Cheap souvenirs: who pays?


During the amazing trip to Tibet and Nepal just recently, I was frustrated by the amount of cheap, plastic, identical, mass produced souvenirs that flooded local streets and markets. They were of low quality and often being sold as antique, yak bones, precious stones, amber etc. They could not fool me, but I grew increasingly concerned about the environmental impact and labour conditions in souvenir factories. I was also disappointed in the dishonesty of these people, even though I knew life was hard for them. As a tourist, I could understand the market demand for souvenirs. But I believe even tourists looking for a bargain would prefer quality and genuine products. How many crappy souvenirs you have bought that you won’t touch again? I think the problem lies in both demand and supply, and as consumers we have the ultimate power to turn things around.

Lhasa was crowded with small souvenir shops. After just one day, I was getting tired of seeing the same things and hearing the same lies over and over again. Pure by chance that I walked past a small shop hidden in a back street which had an interesting name. It stocked handicrafts made by children from a Special School. I chatted with the shop assistant, and found out that this is the only school in Tibet that provides education to children with disability. I was impressed with the quality and design of the products and made some purchases on the spot. Later I visited the school but was not allowed to go inside as it was expecting visits from the government officials. But I plan to keep in touch and develop a long term relationship with them. This is just an example of how you can find meaningful and beautiful souvenirs when you resist the temptation of being a lazy shopper.

Of course, not everyone will have time to check out back streets, but there are still other ways. For example, before you visit a city, you could seek out addresses of its fair trade shops. If there is none, you could still be a conscious shopper by actively purchasing eco-friendly products and/or purchasing from villages and schools. You will end up with lighter bags, beautiful and meaningful souvenirs and a great feeling of having made a positive difference. Happy travelling!

A Google addict


Without Google, it would not have been possible, for me, to set up a website with no experience, to sell online with no IT knowledge, to do my business side of tax without accounting expertise, to access business advice at my fingertips, to find trading partners without multiple overseas trips, to explore the solutions for ending poverty without bury myself in libraries for years…

…you get the idea…

Like many people, I’m a Google addict, and I’m a happy addict.

Now I’m going one step further. I’m trying Google Apps for Business. In time, I’ll report back on my experience.

Do you know how much that annoying ad cost?

Peppermint ad

Before I started Global Handmade, I was just another office worker who’s annoyed with any form of advertising. It never occurred to me how much they might cost. So it came as a shock to me. A full page magazine ad can be over $7,000, and it’s not even the most popular magazines. Obviously TV ads are out of the question, so are newspapers ads. Even local paper ad can cost a few hundred dollars.

Shocked as I was, I decided to give advertising a miss. Instead, I wrote to journalists of local papers and got lucky. The two newspaper articles really helped to promote Global Handmade to the Canberra community. But then the effect wore off, and I faced a quiet period.

I used the time to improve the website and to promote Global Handmade on various social media channels. They worked…more or less…and sale were slowly coming in. I also tried weekend markets in Canberra and a couple of Fair Trade markets in Sydney. Out of desperation, I also tried letterbox drops (me and my dad were doing it to save some money) even though I’ve read that it didn’t work.

Again, out of desperation, I decided to run an ad. I chose Peppermint because I love this magazine and the price was cheaper than others. I saved on graphic design costs by designing my own ad. The Peppermint team was really helpful, and my full page ad was at the very front of the magazine. I was happy with it, and I thought, even if only 1% responded, I would get my money’s worth. It was exciting to see my ad printed on a magazine I love, but…sadly…it didn’t seem to work. According to marketing experts, it takes a long time for advertising to work, which means that I need to continue pouring money into it if I want to see any return. Inevitably I felt a bit let down…but I’m the kind who takes risks and then moves on.

Anyway, my point is, now I don’t think ads are that annoying any more (apart from Harvey Norman’s…). I always remember that, behind each ad, there is a real person’s hope and desperation.

Meet Wakami


Oxfam recently launched a campaign “Meet Wakami” to add a personal spin to the fair trade products they sell. I love the campaign, and ideally I would love to tell the personal story behind every product we sell.This is something we will explore in the near future.

One fundamental difference between fair trade and free trade products is that, fair trade cares about artisans and values their individuality and creativity. I have met talented artisans who were forced to work on repetitive tasks in a crowded factory for 14 hours a day for less than $2. Until fair trade is embraced by consumers, these people will continue to suffer.

Floriade 2013


Every year, Floriade holds a special place in every Canberran’s heart. It signals (hopefully) the end of a long and cold winter. Flowers are always stunning, and tulips are guaranteed delicacies. After living in Canberra for 6 years, Floriade still has its magic spell over me. This year, for the first time, I got on to the Big Wheel and viewed Floriade from a high angle. It was truly beautiful.

…and…what’s the duck doing there

No-brainer weight loss program


All my life I have struggled with weight. I wished for a magic pill that would undo all the calories I consumed. I’ve tried all sorts of weight loss programs, diets, exercise programs etc. etc. and they either didn’t work at all or worked only for a short time period.

I thought it was unfair, and that weight loss was too hard. Until…I came across this quote:

“For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.”

I have been upset over a first world problem for so long, and the solution is so simple.

So…what am I going to do about it?

I did some research, and I was shocked to find that:

” an average Australian wastes 200kg of food each year, while two millions of us also go hungry.” – Foodbank

 “The world produces enough food for everyone, yet one in eight still go hungry.” – Oxfam

Foodbank ( is the largest hunger relief organisation in Australia, and it delivered 31,794,967 meals last year. It partners with many big and small businesses that either produce or sell groceries.

Oxfam runs an annual “Eat Local Feed Global” event ( that encourages people to raise awareness on global hunger.

So, after some thought, here’s my 10 point no-brainer weight loss program:

  • limit calorie intake to 300 per meal (3 meals a day)
  • only snack on fruit or something equally healthy
  • no chips, fast food, donuts, sugary drinks etc.
  • grow my own veggie and buy local
  • feel hunger and wait, until I’m absolutely sure that it’s hunger not craving
  • clean kitchen once a month and donate food I don’t need
  • donate the amounts I save on food to people who really need it
  • eat out less and order less when I do eat out
  • eat slower to allow the brain to register fullness
  • skip artificial sweeteners

and exercise, although I have found that it is more useful for health reasons than weight loss. I have been following this program for 2 weeks now, and I have lost 1.5kg. I will report back on my progress in a few months time.

I wish I live in Melbourne…


Sorry…no offence to anyone…but I really want to live in Melbourne.

Yes, I know, the weather is changeable…but there are so many upsides!

First of all, Melbourne houses the headquarter of Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand, and numerous Fair Trade communities.

Second of all, Melbourne is so funky and cool! Every time I visit Melbourne, I pick up this vibe. It’s refreshing.

Third of all, Federation Square is such a great place to hang out! It is just so much cooler than Darling Harbour, the Rocks, Parliament House Lawns etc.

I keep losing friends to Melbourne, and making new friends who live in Melbourne…and discovering cool businesses that only operate in Melbourne…and discovering cool events that are only happening in Melbourne…

Wish wish wish…

What happened to your old buddy?


Remember the first mobile phone you had? I remember clearly that it was a second-hand yellow Sony Ericsson and the trend at the time was “who’s got the smallest phone”. How things have changed. I often wonder what happened to my old phone. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what I did with it. Was I conscious enough to have recycled it? Was the recycling program even in place back then? I have no clue.

Today, people change phones more often than ever, and often the reason is less obvious than replacing a broken phone. Phones become toys, and this reminds me of the movie Toy Story. Do we care what happens to our old phones?

I actually do know what happened, apart from the very first one. My second and third ones were passed on to my mother, and I still have my fourth one as a backup phone. But I regret not educating my mother about mobile phone recycling programs.

There are now several recycling businesses operating in Australia, and I have seen many drop off spots. This is really encouraging.

“Recent international market research conducted by Nokia of 6,500 people from 13 countries across the globe – excluding Australia – found that 3% of people recycle their mobile phones. Australian online market research conducted by IPSOS on behalf of AMTA in February 2008 of 650 mobile phone users in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth found that 6% of people recycled their previous mobile phone, twice the level internationally.” – AMTA Australia

Should we be happy with 6%? I don’t think I’m happy about that figure. So from now on, I will recycle all my unused phones, and strongly encourage my parents and friends to do the same. The more people know about it, the more people will do about it.