Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Visiting North Korea: Would Kim Yong Il like me to bring him a box of Girl Scout cookies?

In 2002, after George W. Bush stole the presidency of what was then the world's only super-power, he went on to make his famous State of the Union speech wherein he called Iran, Iraq and North Korea "The Axis of Evil". And I've been fascinated by those three countries ever since.

Evil? I wanna see evil up close!

So I went off to Iran. No evil there, that I could see.

Then I went off to Iraq. And all I could see there was a bunch of poor desperate schmucks -- both American and Iraqi -- struggling to exist in the harsh war-torn world created by Shock and Awe.

So far, I have found that making sweeping generalizations about the evilness of countries is not a good idea. People are just people, no matter what country they live in. They all love their children. They all put on their trousers one leg at a time. And if you prick them, do they not bleed?

So far, Bush has gotten two out of three countries wrong. That leaves only North Korea left to see. Will Bush have gotten this one wrong too? It's time to find out.

When Global Exchange announced that it was offering a tour of North Korea in April of 2008, I just couldn't resist. "Sign me up!" So I sent them my application, went to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco for my visa to Shenyang in northern China where I would make my transition connection to Pyongyang, bought my airline ticket and voila! Democratic Republic of North Korea, here I come.

Or not.

Apparently there was a diplomatic SNAFU of some kind about a week ago, the DRNK decided to only let eight members of my Global Exchange tour group into the country and, unfortunately, I was number ten on the list. Oh no! Now I'd never find out if North Korea is evil or not -- and if the leader of the world's only former super-power (aside from the USSR) was lying again or actually telling the truth for a change.

Not only was I facing this new visa disaster, but my airplane ticket to Shenyang was non-refundable too. De ja vooo! Remember back in February when I had been promised an embed in Iraq by the US Army and they rescinded it at the last minute and I ended up camping out at the airport Starbucks in Kuwait? Well. Now that my "embed" in North Korea has been rescinded too, does that mean that I'm gonna have to spend two weeks at the Shenyang airport Starbucks as well?

In any case, I'm leaving for Shenyang on April 4 and I'm hoping that, once there, the North Korean consulate will have a change of heart, take pity on me and let me in. Please?

So. Now I'm wildly looking around my home for some sort of present, some kind of gift that I can offer the DRNK's president Kim Yong Il that will tempt him into letting me come visit his country. Let's see. I have a review copy of Walter Brasch's excellent book, "Sinking the Ship of State". It contains over 300 pages of descriptions of how not to be a good national leader -- as demonstrated by our very own GWB. Perhaps Kim Yong Il would enjoy that.

But what else could I take?

Aha! I have an extra box of Girl Scout cookies! Who could possibly resist that! Kim Yong Il, if you are reading this, please let me come visit North Korea. You will be glad that you did -- not only because I am really excited about seeing the DRNK's alternative energy ideas such as the charcoal-powered car, but also because I'm sure that you will just LOVE Girl Scout cookies! My daughter Ashley's GS troop once sold 60,000 boxes of them. Trust me. They're good.

PS: "But what kind of Girl Scout cookies are you talking about here, Jane?" you might ask. "There are eight delicious varieties to choose from. And Kim Yong Il isn't going to be interested in just ANY flavor. He will want to know if there are Thin Mints involved." Nope, these cookies are even better than Thin Mints. This box contains Samoas (aka Caramel DeLites). Our troops sold over 30,000 boxes of them to Cal students. Cal students can't be wrong! Cal students love their Samoas. And I do too. Hmmmm....


Here's a description of Samoas from my blog archives:

Girl Scout cookies: The true story of how our troop sold 60,000 boxes!

Well, it's Girl Scout cookie season again. You gotta love Girls Scout cookies. Totally unhealthy, sure, but BOY are they good! I never liked Thin Mints all that much but good grief I would DIE for a Samoa. Chocolate, caramel and coconut. What's not to like? I could go through one whole box in three minutes. Two boxes? No problem. Three boxes? Don't even ask.
When my youngest daughter was a Girl Scout, our troop was HOT. We were legendary. We sold MORE Girl Scout cookies than any troop in Girl-Scout-cookie-selling HISTORY.

"Jane, " asked my friend JoAnne, "how did your troop manage to sell SIXTY THOUSAND BOXES?" I'll tell you how! We worked our tails off! That's how.

There were eleven girls in our troop so we divided up into groups. One group was assigned to the University of California. Those Cal students LOVE their Samoas! We'd drop some girls off in front of Sproul Plaza with twenty cases of cookies and come back three hours later and they would ALL be gone.

Then there was our Berkeley BART station girls. The commuters liked Thin Mints the most. Hot sellers. Sales were highest during rush hours and when the lunch crowd came out of the office buildings at noon. "Get your Girl Scout cookies! Only $3.50 a box!" One day some wannabe crook stole our money box. How slimy is that? To rip off a troop of Girl Scouts? That's pathetic.

Then there was the third group of scouts, headed by me. On every weekday after I got off of work and every weekend during March, I'd force my poor sweet daughter to go over to sit in front of the Berkeley Bowl Marketplace for hours on end, set up our ironing board and beg people to buy cookies. In the rain, in the heat, in the cold. The girls would sell their hearts out while I ran inside for change or for burritos or for hot chocolate to encourage them to go on. We weren't exactly breaking any child labor laws there but it was close.

"Girl Scout Cookies!" we sang, we shouted, we rapped.

All in all, our troop must have sold at least two tons of Girl Scout cookies. The entire first floor of one troop leader's house was totally stacked from floor to ceiling with cases of freaking cookies every year. Plus she owned a Chevie Suburban and we used to load it up with 50 or 60 cases and make trip after trip after trip. We counted our money at her kitchen table. And most of the girls were on the water polo team too and this leader was the coach so every year we sold cookies, ate cookies and swam. It was CRAZY!

Finally we sold 60,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies. And the girls learned a lot. I will be forever grateful to the Girl Scouts for giving our girls so much training in confidence, math, selling ability, business techniques and how to milk a sale for all it was worth.

One woman alone bought TWO cases of Thin Mints.

Every girl in our troop won an award for selling over 1,000 boxes -- every single year.

And, finally, we saved up enough money -- it took us TEN YEARS -- to take the whole troop on a Caribbean cruise. And that cruise was totally worth all the time and trouble and effort. Totally worth it. And our girls freaking took over the boat! The waiters loved them. And the boys who had been forced to go on the cruise by their parents all were just totally blown away by our magical troop. And the Bahamas will never be the same. When I rounded the corner of a street in Nassau one afternoon on shore leave, there was our entire troop, helping some guy sell T-shirts and key chains at the open-air market.

Yes, our ship, the Explorer of the Seas, is still afloat after hosting Troop 3983 for a week -- but just barely!PS: The girls all graduated from high school and went on to other things. But there will never be a troop like ours. Never ever again. 60,000 boxes! And it will take at least a generation before the sugar and cholesterol levels of the citizens of Berkeley to go back down.