May 13

Baker’s Dozen 二番: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Eric Baker (Fukuoka-ken, 2006-08) hopes he is approaching the end of a year of travel and reconnecting. He’ll be writing about his thoughts and experiences as he transitions back to working in the States.

slick willy

Should I stay or should I go now?…

This indecision’s bugging me.

Post-JET I hit the road for five months and ran into all sorts of people. For the inevitable question “where are you from?” I kept stock answers based on who I was chatting with. So for the toothless Syrian shepherd who’s English consisted of “Bush. Bad!”—vigorously illustrated with furrowed brow and shaking head—followed by “Obama. Good!” I threw out my vigorous nose point and Japanese accented “America.” This built enough rapport to move on to higher-level discussions, like “Clinton! Very good!” followed by suggestively arched bushy eyebrows, gaping smile and hip gyrations.

For the umpteenth hawker, I’d occasionally throw out something exciting like “I’m Japanese” or “I’m from Holland.” Either they’d be confused or annoyed and leave me alone or we’d start in on a more interesting conversation. “(playfully) Noooo. Really, where are you from?” In a small Egyptian town I spent two insightful days hanging out with a shopkeeper and his friends after starting a conversation like this.

I loved being able to connect with Japanese backpackers, who were universally びっくり! that I could speak Japanese. I often had to say a few sentences in Japanese before they could comprehend that this white face was speaking their language, not English or German. We’ve all had those introductory conversations ad nauseum, which follow predictable patterns. But on the road post-Japan, I relished making the connection. A local celebrity one last time.

Meeting people more familiar with cities in the United States should have been a walk in the park. It sometimes was, with people who were just chewing the fat or not as knowledgeable. But with many, I learned to prepare myself for an awkward pause if I told them my city. You see, I’m from Detroit. When I told a stranger, I felt like I burdened them with too much personal information. As if I told them my grandma just died.

So that’s where The Clash comes in. I’m back in Detroit, reconnecting with the few friends who are still around, but if I want a good job, I gotta go. Chrysler is in Chapter 11, and GM is next. I’m proud of my roots, but Detroit’s been on the decline since the race riots. So I’m happy to move, but wonder if I can actually snag a job from here or if I’m better off saying “Okay, Boston it is” and living off my pension until I land a job. After two relatively fruitless months of the former, I’m leaning towards heading out.

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