Ability to get up and go anywhere is true power

by Angela Jeffs

In India, he went to Darjeeling for one reason only: to drink tea.

In Tanzania, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with a can of coffee bearing a logo of the mountain in his pocket. “But when I got the the top, it was frozen solid. The other half-dozen climbers there and I passed it around, trying to warm it between our legs. We then each had a sip, sharing and toasting our achieved goal.”

I have his mother to thank for meeting up with John Daub, en route from Japan to India, which he says, “used to feel so far away and now seems very near.” After Demi Daub stopped me in Shibuya in July 2001 and asked if I would take her photo, we stayed in contact. Now here I am with her remarkable son.

John has packed more adventures into his 30 years than most people achieve in any number of lifetimes. Since neither of his younger brothers have strayed far from home in New Jersey, he thinks he must have picked up the travel bug from his father, a tanker pilot.

John started his own “career” as a traveler soon after graduating in economics and English. With no plan other to discover everything — the whos, whats, whys and wheres of the entire planet — he explored Europe with a 45-day Eurail Pass.

Now his bags are packed for Bangalore. He has heard — and read on the Internet — that there are currently four IT-related jobs for every applicant in the region. “So many European and American companies are outsourcing.” He has an introduction, and a monthlong fixed ticket. “If things work out, I’ll stay. If not, I have a job waiting here in the ‘Eikaiwa’ (English-language teaching) business in Japan.”

John knows a lot about the world of Eikaiwa. Coming and going over the years — to Hiroshima for 14 months, for example — he has taught every age imaginable, even babies still in the womb. Prenatal English classes are big, he says. Also he swears one 6-month-old he taught learned to ask, “How’s the weather?” and that a 1-year-old could argue in English. “The mothers were quite sure.”

The longest he has spent home in the States since 1998 is three months. “I’m global, borderless, just happening to have a U.S. passport. Sure I love my country. In Romania, I received 20 marriage proposals from girls desperate to be U.S. citizens. But they had such rosy views; they really thought American streets were paved with gold.”

He met his partner, Mayumi, in Germany. They were both heading in the same direction down a street in Heidelburg. When John spoke to her in Japanese, she flipped. “We spent the whole day together, then went our separate ways, meeting up again later in London. I asked her to be my girlfriend on Westminster Bridge. Very romantic! Recently she threw in her job as a nurse to train as a massage therapist. If things work out in India, I guess she’ll join me there.”

He hitchhiked across former Yugoslavia just two weeks before it was bombed by NATO. “One bank there had never seen a $20 bill. The cashier had to check it out in a book. Eastern Europe was amazing to me as an American, so culturally enlightening.”

Back in the States, he was always restless. “There is power in being able to get up and go.” Making Japan his base for further wanderings, he was in Australia for the millennium, meandered around New Zealand, up through Indonesia, and from China crossed into Tibet. “I’ve worked as an Italian ice-shaver on Sydney’s Bondi Beach, a Web designer for a hotel in Beijing, China, a business consultant in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, and a dive master in Thailand.”

On another trip, he accompanied his mother to her native India to meet her family living near Bombay. “My cousin was the head of the village, where people used a sugar cane field as a restroom and cows ambled in and out of houses.”

In October 2003 he spent one month — and just $150 (having funded his activities since very young, he can live on little) — hitchhiking from the very north of Hokkaido to Kagoshima. He plans to hawk the documentary he edited from 12 hours of video taken en route, by mail order and on the streets (“which after all is not so different from hitchhiking”).

If he has learned anything over the last eight years, it is that he can make a home anywhere in the world. “There are only a few elements to leading a happy life, and I know some of them: placing less value on possessions, the ability to make friends, and being able to establish yourself in a culture.”

John talks with friends back in the States leading corporate lives, and no one seems happy. But he accepts that he has to find out for himself that such a path is not what he wants. “Maybe I’ll like it — who knows? I’ve always succeeded in everything I’ve tried to do.”

Except at an interview with a major European bank, when he was blown away by the insistence on an academic pedigree. “I said to the guy: ‘You’re building a road in Croatia. I’ve walked that road, I know those people. . . . Also you have projects in Thailand helping communities cope with AIDS. I’ve been to these villages, worked with the families. Does all this stand for nothing?’ All he could say was, ‘Go to Harvard, then give me a call.’ “

If India does not work out, John sees value in returning to the Eikaiwa system. But having seen his Web site and also his DVD documentary, he would appear to be a natural reporter. And yes, he is thinking journalism. “If I return from Bangalore with nothing else, I’ll have a great story.”

There is also the call of Antarctica, the only continent he has as yet not explored and where, of course, he has a friend met on the road.