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Asia Pacific Writers Conference, Indonesia.

On Tue 24th Oct at Ganesha University, a 3 hour (or more realistically, 4 or 5 hour) drive from Denpasar airport in Bali (through stunning mountains I might add), I was on a panel as part of the 3-day Asia Pacific Writers and Translators 10th anniversary conference.

This was my 5th one.

The topic of this 90 minute panel was:

Belonging and Writing:
Exile, Homecoming and Return Narratives.

Just a small topic!

I was one of three on the panel and last minute became the moderator also as ours had to head back home south to Sanur. I was worried that being both moderator and panelist would be a little tricky with Osamah Sami on the panel – an award-winning actor, writer, director and stand-up comedian, with a memoir Good Muslim Boy and movie Ali’s Wedding. A lively and confident personality as you might expect, but also a humble young man born in Iran to Iraqi parents who moved to Australia as a teenager. The panel was rounded off with writer and PhD candidate from Queensland Australia, Sophie MacNeill.

What unfolded quite naturally was a juicy discussion on ‘home’, ‘exile’, ‘belonging’ and ‘identity’ from a Muslim Iranian, Iraqi Aussie, a born and bred Australian Aussie of Irish decent, and a Jewish Australian expat living in Asia. As you can well imagine then, questions of belonging and identity were about as straight forward as our panel’s participant’s stories. ​The audience seemed to really enjoy the discussion and had plenty of questions for us. Thanks to everyone for coming down and thanks to the panel for their honesty and courage in their stories. The 3-day conference was as always, full of incredible authors, editors, translators and publishers. Northern Indonesia was such an incredible place to host such an event, most of us having never adventured to this area before. Here is (some of) the 200-strong gang from over 23 countries.

Every year I take a photo of me with the AP banner, so here is this year’s….

There are many workshops on offer throughout the conference. I feel so fortunate to be meeting with such experienced people in the industry. I went to ‘Editing: An Insider’s Guide’, hosted by Cate Blake from Penguin Random House and Ian See from University of Queensland Press in a small group where we had the opportunity to listen, learn, share and ask questions.

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.

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 pic of me during the talk in this beautiful Morrocan style building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).

‘Climbing the Walls,’ Griffith Review

Last year there was a call for submissions for the best new writers in Asia under 40.

I was 39. At the Asia Pacific Writers conference in Singapore they changed it to 45 and I panicked! More candidates! More experience! Oh no. I wrote my story and hesitated countless times before submitting it. I almost didn’t do it.

I need not have worried… and received a ‘congratulations’ email which I read, re-read and then showed a friend to make sure I understood correctly.

Yes my story ‘Climbing the Walls’ was published this month in Griffith Review: New Asia Now. A huge accomplishment. A renowned Australian quarterly publication. You can buy it in book stores around Australia and some places in Asia as well as online at: https://griffithreview.com

 

You can now read my short story Climbing the Walls, Griffith Review

“Griffith Review49: New Asia Now showcases outstanding young writers from the countries at the centre of Asia’s ongoing transformation. They write about the people and places they know with passion, flair and insight.”

‘A Perfect Statue’, Imprint14. Hong Kong

‘A Perfect Statue’ is a short story published in Imprint 14 Anthology, Hong Kong. It is a modified passage from Romi’s upcoming book: ‘Hip Hop & Hope, from the slums of Phnom Penh.’

A Perfect Statue  by Romi Grossberg

And some photos that go with the story. Below is Kha during his solo performance and right is the last scene from the story.

‘Healing through Hip Hop in the Slums of Phnom Penh,’ Rupkatha Journal

Healing through Hip Hop in the Slums of Phnom Penh’, Rupkatha Journal, Special issue on Performance Studies, 2013

​”Local non-government organisation ‘Tiny Toones’ is the first and only of its kind in Cambodia, to use hip hop to engage with, and empower the most disadvantaged children and youth in Phnom Penh. Working with young people from backgrounds of drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, gang life, family violence and extreme poverty, it offers creative arts alongside education and life skills….”

Read Article: Healing through Hip Hope in the Slums of Phnom Penh

‘Rock, Paper, Scissors,’ Travel essay competition Top 20

I Must Be Off! Travel Essay competition, 2013

“… I look in to the street and see there are beggars everywhere, from five year-olds to this ancient looking woman I just encountered. They all look sad, with the same vacant look in their eyes. As I am watching a little barefoot girl in tattered clothes being shooed away by the expats next door, I am startled by a young boy that approaches my table….”

My first ever story writing competition, and I made the top 20 list.

Read it here: Rock, Paper, Scissors

Australia Network Interview

Kate Arnott from ABC’s The Australia Network interviews Romi Grossberg, Manager of Tiny Toones Cambodia.

Romi brought her Cambodian hip hop group from ‘Tiny Toones’ on tour to Melbourne Australia to perform on stage at Chapel Off Chapel. Tiny Toones is a local Cambodian NGO working with street kids using hip hop and breakdance as the primary tool to engage with the underworld of Phnom Penh in the slums. The former street kids and now the teachers. Also featured in the interview are – Beaver, Fresh and Diamond.

‘Wefree’ event. San Patrignano, Italy

In October I flew to San Patrignano, Italy with KK, the founder of Tiny Toones and four of our Cambodian teachers/mentors aged 16-21.

San Partignano is a drug rehabilitation community and completely self sufficient and sustainable up in the mountains near Rimini, housing 2-3,000 former drug addicts. Each year they bring together people from all over the world to celebrate WeFree Day – We are Free of Drugs in a 5-day meeting, learning and sharing of knowledge on the topic of drugs and young people through the creative arts. Hip hop and breakdance NGO’s from all over the world were invited to participate- Cambodia (that’s us), Uganda, Canada, Portugal, Columbia, Italy and more. I spoke in a number of different forums with an Italian translator by my side but to be honest the heros of this trip were without a doubt my kids and all the break dancers there.

 

6th International Conference on Drugs & Young People. Australia

“Given it’s currently National Youth Week, we are pleased to have the United Nations recognise this conference as supporting their International Year of Youth activities,” said CEO Australian Drug Foundation, John Rogerson.

I am very proud to be invited to speak at the ‘6th International Conference on Drugs & Young People: Making Connections’ being held in the Melbourne Convention Centre, May 2-4th 2011.

It is exciting and slightly terrifying to be speaking on such a grand stage to an enormous auditorium of people. I will speak on my experience of drug and alcohol and mental health working in Melbourne and my experience of drug and alcohol, mental health and the creative arts where I work in Phnom Penh Cambodia and am still currently based.

6DYP Day 1 teaser.