Malaysia and the Mentors – Part 2/7

Malaysia Part 2 of 7: Meeting the Students

Last time we caught up in Malaysia Part 1, it was mid-morning, I was crouching on a toilet in the Kuala Lumpur airport ready to board my Malaysia Air flight to the beautiful island of Kuching. I knew I’d be mentoring a handful of film students through their first 48hour filmmaking competition and that the language barrier would perhaps be a hurdle. But there’s no way I could’ve anticipated the depth I’d lose myself in.

From KL to Kuching, leaving the group to fly solo
From KL to Kuching, leaving the group to fly solo

March 17th – Monday – 2:03pm

I am off the plane. I have traveled through customs and immigration without understanding a word of any signs or dialogue. I am in a car that has been boxed in, sweltering hot in the back seat, and have thankfully met the wonderful young men who know where to take me so I can check into a hotel and dump my bags and relax.

Malaysia airport
Kuala Lumpur airport – bigger than Wellington


Hayden J. Weal in a taxi
“How many students are there, I’ve been told around ten.”

So…the lovely men who drove me here kindly informed me that I’ll be lecturing for six hours to forty students tomorrow. Jumping Christ. I could talk about filmmaking for six years, no worries, in English, but apparently the language barrier in Kuching is significantly higher than in Kuala Lumpur. Which leaves me with no idea how to go about it. But right now, after thirty hours of traveling, I don’t really want to think about it. So I took this photo to remember how I felt.

I checked into the hotel that I’m staying at. It’s waterside. It’s called the Hilton… hahahaha. Five stars and very nice of course. I came up to my room, got on the wifi, had a nice long shower and set about trying to find my way around. First things first, I was running outta battery so had to find an adaptor. My good friend Caleb had offered me one but I forgot about it. I also forgot briefs. That’s right. Ten days and one pair of briefs.

Hilton hotel Kuching
Showered and admiring the views

I washed all my stinky clothes in the basin, hung them up on the makeshift clothesline in the shower, then explored. The waterfront here is beautiful. Colours everywhere, a murky brown river flows down the length of the city and a great big golden-spired event centre type building stands proudly among the trees over the bank. I walked in the stifling heat, loving every second, bought a skanky little chicken kebab for about $1.20 and a cheap orange juice and kept walking, stopping into shops. The trinkets on offer seem to be the same crap from Thailand and Bali except more expensive. I didn’t buy any.

Kuching waterfront
I got a local to take this for me. They were friendly and played my iPhone like a violin

I got back to the hotel and scored an adaptor from reception, hit the gym (after having to don my pink socks and dressy shoes as covered footwear is compulsory) then rocked a swim in the pool that they have here, because they have a pool, filled with water and the temperature is perfect for swimming. I’m currently sitting naked at my luxuriously large and ornate wooden desk pretending to be professional.


Possibly living the coolest life ever. I’m sitting in an open air restaurant overlooking the river and it’s pouring with rain around me. I have a watermelon juice and my dinner is to be coconut prawn curry. I’m surrounded by couples or groups of friends. I am the only sole diner. After this I’m going to walk along the boardwalk back to hotel and make some notes about what I’ll talk about tomorrow.

Kuching boardwalk
Aw little boats and fairy lights and a stormy sky

Tuesday 4:03am

I fell asleep some time between 9 and 9:30pm without writing anything down. I must’ve drifted off because I’ve just woken up, naked save for a book slumped on my chest, and all the lights are on. Either I drifted off or a hotel worker is playing games with me. The loudest thunder I have had the pleasure of hearing in my life is shaking my room. Absolutely gorgeous. Bright flashes on white announce the lightning then seconds later big giants fight in the sky.


I got up at 6am and answered txts from Abby, my girlfriend. She’s stressed at work. Then I checked twitter, Facebook, Instagram, whatsapp and skype, showered hunched over (like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation) and dressed, staring out at the sheets of rain that made the view of the swimming pool look like a painting. Also, I’m really confused by all the cat statues. I haven’t mentioned that yet. They’re at every intersection. And these aren’t little statuettes or ornaments, these are great big looming concrete canine cliques.

Kuching cats
Placed at every intersection in Kuching are cat statues. There’s a cat museum too.

Me and Dan Skyped about the day and he reiterated the important of leaving political comments out of the films, particularly about the disappearance of MH370. I was to be strict on this.
I’m at the breakfast buffet with my book, lounging and sighing after overeating, and gulping the strong coffee despite the laxative effect it’s surely to shortly have.


After waiting in the lobby for 20 minutes, the coffee’s taken effect. Instead of waiting for our scheduled break time, I had to fast track it. I’m currently sitting in a warm stall (even the seat’s warm!) hoping the Unimas (Kuching university) representative doesn’t show up while I’m here. I told the bellboy where I would be so all should be well. Stay tuned.


As predicted, I came out of the toilet to a waiting driver. Am en route to university now.

On my way to Unimas, significantly lighter
On my way to Unimas, significantly lighter. Yusry the driver always has a smile ready for me


Lecture’s going very well. As expected, the students don’t understand most of what I say but we have some helpful translators who clarify things when it gets too confusing, which is often.

Kuching Unimas
Head film tutor Aliff and I in Unimas

I have set them up into teams to do a directing activity, they are to make a scene with the constructs I’ve given them (one character tries to get a secret out of another) and they’ll perform them for us soon, and the class will give suggestions how to make the scene better. The timid students are already having a hard time, especially the girls. I showed them all Hot Rob and was greeted with applause and smiling faces, taking snaps on their phones as I was speaking. I feel like a rockstar.

Hot Rob Malaysia
Hot Rob plays to students in Kuching Unimas, Malaysia!


Wow, long day. The lecturing was great. After class they all wanted photos with me which took about ten minutes. They seemed to want every possible combination: me with them, me with their friends, me with them and their friends, me with them and their friends but on the other side, etc. was a lot of fun. Then Aliff took me to the mall and his crew shouted me a massive lunch of Malaysian food. So good! After that we went to a phone shop and I scored a SIM card. I am now on the system.

Kuching Unimas students
I’m always happiest surrounded by female film fans

The second half of the day’s educating was significantly more challenging. I talked about 48hour filmmaking for the first hour. Pitfalls, rules, ideas, tips, team spirit … Then I seemed to run out of steam. The students were dead silent the entire class, sometimes giving me a slight tip of the head to let me know they could hear me, but for the most part I felt like I was talking to a wall. Or seventy walls. Made of eyes and Islamic headgear. However, we powered on and made the most of if – I showed them Timelanders – nothing. No response whatsoever. After we finished I was driven home by Yusry and fell asleep the entire hour long drive, exhausted from non-stop talking.
Back the hotel I went to the gym, swam, then walked to the waterfront. I caught a 50c boat across the river and am now sitting in an open air food court. Each eatery has their own space where a garage door opens up revealing a cramped space full of cooking gear and a smiling family. A designated number and a specialty food is painted above each stall. I have ordered a nasi goreng Sarawak from one place and a watermelon and orange juice from the neighbouring lady. Very excited. Kids playing with cats surround me as I wait at a brightly coloured picnic table.

Sarawak food
Cheap, open air, friendly, colourful – Sarawak, Kuching rocks

Wednesday 7:00am

Dinner was lovely, although underwhelming considering I ate the local specialty dish. It was very soupy. However, the watermelon and orange juice was incredible so I got a second for the walk back for the jaw-dropping price of NZ50c. I wandered back to the hotel and retired early, about 8:30pm, and read with a coffee lying naked on my bed with the curtains open and air conditioning at the perfect naked temperature.

I woke up at 6:30am, the thought like a lightning bolt – 48HOUR FILMMAKING MALAYSIA BEGINS TODAY. Time to shower, take my sweet time over breakfast and enjoy the hour long drive to university where the film students await.


48hour filmmaking Malaysia
The countdown to the first ever 48hour filmmaking competition Malaysia begins

Forty minutes until the competition begins. We have a mac set up with Skype directly to Dan and the team in KL. It’s being projected onto the big screen with nice loud sound. Students are starting to file in now and you can feel the nervous energy in the air. When I asked if they were ready they all said YES MR HAYDEN nice and loud. The most confident they’ve been since I met them. I wonder how that confidence will keep over the next two days…

Malaysia 48hours
Skype setup to Dan Slevin and co in Kuala Lumpur – we are ready. Countdown begins now.