With three days off from Chinese class forthcoming, it was time once again to make the short trek to our local Enterprise Rent-A-Car outlet. (All of their commercials tout that they will pick me up, and yet I still found myself leaning in to the wind to progress through the tornadoes of dancing leaves on this brink November morning!)
Today’s destination? North to the sweet land of candy that is the headquarters of the largest candy company in North America-Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The home of cacao confectionery is just a few hours from DC and sounded like the perfect foil to Justin’s week of Smithsonian and national monument touring.
When this plan was concocted earlier this week, we were all excited by the possibility of a bit of chocolate coming our way. We heard great things about the destination from a variety of friends. We formed mental images of a tasty chocolate land. What we found was great. It was tasty. It was also nothing that we expected. Chocolate World was a bit like the American version of Singapore’s Haw Par Villa. Craziness bottled as family-fun.
Once inside the awesomeness that is Chocolate World, we promptly enrolled ourselves in Hershey University. We mentally inserted our plastic pocket protectors and took our seats in the second row of a chocolate tasting class. The coursework was rigorous, including such tasks as listening to our various chocolate bars and blowing bubbles in our chocolate milk. It wasn’t easy and a few crib notes were necessary, but eventually all three of us earned our Hershey University Master’s degrees! This will definitely be added to my resume, as I am sure it will give me that extra leverage I might need to get a job within the Chengdu consulate.
As graduation was behind us, not yet ready to face the working world and with our parents’ basements on the other side of the country, we decided there was no better use of our afternoon than to attend Hershey’s Really Big 3-D Show. This extravaganza started out like any other IMAX-type movie found at tourist hubs, with the requisite dorky glasses being handed out and a variety of visitors filing into a movie theater, carefully seating themselves so that there is always an open seat between groups of people. It is at this point when the Really Big 3-D Show went from predictable tourist attraction to mass acid trip! As the lights dimmed and we donned our futuristic goggles, the giant screen came alive with an assortment of dancing candy bars, all popping off the screen as if they couldn’t contain their sugary goodness. Dodging and ducking to avoid the Hershey’s Kisses flying at my face, my chair started to vibrate to rhythm of the music and giant bubbles fell from the roof, silently gliding down through the strobe lights. Not to be left out of the sensory overload, my nose filled with the smell of chocolate as scent was pumped into the auditorium and streamers popped open in the air. (The chocolate smell instantly took me back to elementary school. It was precisely the same scent as the chocolate scratch-and-sniff stickers we used to get from our teachers for correctly answering all the questions in our phonics book or for remembering to carry the ones in each of our math problems!)
In Chocolate World, we were definitely part of the 99%, having racked up student loans and it seemed like it was probably time to put those college degrees to work by making chocolate bars. Our new uniforms included aprons, hairnets, gloves for me and a beard-net for Justin. We then entered the chocolate laboratory where we each got to choose a base chocolate bar (mine was dark), up to three inclusions (I went with almonds and raspberries) and a choice of whether or not to top it with sprinkles (like there is even a question there- yes please!). While our individual creations cooled, we then went off to the marketing room where we created labels for our new candy items. Finally, with the chocolate ready to go and the wrappers printed, we were handed our unique sweet treats!
Thirty minutes of work on the chocolate factory line was more than enough for us, so with our personalized confectionery in tow, it was off to take a tour of the chocolate museum. Much like with the 3-D show, this was anything but what we expected! After loading into amusement-park like carts, we were hauled off on an adventure that included singing cows, a rather warm ride through a cacao bean roaster and images of thousands of chocolate Kisses being created.
(In other news, I think I have a brilliant way to bring the lovely Smithsonian institutions into the twenty-first century- tours of the best museum pieces via Tilt-A-Whirl carts narrated by a variety of mammals and concluding with roller coaster-like photographs of the experience! )
Just a day ago, I would have doubted anyone who told me there was such a thing as too much chocolate. No longer. As the name implies, Chocolate World is inundated with chocolate. We were given free samples at every turn. Like kids in a candy store, we all excitedly accepted each candy offered to us by these strangers (seeing no creepy white van in sight, we figured it was safe), not thinking far enough ahead to consider the possibility of a need for moderation. Soon the giggles of glee at each new proffering turned into stammers of soreness as our bellies ached from the over-consumption of these tasty gifts.
Feeling diabetes swiftly inching closer and closer, we figured it was time to make our escape from the marvelous land that is Chocolate World. We went into this experience with high hopes, but the reality far exceeded those expectations. Hershey’s Chocolate World is Charlie Bucket’s reality transformed into our own, smack in the middle of Pennsylvania. It was definitely Golden Ticket worthy!