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The Bet

 
 

A Voice from the Past

16th April 2003 -- Eight years ago, Jason and I worked at The New University, the campus newspaper for UC Irvine. We made the following Bet: Whoever is the first to publish a book shall summon the other person to meet him, anywhere on the globe he chooses.

Most deservingly, my talented and diligent friend -- now an established 212 Manhattanite -- went on to fame and fortune. A few months before his book party, I received an email. I have not heard from him since a postcard from Florence, Italy about six years ago; the news of my losing the bet came as a surprise.

Admittedly, it was entirely expected that he would win the Bet, so much more certain was he along the path of a literary career than I since the very start. So sure was I of this inevitability, I had not given our Bet another thought. At first, neither did Jason himself, who after all did already sign his book deal two years earlier. My surprise, a decidedly pleasant one, was that he would indeed bother to claim such a wager, from one who happens to have the will to see to its utmost satisfaction.

  
Copyright © 2001 Mapquest.com, Inc.
    

The reinstatement of our Bet was catalyzed by our friend Eric, yet another UCI alumnus and The New U editor, now a Seattle-based publisher. It was he who urged Jason to find me, someone who, they had good reason to suspect, might have dropped off the face of the earth. 

Although I do live a reclusive life at the West Coast, it does not take much investigative reporting to track me down, considering the fact that www.charlesweng.com would lead them to this very website.

O Eric, what hath thou wrought in thy most benevolent folly?

  

In keeping with the spirit of our Bet, I have decided to keep my say to the minimum. I tell Jason the optimal times for me to travel this year, and that is all. I also agree with him that, since our respective journeys are to culminate in a Dr-Livingstone-I-presume encounter, a rendezvous at a JFK terminal is certainly out of the question, unless it is an utter coincidence.

So where are we going? It is to be exotic, primordial, and somewhere Charles has never been. 

I forgive my friend for being coy. Having done a stint as a travel writer (see his work in www.geographia.com/malaysia), he is indeed no less well traveled than I. 

Tanzania, he entreated. The cradle of humanity.  -- CW

      

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Virtual Memory

18th April 2003 -- There is no need yet to speak to Jason again since our initial contact. Until I am instructed otherwise, I already have enough from him to go on at the moment.

Ngorongoro. Sometimes after November.

That is sufficient time to get the visa, the shots, the funds -- and to assess the situation in East Africa, the Middle East and the world, months after the start of the war in Iraq and the SARS epidemic in Asia.

   
Allen Bechky / Tanzania.com
  

Twelve days are all I need. Three to fly from Los Angeles to Amsterdam, then Arusha, the unavoidable depot for tourists in Tanzania. Three for the safari to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro. Six more days to retrace my way back home.

All it takes will be a handshake, and a few snapshots for my website. Perhaps, as we sit down for a meal, I'll tolerate my friend's tirade against Hemingway, nearly half a century after Papa shot himself. Wouldn't blame him if he had to hear it for himself.

  

The grassy crater of Ngorongoro: the wildebeests, the black rhinos, the lions, the rusty Land Rovers belching black exhaust. I feel I've already been there. Jamais vu. It's the Baja campfire under the stars I had long envisioned, a road trip from Irvine to Cabo San Lucas planned between half a dozen friends that never happened. A virtual memory, thanks to years of National Geographic, David Attenborough and PBS.

I can see Jason smiling, remembering his Flaubert.  -- CW

  
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A Matter of Will

23rd April 2003 -- Many years ago, I made many pacts and wagers with my playmates, deals that were sealed over a child's oath. In the East, we linked our little fingers; here in the West I learned to cross my heart and hope to die.

The burden of confidence does rest unevenly on a child's shoulder, however.

Underlying every deal my older sister and I made between us, there was an exit strategy. She wielded the power of cancellation and I, the power of resumption. Thus, whenever we would see who could keep a daylong vow of silence (or at least avoid saying the phrase "you dummy"), it was always my sister who took the initiative to break the rules of our game, or to quit playing altogether. 

   
Glacier-Waterton International Park, Montana / c-weng.com
   Naturally, it was I who always wanted to continue the game for a little longer, even when no one else is playing. I did not understand until many years later that, had my will been infinitely stronger, the games I played with my sister might never end.

As I came of age, I began to exert my will through mobility. Unguided and alone (except with impromptu company), I found my way all over Britain and across the crumbling Iron Curtain. In three years, I drove 120,000 miles solo across twenty-seven states and three provinces, whose roads and borders are indelibly mapped into memory. 

  

After all that, it does at first seem rather odious to be told where to go, at considerable expense and risk. I am indeed submitting myself to another will, but it is not entirely that of the person who has won our Bet. By claiming his victory, my friend is also bound by our honor to travel as far as he says he will go.

We are both under the whim of our former selves. It was I who made the Bet, entirely upon the wonderful conceit of traveling anywhere on earth to meet a friend who had promised to do the very same. Since it was Jason's will to see himself in print, accepting such a Bet -- before its stakes were to be fully realized -- was simply trivial.

I can't speak presently for someone I have not heard from for eight years. As for me, I still want to continue the game a while longer, even if no one else is playing. 

I will always remember my friend's hospitality in Newport Beach, Fairfax and San Francisco, and the many late-evening conversations we've had about dreams, writing, and life -- while I drank his wine and withstood his nicotine-laden breath. Since then, he has left many things, many places, and many persons behind.

You did not bring us to the Baja campfire under the stars, Jason. Will you now promise me the lions of Ngorongoro?   -- CW

   
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So how was Norway?

9th June 2003 -- I have just returned from Scandinavia, my third trip in four years.

For the few around me who show the courtesy of expressing some interest in my travels, this is the time they are obliged to do so. They expect me to give the proverbial (and tactfully abbreviated) slide show via this web site. They politely tolerate my lectures on such topics as the midnight sun, the Gulf Stream, the Sami and the depletion of the North Atlantic cod. Uncritically, they compliment my photographs and writings, and urge me to start making some money from them.

All that has become a ritual of sorts upon my homecoming, as much of a chore as unpacking, giving away chocolate purchased at the airport, as well as sorting, processing and posting all those pictures in the first place. 

  
Porsanger, Norway / c-weng.com
     Whatever happens to all that wonder, that joy, that life-changing experience at the moment of crossing that new border, reaching that new height on foot, releasing the camera shutter upon that perfectly-composed shot or articulating that fleeting sense of awe in one's journal?

It's all there, buried deep inside my skull, ready to weave my dreams for the many coming nights, and safe from ever becoming blasť or inconsequential, regardless of anyone else's indifference.

  
Of that, I do keenly understand. The images and words of this site are certainly a manifestation of an intensely private, profound and nearly incommunicable wanderlust, but they can only go so far. They are mere artifacts of a passing state of being. For as great as the Pyramids of Giza have been, in the end they are but memories to some and, to others, something to show on a postcard.

It is just as well that, for now, I keep the Bet in the same place.

To the audience of my slide show, the premise of this Bet is no more salacious than the fact that I have driven myself across arctic Lapland, from the Lofoten to Nordkapp and the Torne valley. Someone looked up my friend Jason on the Net, and in a popular magazine where he is an editor. Another mused that his book advance ought to cover my expenses in Tanzania. Yet another mentioned that he has a friend who's been to Tanzania. It was his best man, at the wedding I recently attended.

It was my turn to show the courtesy of expressing interest in other people's lives. -- CW

[more entries to follow as they become available]

 

  
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