When our national costume entry called the 'Kampung House' was revealed for the Miss Universe competition, many questioned how our reigning Miss Universe Malaysia Francisca Luhong was going to manage it.
The house weighs 45kg and the whole national costume presentation included a costume change (the change was supposed to be done inside the house) in 30 seconds and a manoeuvre to rotate the entire structure for the second outfit reveal.
A determined Francisca, who was meant to pull the whole house - which was on wheels - out on the stage, said that she was confident and had practised the whole routine many times.
Still, unfortunately, not everything was in her control during the Miss Universe competition held in Florida recently.
"We ran into trouble just minutes before I had to appear on stage. There was a little pathway that we had to go through right before entering the main stage and there we had to lift the house.
"That’s when a part of the structure kind of moved and just did not sit together properly after," she said when speaking to Rojak Daily
from New York.
The 25-year-old, who is still in the US for work-related matters, explained that she even contemplated going out on stage without the Kampung House.
"I was prepared to just walk out with the costume that I had on, but the people at Miss Universe kindly said that they would accompany me on stage and bring the house along.
"It was a last-minute decision, but we managed the best we could. I am so happy that despite the technical issues, I received so much love, support and encouragement from everyone.
"Was I nervous when it happened? Of course! But I did the best I could," she said honestly.
Feeling empowered by strong women
Francisca, who is the first indigenous Miss Malaysia to represent the country, said that the whole experience was an eye-opener for her.
Unlike what most presumed, there were no catfights, petty disagreements or anything along those lines.
"Everyone was so supportive and was always rearing to go. The general spirit just pushed me to do my best too - to look my best and to present myself while representing Malaysia in the best way possible.
"You saw how Miss Singapore and Miss Myanmar used their time to send out a message. A lot of the women I met during the competition were not only beautiful but intelligent. They were doing what they could to make use of the stage given to them," she said.
Miss Mexico, Andrea Meza, was eventually crowned Miss Universe 2020 during the competition.
Miss Brazil, Julia Gama, was the runner-up while Miss Peru, Janick Maceta Del Castillo, secured the third position, among 73 other women representing different countries.
Gushing about the friendships she formed, Francisca explained that she also managed to create a special bond with Miss Vietnam, Nguyen Tran Khanh Van, who was her roommate during the competition.
"She's really sweet and we helped each other along the way. If the alarm rang and I did not get up, I knew she'd be there to wake me. I did the same for her," she laughed.
Francisca said that she would sometimes help Nguyen when she had trouble communicating and Nguyen in turn would help her with whatever else that she needed.
"She's just such a positive person and I admire her. We're true friends now."
As for her personal goal upon returning to Malaysia, Francisca hoped to continue with her works in championing women.
"My aim has always been to promote our culture and heritage and to aid women. I hope to continue doing that once I return to Malaysia.
"I want to empower women from all communities including mine. As a member of the minority, I previously thought that it was not my place to stand up and voice things out but I know that I can use this platform that I have to do exactly that."
Drama at the airport
When asked to share a funny incident, the Kuching-born lass said that it would have to be her "adventure" with the immigration authorities at the airport in the US.
"I’m actually not sure if I should share this but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyways! At the airport when heading for my connecting flight to Florida, I was stopped by the immigration officials.
"Because I had the house (the Kampung House outfit), I had three huge boxes with me.
"They basically asked me what I was doing all by myself with three big boxes and called me aside to speak to me further," she said.
Francisca explained that she understood that the authorities were just doing their jobs and did not blame them at all. In fact, she cooperated fully with whatever they wanted.
"I explained that I was here for the competition and I told them that my costume was in the boxes. I also told them that they could check it if they wanted to and they did."
"After a while, they cleared me but by then I had missed my flight to Florida! Lucky for me two guys at the counter helped me out. I don't know their names, but they managed to get me on the next flight out and that's how I made it in time for the competition," she said.
"I'm truly thankful for their kindness."
Dealing with trolls and cyber bullies
Unfortunately, for Francisca, that's not all the drama that she had to deal with - drama unfolded online as well for her.
A few days after the competition, someone edited her Wikipedia page stating that she was a nude model.
"I am still really upset by this. I can't seem to edit or change it and I don't understand why someone would do that."
"Unfortunately, I have been dealing with cyber bullies even before the competiton. This is not the first time that they have tried to bring down my name by editing the contents of my Wikipedia page."
"I mean, people are looking me up now so that's the first thing that they'll see and it's just not nice. Some people may even believe it. It's not true of course."
Francisca explained that she had reported the matter to the relevant channels but also understood that there was not much else that she could do.
"All I can
do now is speak up about cyberbullying and make people realise that it's wrong," she said determinedly.
She added that for now, she was enjoying the meetings with members from the embassy, gatherings with officials from the consulate-general there and other events.
"I'll be back soon and I'm ready to start doing my part to make a difference," she said while thanking her family, fans and supporters for always being there for her.
We're totally in awe of Francisca and despite all the challenges she's been through, we know that this lady is going to be making waves wherever she goes.