Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Girl Scout Fortune Cookies

I think it's my third grade picture at Fishinger Elementary School where I'm wearing my Bluebird uniform. A year or two later, Bluebirds graduated to Camp Fire Girls and with that I learned to pick better outfits for ace-comb picture day. There wasn't a direct rivalry between Camp Fire Girls and the more known green clad Girl Scouts, but I did wonder what went on in those meetings.

I was about 27 years old when I finally got a glimpse of how that other half lived. Urawa City had a sister city relationship with Richmond, Virginia. The Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia was coming to town on an official visit, and the city hall was in full stereotypical agenda building and schedule revising mode. I came into play with the task of organizing a plan for his wife and daughter.

Mrs. Governor expressed that her daughter was a Girl Scout and would like to have some kind of exchange activity with the local chapter. That was a simple request. I daydream periodically about having easy access to Thin Mints again, so I could get into this job. However, that spoke-too-soon simple request soon blew into full on Japanese to the hilt event planning and gold star hosting.

It started with an innocent phone call, which weeded out into a phone chain. I called the closest chapter, and that leader contacted her people, other chapters are getting a ring, and so on and on and on and on. On impact, I was flung from what I thought would be a few innocent rounds of Kumbaya, perhaps in two languages, to extending an open invitation to every troop in the entire Kanto Plain, a region which encompasses Greater Tokyo and its 6 surrounding prefectures. We were now slated to have a ceremonial event seaside in Yokohama, Kanagawa, at the site of some form of meaningful statue that represented the foundation of Girl Scouts in Japan.

I was thinking that Mrs. Governor was probably only acting as a concerned mother who was simply trying to justify pulling her daughter out of school to make the trip to Japan with her husband, and, well Girls Scouts could pass as a semi-educational event. I updated the office on how my fantasy meeting of a few girls playing hopscotch and having an ice cream cone turned into a formal meeting including hundreds of guests. The staff bit on the news and couldn't be outdone by a Troop Leader and, thus, they upped their game.

The 54.5 kilometer trip, which by train is 1 hour and 20 minutes, quickly launched into reserving a white stretch limousine. I have never seen a limo in Japan and I know why. The roads are narrow, traffic is a stand still bear on a clear day, and don't get me started on parking. To me, this would be like being on a road trip in the Midwest and on a rare occasion you'd see a house being transported on the freeway, however, I wouldn't be wondering who in the world transports a house on the road, rather, I'd be its passenger. In the end, a house might have been a better deal considering there could be even the slightest chance of a Wizard of Oz type twister that could have airlifted us and dropped us in Girlscoutland. Unfortunately, ruby slippers were not going to save me from this day.

Yokohama Chinatown is the largest Chinatown in Japan, and one of the biggest in the world. Japanese love superlatives, so this was something to showcase. My staff thought it would be a great add-on to the tour if we lunched in authentic Chinatown before the ceremony. Authentic meant that the roads were narrow, directionless, lined with uneven cobblestone and motorist unfriendly, like China, hence the name. I figure I'd jump off that Great Wall when I came to it and just went with it. Besides, whatever I ran into I had back up: Girl Scouts are by law prepared, and I'd be surrounded by every registered Girl in the region.

Mrs. and Daughter Governor and I boarded the limo, while my staff trailed in an ironically enviable, practical and humble city owned compact vehicle. It only took one minute into the trip to realize that I would find absolutely no similarities in this experience to my childhood memories of loading the station wagon with my backpack and sleeping bag as my parents drove me from Columbus to Lancaster for Camp Fire Girls camp. The journey was usually smooth, which meant at most maybe we'd have to wait for the lane to clear to pass a tractor or two en route. The back seat of this limo was probably the size of the cabin I shared with 16 girls. I think I was glad to have tinted windows, since in Honda bumper to Limo bumper traffic, which clocked 3 hours, people had plenty of time to approach and try to get a glimpse of the mystery passengers on their "three hour tour."

The approach into Chinatown proved impossible. The Limo couldn't even get a view of the ornamental red entrance get into the town. We parked, and the driver fetched 3 pedicabs to cycle us to the restaurant. It turns out they clocked better mileage than our 3 hour haul through Tokyo. The lunch served was far more complicated than my hot dog, s'mores and bug juice camping days. Instead, we had multiple courses of Cantonese, Peking, Shanghai, and Szechwan cuisines to fuel up for the ceremony. At the port, a neatly pressed crowd in uniform was filing in around the statue, so we proceeded to make our grand entrance, which in an limo, was an auto piolet effort. The head leader read a welcome address, which was followed by speeches, speeches and speeches from various chapter representatives. Daughter Governor was a good sport, and just taking in the masses.

An entire restaurant bordering the seaside statue venue was rented out for all participating Scouts and leaders, in full wedding reception style glitz. This was a high end coffee shop where we were to have afternoon tea and cake. Also on the menu was more speeches, speeches and speeches, as well as gifts, gifts and gifts for a cermemonial exchange. This was a high end coffee shop where we were to have afternoon tea and cake. The entire place was decorated with the finest linens and silver settings. The cakes were so ornate that you didn't know if you should shellac it for the scrapbook or politely gum through it. My mouth was watering for a traditional Trefoil Shortbread Girl Scout cookie. Instead, I watch this group of elementary school girls struggle to work there way through the cutlery. The girls had their choice of tea or coffee, and I wished I smuggled in a packet of Koolaid to dunk in poor little Daughter Governor's ice water.

The commute back through Tokyo met up with rush hour traffic, so this day did turn out to feel like I was shipped off to camp after all. I was a Camp Fire Girl at heart, but this one rock star day of being a Girl Scout party crasher was worth the adventure, and even though a train ride would have been life saving efficient, I was happy to go along for the quincentenary ride. Surviving the formality of the speeches, and the scene at the high tea should earn each one of those little girls their lifetime etiquette badge. That's my take of the day. I'd love to catch up with Daughter Governor one day, and hear about how that show and tell project played out when she returned to elementary school in Virginia. That would be one "what I did on vacation" report worth reading which no Girl Scout Fortune cookie could have predicted.

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