5 year-old wanting to call out “Look at me, watch this, look what I can do!”

Adam yells out across the floor,

“You can no longer say you are not a hooper, Romi.”

Oh oh. Is he right?

So at the end of the day, after the sun has gone down and the rain trickled in, I make my trek over two hills home. My body is exhausted and I can barely move. I feel like I have been in a boxing ring. I arrive, order a fresh coconut and instead of sitting down (or lying down, or passing out), I start dancing. I dance with my imaginary hoop and start my lessons from the day all over again.

Oh oh. Another hobby. Another love. I am exhausted thinking about it. My body is so tired but can’t stop. So much more to learn, so much now to practice, get that booty move down pat! Yeh baby. I am starting to wonder – Was this all a ploy to get me to hoop?

But I am a writer not a hooper? Ha. I can be both.

Australia – you amaze me!

I planned a 3 week trip to Melbourne as an International guest of the Melbourne Jewish Writers Festival.

I planned a 3 week trip to Melbourne as an International guest of the Melbourne Jewish Writers Festival. When the time I came I must admit nerves set in, with the main question being, ‘Who is going to buy a ticket to hear me talk for an hour at 5pm on a Monday?’ The answer? Over 50 people! This turned out to be the first of many events and an extended trip in my old home town. Thank you to my family who came to support me too, from my 12-year old cousin to my 93 year-old grandmother.

Watch the interview here:

Part 1.

Part 2.

My next event was presenting along side the amazing Natasha Corbin at Lisa Entwistle’s Wellthy Living Collection Wisdom; Inspired talks and authentic connection. An incredible bunch of women who come together each month to share and learn from each other. Here is a selfie pic of Lisa, Natasha and me.

Then came the workshops – my first back in Australia. Again I wondered how the work I had been doing in Thailand with students from all over the world would actually work in Australia but I was more than presently surprised. My first workshop was booked out within a week. I held one workshop through Jewish Women of Words and the other I organised myself, hiring a beautiful space at Healing Delight (pic).

My Book Launch

The week after I landed back in Thailand from my book launch in Australia, the Tea Temple crew at The Sanctuary threw me the most beautiful book launch party. Family, friends and new friends came to help celebrate.

We chatted, did speeches and lots and lots of book (and a boob) signing. A magical day full of love and support and I am forever grateful.

 

 

  

My amazing trip to Samui

Once again I was invited by the amazing Anna Sugarman to host my ‘Writing From The Source’ workshop at her yoga teacher training in Bo Phut.

A small group this time but what a fantastic day of sharing, learning and fun. The girls-only group were certainly up for the challenge and were both brave and honest in their writing and discussion.

A special mention to Michelle who had the courage to face me in the ‘hot seat’ and discover the breath/writing based decision-making process I like to share through the art of gutism.

Of course it was not all work and no play, not with the combination of Anna and myself. She introduced me to delicious fancy cocktails at a gorgeous bar on the beach.

 

Melbourne events in May

I have finally landed in sunny Melbourne (yes the sun is actually shining).

I will be out and about doing public speaking and facilitating workshops during this month.

Here is an up to date short list of dates to remember.

Public Speaking

Mon 23rd : The Melbourne Jewish Writers Festival.

The Festival runs Sunday and Monday. I will be speaking on Mon at 5pm at The Lamm Library, Caulfield about my work with street kids in Cambodia and showing snippets from my Tedx talk. I will also discuss writing therapy and my new book on emotional intelligence.

BUY A TICKET

Fri 27th : Wellthy Living Collective Wisdom – inspired talks and authentic connection.

Come and be inspired. Natasha Corbin and myself will be speaking Fri 10-1pm at The Morocco Lounge, Greville Street, Prahran. This is a women’s only event.

BUY A TICKET

Workshops

Sat 28th : Workshop: Writing from The Source

Come and join me for a 4-hour workshop on Sat 11-3pm at the gorgeous Healing Delight Centre opposite Caulfield Park.

BOOK HERE

Sun 29th : Workshop: Write with Heart

Join me for the first in a series of 3 writing workshops organised by Jewish Women of Words(JWOW), on Sun 2-5pm.

BOOK HERE

My latest book: The 5-Minute Guide to Emotional Intelligence book will be available for purchase at all of these events.

 

The Bliss Festival

If there is a better way to end the year than the Bliss Festival at The Sanctuary Thailand, I haven’t found it yet.

On the 29th, 30th and 31st of each year, the Tea Temple’s finest healers come together to put on an event based on opening your heart, letting go of the old and inviting in the new. The theme for 2015 was ‘The Cycles of Life’ with us all co-facilitating a couple of workshops each. I worked on a ‘trust and communication’ session and the ‘fire puja’ ceremony. Over 30 people participated. Here is a little summary.

Creative trust

I was fortunate to work this session with the master of Thai Vedic massage who is also an acro yogi, contact jam lover and self-proclaimed diva – Sebastian. Together we created a safe space for participants to learn the art of communication and trust, how to speak your truth, how to listen and to be heard. We shared about paths and directions in life, obstacles blocking our way and imagined how it would feel to overcome these and be clearly and happily on our own life’s path. We ended with ‘choosing our words’ – learning to summarise each answer in just one word – learning to drop any stories attached and be mindful in language.

Sebastian then guided us through how to feel this in our bodies; how to move through fears and obstacles in to trust, peace and exhiliration. We played trust games – learning to trust ourselves and others and we all learnt to fly in acro yoga. Pretty spectacular! Naturally the last activity was ‘Bad Hotel’ which was fun and silly and had the whole room sounding like a mixture of orgasms and laughter.

‘Stand Up’ Workshop

When the amazing International spoken word artist Fleassy Malay retured to Thailand, we both knew instantly that we needed to somehow collaborate and put something on together.

After some brainstorming we came up with…

‘Speak Up: Be Seen Be Heard’

A four-hour workshop in the beautiful Prana Hall with ten incredible, inspiring and motivated students… and boy what fun we had.

I facilitated the first two hours of creative writing; learning to express yourself through written word, break through fears, be creative, be true and honest with yourself and with lots of sharing in the circle.

The next two-hours facilitated by Fleassy was on how to take this confidence through written expression and use your voice. How to speak out loud, express out loud, be seen, be heard and do this with comfort and confidence.

As a participant in the last part of the workshop, watching and feeling as one by one we stood up in front of the group and learnt how to ‘just be’ with eyes on us was confronting for many. Standing there and speaking with a room full of eyes staring…. watching Fleassy bring out the best in each person one-by-one was great to be a part of. My favourite part was that break through moment as each person realised it for themselves… the cheers, the exhiliration, the laughter and joy was infectious.

What an incredible and fun day we all had. I hope Fleassy and I get to do it again one day whether in Melbourne or back here in Thailand.

Check out Fleassy