But it was too late to back out and 3-2-1 the filming started. BOOM! I was in a Cambodia rap video. I didn't even have time to stretch or exchange my flip flops for Tims or anything! But I got dancing, all the while thinking, "Don't look stupid, don't look stupid." But it actually turned out to be fun, and the random Japanese girl was a sick hip hop dancer. The song was pretty good, too, and I've developed an affinity for the Cambodian-American hip hop scene, which is small but thriving in both countries.
After it was over, sweaty and disheveled from dancing through five takes in the tropical afternoon sun but happy I'd embraced the experience. I said goodbye to Boss La and Tony and didn't think anything else of it...until a few months later a Cambodian waitress at a bar said she'd seen me in a rap video, and then kids on the riverside said the same, and a random guy that stopped his moto to say hi along the busy road.
Apparently these guys were pretty famous in that scene and the video blew up, with well over 200,000 views to date.
Hmmm...maybe being a backup dancer in Cambodian rap videos could be a new career for me? Or I could even go out on my own and do a solo album? I could be the next Cambodian Drake - "MC Cake!"
Nah, better not quit my day job just yet.
I’m here in the Philippines watching the Manny Pacquiao fight and I started talking to a big brother from Virginia who was sitting next to me. It turns out he just retired from the U.S. Navy, where he was working at the American embassy in Manila for years. He told me an endearing story about one day he was working there at the visa office.
A short, scrappy, and obviously broke Filipino with shoulder-length hair walked into the embassy and got in the line to apply for a U.S. visa. Now it’s almost impossible to get a visa the states unless you have a lot of money or a damn good business there sponsoring you, so the man was out of place.
When he got to the front of the line and the skeptical lady working asked him what his reason was for applying for a visa. He told her that a band in America was looking for a new lead singer and stumbled upon a video of him covering one of their songs on YouTube. He often sang their songs in his local small-time bar band in the Philippines, and the group was impressed enough to email him with an invitation to come to America and try out.
It sounded so far fetched that the lady scoffed and started reaching for the ‘Rejected’ stamp to send him packing, but mockingly asked him that if he was such a good singer, why didn’t he do one of the band’s songs right then and there?
So the man put down his things, stepped back, cleared his throat, and busted out a dazzling rendition of Don’t Stop Believing. Everyone in line and in the office applauded and the lady working was so stunned, too, that she grabbed the ‘Approved’ stamp and ok’d his travel visa right on the spot with no more questions asked.
The man’s name was Arnel Pineda and he was hoping to try out for the band Journey to replace Steve Perry.
Against all odds, the little Filipino man, who’s family was so poor they were homeless at a time so he went to work singing in the bars to earn money for them to eat, did make it to the U.S. He did audition and won the job, becoming the new lead singer of one of the most iconic bands in the world, all because of a life-changing impromptu performance at the U.S. embassy.
Here's a 2007 Youtube video of Arnel Pineda singing Don't Stop Believing.
Click here if the vid doesn't play correctly.
His acoustic guitar floating with him, Hadfield’s well-rehearsed version did falsetto justice to the Bowie original:
“This is Major Tom to ground control,
I’m stepping through the door,
And I’m floating in the most peculiar way,
And the stars look very different today…”
At face value, the 1973 hit by iconic rocker David Bowie was a futuristic sci-fi ballad about Major Tom, a lone astronaut in space, but the deeper themes are about exploration of the human condition, the courage to be different, and the conflicting emotions of the detachment it takes to truly be free in this universe.
Of course Hadfield left out the part where Major Tom reports problems to ground control, and even inserted his own name in the song a couple times. Since its release and worldwide popularity, the whole team successfully came back to earth and Major Tom, err Chris Hadfield has retired from the space program, as planned. Just like in the song Major Tom makes it back to earth and is celebrated by the press and his fans as a hero, but the real reward was a few solitary moments orbiting the earth and the view from the dark starry heavens that belonged only to him.
My friend told me about this video last night and I was immediately moved by both the vulnerability and depth of it. Coincidentally, I began listening to Bowie’s classic a few weeks ago as I write as an eerily-dreamy reminder that no one ever accomplishes anything important by keeping their feet on the ground.
What really fascinates me is how unique Hadfield’s solo-above-the-stratosphere truly is. He did something that no one, and I mean NO ONE, in the history of the earth has done. That’s remarkable when you consider the thousands of years of mankind’s modern history and the fact that there have been 100 billion people on earth. Think about that – there are infinite possibilities to create, to do something different, to be the conscious ground control in the mission of our own lives. As time goes on you’d think that we as a race of artists and dreamers and explorers had LESS ideas to launch, but instead inexplicably we have more, exponentially it seems. What a pure, weightless experience; to summon the courage to be an innovator and let your imagination soar into its own orbit. Art, writing, music, creation, ambient knowledge - they keep expanding into previously dark and empty corners of our existence to give us warmth. The democratization of ideas, our social web of conscience, people helping others a world away who they’ve never seen and will never know - interconnectedness like never before. Somehow the world is getting bigger and smaller at the same time, spinning out of control but also hugged tightly by a gravity much bigger than ourselves.
Don't miss Norm's new book,
The Queens of Dragon Town!
Norm Schriever is a best-selling author, expat, cultural mad scientist, and enemy of the comfort zone. He travels the globe, telling the stories of the people he finds, and hopes to make the world a little bit better place with his words.