Off to Roost, originally uploaded by bexadler.

One thing you learn from traveling is how much we take for granted in the west. I’m not even talking about all of the guilty pleasures we enjoy like air conditioning, ice cubes, and hundreds of TV stations at our fingertips. I’m talking about the BIG things. Things we deem essential to quality of life, like clean drinking water, breathable air, and access to nature. I never thought of these as excesses until I moved to China. In other countries I have often missed small things, like Mexican food and avocados. But in China, I miss such big things that I don’t even have the time to think about how much I wish there was ranch dressing available here. One of the things I miss most here – and didn’t even realize until I had it again in my life – is birdsong.

You wouldn’t think it is something to be missed. In fact, it is something that I never really paid attention to back home. It was just always in the background. Going for early morning runs, I would hear the birds waking up and chirping back and forth, telling each other about their dreams from the night before.

In the northern part of China, where I live, this does not exist. People comment on it here and there. They talk about the infamous Great Sparrow Campaign of Mao Zedong, but it wasn’t until I went to India that I really understood how much I had truly missed seeing these winged creatures floating through the sky and sharing their birdsong with us.

Not a day passed when I was in India that I didn’t comment on all of the birds that filled the night skies. Perhaps there weren’t as many birds as I imagined, but having come from a place with a complete absence of birds, to me it seemed that there were millions of birds everywhere. They had become a wonder to me and I would just sit on balconies and patios all over India listening to the birds and reminiscing.

Now I am back in China, and oh how I miss hearing the birds – as well as nature itself. I was chatting with some fellow expats last night, and all of us were lamenting the lack of trees and fresh air in Shenyang. Granted, there are places in China with beautiful, beautiful scenery, but the people in the cities are starved for any natural wonders. I think it is even worse for me because I know just how much I am missing out on. I am so grateful that in the west, we have decided that saving our places of natural beauty is a worthy endeavor. Today, the thing I miss most, aside from my friends and family, is my early morning jogs along the Sacramento River, where there were always deer, coyotes, rabbits, and, most of all, birds to help me pass away the miles. This is what I think about today, when I am running through the streets of Shenyang, probably doing more damage to my lungs than if I were to become a pack-a-day smoker. China may have taken on much of the industry we once had in the west, but I do not envy them. The trade-off their government has made is absolutely not worth it.