Archive for May, 2014


I have heard about him, read about him, and I respect him for bringing hope and inspiration to millions. His life is a testament to me that no matter how many lemons Fate throws you, you can make glasses after glasses of lemonade.

Nick Vujicic at this morning's press conference, Singapore

Nick Vujicic at this morning’s press conference, Singapore

But what I did not know about Nick Vujicic (pron. Vooy-cheech) is that he attempted suicide at the age of 10.

He was bullied from a young age, and suffered from loneliness and depression. He hated God then for making him the way he was and was terrified of what would happen to him if his parents weren’t there to take care of him.

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Being ‘different’ was already tough enough for this Serb growing up in Melbourne. It became tougher when his family moved to Los Angeles because not only was he the only kid in his school with no arms and no legs, and the only kid in a wheelchair, he also became the only kid in the school with an Australian accent!

“The most common bullying experience is being taunted or ridiculed for being ‘different’ in some way. I’m the poster child for this,” he says in his latest book, Stand Strong, on bullying.

“Most of us are familiar with childhood bullies who threaten to beat us up, make fun of us, or turn friends against us. Adults may experience bullying in the form of sexual harassment or as discrimination based on race, religion, sexual identity or disabilities. Bullies can be your boss, coworkers, teachers, coaches, boyfriends or girlfriends – anyone who abuses his power or position.” 

When I hear Nick’s definition of bullying, it puts some things into perspective for me: Lately, there have been religious leaders in Singapore making discriminatory remarks against pockets of people in the community who are ‘different’. And when their actions were exposed, they tried to turn the tables around to accuse those they attacked for being the ones discriminating against them.

Seriously? When people who are ‘different’ – who have been marginalised or discriminated against all their lives – speak up, they are not discriminating against you. They are standing up for themselves against your bullying.

The media lapped up his every word and questions flowed freely.

The media lapped up his every word and questions flowed freely.

Nick Vujicic is an inspiration to me because despite what he has gone through, he exudes JOY.

And he is unapologetic about attributing it to God and His faith. And while this may seem a little out of place – in theory – in a secular press conference filled with journalists, it was not out of place at all. I did not get a sense of him speaking about God from a place of self-righteousness or a ‘holier than thou’ pulpit. He was coming from a space of love.

During this press conference, Nick announced three projects he’s working on:

1,000 Videos in 1,000 Days

About a month ago, Nick launched a project to put 1,000 messages of hope – each about a minute long – on YouTube, where anyone can access. These are broadcast through 36 YouTube channels in 36 different languages. At this point in time, there are about 30 clips up, and you can expect another 970 over the next three years. One every day. You can access these clips here.

Here’s a taste of it:

A Movie on His Life

Nick also revealed that a movie on his life is in the works, and is scheduled to be released in the United States in 2015. This movie is produced by 10 Elephants Pictures, a film production house he’s set up with some partners. “I’m not sure if I will be acting in it, or if they will use my body and CGI the actor’s head on!” he jokes. “But we do have a budget for a Class A actor and Class A director.” (A little narcissistic though?)

Love Without Limits 

Many people have been asking Nick Vujicic how he met his beautiful wife, Kanae. The couple were married in Feb 2012, and a year later, became parents to a healthy baby boy whom they named Kiyoshi. Nick announced today that his wife Kanae and him are writing a book about their love story.

Nick proposed to Kanae on a boat, and put the ring on her finger with his mouth!

Nick proposed to Kanae on a boat, and put the ring on her finger with his mouth!

The book is entitled Love Without Limits and will be released in the United States on Nov 18. “If you’re inspired by me, I’m even more inspired by her,” he says with pride. “What I’ve gone through is nothing compared to her. She has not shared her side of our story.”

Nick and Kanae with their one-year-old son, Kiyoshi

Nick and Kanae with their one-year-old son, Kiyoshi

I’m excited about what’s in store for Nick. He is the keynote speaker for the 2014 National Achievers Congress in Singapore this weekend, but his talk Success Without Limits has been sold out.

But you can grab a copy of his latest book, Stand Strong, at all major bookstores. Launched here on 15 April, it has claimed No. 1 spot on the Sunday Times Bestsellers List for the past three weeks, and counting…

Truth be told, I have not read a single book of his. But after meeting Nick today, I think I may start with this one.

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As a travel writer, I prefer to invest in travel products that go a long way. Also, I’m not a shopper. So when I do buy something, it’s usually because I need it. Or it’s a book. But if I’m prepared to spend a little more, it’s almost always because the product stands for something I believe in.

Like Ethnotek bags.

I found out about these travel bags through my best friend Ning (aka ‘Magic Babe’ Ning). We were planning a trip to Thailand at the time, and she thought it might be cool to check out this socially-responsible line of bags, recently brought in to Singapore by The Bag Creature.

Ning checking out Ethnotek's Raja packs

Ning checking out Ethnotek’s Raja packs

I accompanied her down, of course, and what I found out about Ethnotek really impressed me. The business itself originates from the U.S. but the founders – two young men who are also travellers – have committed to supporting the work of local artisans in remote villages around the world, so that their traditional weaving practices can be kept alive.

The communities whose weaving culture Ethnotek is currently supporting

The communities around the world whose weaving culture Ethnotek is currently supporting (Source: Ethnotekbags.com)

These intricate weaving techniques are amazingly tedious and time-consuming. And at the speed fabrics are being mass-manufactured in urban factories these days, traditional artisans are not only losing their jobs, but also their cultural heritage. There is no longer an impetus to pass on the craft to the next generation.

Check out this insightful video to get an idea of just how intricate the process is…

 

What the Ethnotek founders did was to travel to these remote villages in Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Guatemala etc. and seek out these artisans, and negotiate a fair price for their handiwork. Not only are these weavers paid fairly through direct transactions, their unique culture and traditional practices – as well as their livelihoods – are kept alive by a global stream of demand.

 

“The one thing that all of our weaves and artisans have in common is the fact that their craft is dying out. Every year, they experience less and less local demand for their fabrics due to low yield and long lead time. Traditional techniques are quickly being replaced by machines and factory labour in major cities, drastically reducing the amount of jobs and industry in the regions where it is needed most. By creating new demand for these traditional handcraft practices, we are in a sense forging an effort to keep them alive and well, and in the same villages from which they came.” 

– Founders of Ethnotek bags – 

I respect this. I believe in this. It’s responsible business.

And the way Ethnotek does this is by creating quality base bags that allow you to swap ethnic threads like you would swap smartphone covers or straps for Swatch watches. It works like this:

(Source: ethnotekbags.com)

(Source: Ethnotekbags.com)

The base bags come in various sizes and shapes. The bigger backpacks are called Raja Packs, and Ning was keen to get one of those for the trip, together with a Messenger bag for regular work on-the-go. Ethnotek also carries a line of pretty tote bags!

Ning's Ethnotek Raja Pack Vietnam 6 and Acaat Messenger Vietnam 5.

Ning’s Acaat Messenger Vietnam 5 + Raja Vietnam 6

Optional Threads for the Raja Packs.

Options for Raja Pack threads

The price for a Raja Pack ranges from S$225 to S$289, and you can also get replacement Threads at S$59 each. Different ethnic designs and weaves from around the world are showcased in these unique Threads; and truly, they are precious pieces of dying art!

For my own needs as a travel writer, I prefer a smaller day pack. When I check-in my luggage at the airport, I just want a compact knapsack that I can carry around, but one that’s also big enough to slip in my 13″ MacBook Air, in case I need to work while on transit. Furthermore, it has to double-up as a day pack when I’m out exploring new cities or hiking.

I picked the smaller Wayu Pack because it has a separate section for my laptop and is just nice, size-wise, for my “on assignment” needs. My Ethnotek Vietnam 6 Wayu Pack costs S$189 from The Bag Creature – online orders available.

My travel writer's default combo - with my Ethnotek Vietnam 6 Wayu Pack.

My travel writer’s default combo – with my Ethnotek Vietnam 6 Wayu Pack.

I also got an additional Vietnam 5 Thread (S$79) so that I can swap designs when I feel like it, and blue is my favourite colour. This Thread incorporates a hand-embroidered textile from the Tai Lü tribes of Vietnam. Each and every piece is unique and different from the next, and best of all, there are only four in existence!

Ethnotek Wayu Backpacks & Threads, supporting artisans in Vietnam

Ethnotek Wayu Backpacks & Threads, supporting traditional artisans and weavers in Vietnamese villages

Check out the intricate artwork of these artisans!

Check out the intricate handiwork!

These gorgeous bags aren’t cheap – I admit – but they are good quality, they promote fair trade, and help sustain the livelihood of villagers in indigenous communities.

I don’t normally promote travel products, but I’ve been so pleased with this travel bag and what it stands for that I’ve started following Ethnotek on Facebook and Instagram (@ethnotekbags). I guess it’s the satisfaction of being part of a community of world travellers that believes in fair trade and keeping cultures alive. Or as the founders call us – #etktribe 🙂

But above all, just as my 42-litre backpack reminded me of how much (or little) I really needed while on the road for 9 months, may your travel bag remind you too – in an unconventional sort of way – of what’s more important in life.

“Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn