One of the items on my bucket list has always been a chance to visit China - ancient, mysterious, and very far away.  Last month, I checked that off the list after returning from a fabulous 10-day trip to Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai.  Visiting a Buddhist / Communist / Capitalist unique combination of a country was just awesome.  From ancient temples built in the Ming Dynasty, to severe Chairman Mao statues, to towering skyscrapers that make the Jetson's space-age skyline look ordinary, China was intriguing from start to finish.

After a 13-hour flight from JFK to Beijing, I exited customs and looked for signs for Gate 1 Travel – the tour company I had booked.  Once I saw the sign held by our tour guide, Patrick (no, that is not his Chinese name), I introduced myself and waited for other travelers coming in from all over the world to join the tour. 

In the mean time, I tried out my new tablet so I could let friends and family know that I had landed safely.  As I fiddled around trying to figure out how to get WiFi, I heard some of my fellow tour mates introducing themselves to each other.  Although I should have been a bit more social, I was too busy with my tablet to join the conversation until I heard one woman say “Egg Harbor Township.” Now here I am in the middle of Beijing airport, 7,000 miles away from home, and I hear a reference to not only New Jersey, but South Jersey to be exact.  I asked the woman, Sheila, in my oh-my god-what-a–small-world tone, “Did you say Egg Harbor as in New Jersey?” 

Sheila told me that she was from Washington Township, NJ, but he (pointing to another traveler) is from Egg Harbor Township.  So, naturally I started a conversation with the man from EHT, Kirk, and he tells me that he is not only from South Jersey, but an Atlantic City police officer as well.  I was just flabbergasted. I traveled all the way to China and who do I bump into?  An ACPD from EHT, NJ!   The world can be so small at times, and this was a prime example.  And bumping into a paisan, landsman, or whatever you happen to call a geographic/cultural soul mate just defies the odds.  Let’s do the math; there are 1.3 billion Chinese + millions of visitors. So, out of literally billions of humans on earth, the chances of meeting someone from your back yard in the middle of Beijing is one in a bazillion!
During the next 10 days, Patrick schlepped his Gate 1 group all over China “enlightening and educating” us to wonderful sites, monuments, museums, and gift shops, of course!  The Atlantic City area was so far away, but every now and then East would crash into West and I would have to adjust my bearings.  For example, one day Kirk asked our guide where he could buy a bottle of “wooter.”  I was in Beijing surrounded by hundreds of Chinese words and sounds in the middle of Tiananmen Square heading for the Forbidden City, when my ears heard the unmistakable South Jersey word for H2O - “wooter.”   Shai-shai (thank you) and knee how (hello) were such foreign words to me.  But, wooter was a comforting sound that reminded me of home! 

Day 2 of our trip took us to the Great Wall – one of the 7 Wonders of the World that at one time stretched 5,000 miles across China’s deserts, grasslands, and mountains.  As I walked across a small section of the ancient wall, I suddenly thought this could be the Chinese version of the Boardwalk.  Yes, it’s a stretch (pun intended), but it’s a famous walkway, a tourist attraction, has some parts of it that are in disrepair, and a piece of history that is a household word whether your house is in the United States or China! 

From Beijing, we moved on to Xian, home of the 7.000+ terracotta warriors buried in the tomb of a 3rd century emperor, the Atlantic City Boardwalk continued to follow me.  As we entered the archeological dig, we were bombarded by street vendors with miniature knock-offs of the warriors in handy little carrying cases.  Classic tacky souvenirs sold by classic tacky souvenir salesmen.  I was instantly reminded of the schlocky souvenirs that I used to sell to tourists when I was a kid working at Souvenir City on the Boardwalk – invisible dog leashes, seashell ashtrays, and nudie cards.  I laughed to myself how well these Communists (wanna be Capitalists) have learned to making a buck from tourist naiveté.  Just like AC.

In addition to taking in the colorful sights and sounds of China, food was an experience as well.  Some folks were a bit shocked to discover that familiar menu options like General Tso, Happy Family, or even fortune cookies did not exist in China – all concoctions made up in the US for American palettes. However, the meals in China were quite interesting - mostly stir-fried dishes, wonderfully fresh veggies, and great tea.  Although everyone in our Gate 1 Travel group enjoyed the chance to sample local cuisine, occasionally someone from the South Jersey delegation would say, “Boy, I could really go for a sub” or “A pizza from Tony’s sounds good right about now.”  Dumplings and bok choy be damned once you get a craving for Atlantic City food!

So, on Day 10 my trip was over and back home I had to go.  It was a fabulous experience and I saw great sights, met warm and friendly people, and experienced the mystique of China sprinkled with a dose or two of South Jersey unique.  Funny how once you have sand in your shoes, you can never quite get rid of it no matter where you go or how far away you may travel.  As Dorothy once said, “There’s no place like home.”  I didn’t know Dorothy was from the Atlantic City area!

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