The Nick Vujicic experience in Singapore

Nick Vujicic would make a decent Singaporean.

For starters, the world-famous limbless motivational speaker is especially fond of numbers. On his seventh visit to the republic, Vujicic rattled off an impressive list of statistics at a press conference – the “best” he’s ever been to, he claimed – held last Thursday at Resorts World Sentosa.

The media learned that the US-based Serbian-Australian has visited 49 countries in the last decade, delivered over 2,000 speeches and rubbed shoulders with nine presidents, including Singapore’s Tony Tan. Vujicic, 30, once set a Guinness world record for the most number of hugs in an hour (1,700). He also has over 1.5 million followers on Facebook.

[See more photos of Vujicic swimming with sharks in Sentosa]

Then there are the acronyms. “'Fear’ – false evidence appearing real,” he announced, moments before plunging into a shark tank at the Marine Life Park in Sentosa, with a plastic enclosure for protection. Later, he added, “I love the word ‘faith’ – full assurance in the heart.”

That Saturday, Vujicic, who is also an author, actor and musician, easily won over the 5,000-strong, mostly local, crowd who turned up for his sold-out address at the Star Theatre in Buona Vista.

“I can relate very much to the automatic pressure in Asian culture, of pushing children to perform,” he said, explaining that his parents placed heavy emphasis on his school grades. Then, not unlike a lecturer, Vujicic instructed his rapt audience to take notes as he guided them through a list of pointers for leading a better life.

The circle of endearment was completed when he pulled off a convincing attempt at Singlish (“good lah”), uttered some Mandarin (“wo bu zhi dao”, or ‘I don’t know’) and showed that he knew eigt was a “good number” in this part of the world.

Comedy of lessons

Those who showed up for Vujicic’s speech expecting a sob-fest were sorely disappointed. Tissues were whipped out, but to wipe away tears of laughter instead, as the happily-married, recently-minted father rolled with impeccable comic timing and a mischievous glint in his eye.

“My son was born in February this year and he’s getting big now, he’s about my height already,” said Vujicic.

And he continued to smoothly deliver the stitches with joke after joke, largely centred on his lack of limbs. It was difficult to believe that his first speaking engagement at 19 made him so nervous that, as he recalled, his “knees were shaking”.

But in the end, the crowd still got their money’s worth of Nick Vujicic: essentially, a master storyteller using his own example to command the attention of others.

How else to respond to a man with such a severe disability, who went from attempting suicide at 10 to graduating with a double degree at 21?

How else to view a fellow human being with no arms, no legs, yet no problem surfing, scuba-diving or writing and typing with just two toes on one small foot?

And embedded within Vujicic’s self-inflicting brand of humour were hard truths designed to confront one’s approach to life. “I wanted arms and legs to be happy,” he said. “Then I found many people with arms and legs, still not happy.”

He then brought it closer to home when he quipped, “Singaporeans, you’re working too hard, because of inefficiency.”

Singaporeans inspired

At the end of the show, locals Aishah Samad and Jason Chee, who recently lost their limbs, shared the stage with Vujicic to express adulation for the man who helped them on the road to recovery.

“I want to become him,” said Navy regular Chee, who lost his legs, left arm and three right fingers in a ship accident last year.

Ex-national shooter Aishah had all her limbs amputated after she was struck by a life-threatening bacterial infection in 2012. Her lone utterance of “if he can do it, why can’t I” unleashed thunderous applause from the audience.

In turn, Vujicic credited them with inspiring him, remarking, “You guys are going through something more difficult than I did, period.”

Upon learning that Aishah and Jason wanted to give talks like him, Vujicic announced that he would start training people to be motivational speakers.

“We want to send an army of inspiration to the world,” he said. “And I want you to know that both of you have a scholarship in my programme.”

The next time Vujicic returns to Singapore – in May 2014, for the National Achievers Congress – it won’t be with the same story. Ever the innovator, he has a movie and an online TV talkshow lined-up, among other plans.

Whether Vujicic achieves any sort of real impact on Singapore society remains impossible to tell. But aside from the snaking queue to purchase his books after the event, he can count on at least one high-profile local convert and believer in his work.

“Nick has been the inspiration of my life,” said prominent Singaporean entrepreneur Elim Chew, who is a good friend of Vujicic and received mention during his speech.

The founder of streetwear brand 77th Street told Yahoo Singapore she was looking forward to collaborating with Vujicic to “raise a generation of changemakers, to make a difference for people in Singapore, Asia and the world".

We asked the 48-year-old what Vujicic meant to her, and the response was swift. “He is a walking symbol of life itself,” said Chew. “He represents life itself.”

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