About six weeks into my stay in Changchun, something occurred to me.
It’s been shown in many studies that it is much easier to notice something added to your environment than it is to notice something missing. You can stare at an empty space on your bookshelf for ten minutes trying to remember what used to be there, but it won’t take you more than three seconds to notice an African Elephant taking a bath in your dining room.
Terrible examples aside, it is definitely harder to notice absence. It took me two weeks to notice there isn’t a single “stop sign” in Changchun. Something felt off before that, but I couldn’t identify it until I had been here a couple weeks. Now six weeks in, something else bubbled up to the surface of my brain.
There are no birds here.
Okay, yes, that is an exaggeration. But not as much as you might think. Changchun is one of the most forested cities in China (and was the first to meet China’s stated goal of 45% forest cover in its cities by 2050). And birds and trees go hand in hand. In most any city in the world, if you have trees you will also have birds. They may be boring sparrows and crows. They may be jays and songbirds. They might just be pigeons. But they will be there.
Not in Changchun.
I’ve had days where I spent three hours wandering the city and never saw a single bird. Not one crow. Not one pigeon. Not one sparrow. It’s eerie. You don’t realize just how used to seeing birds all over the place you are, until they aren’t there.
There are certainly areas in town where you will find birds. Many of the city parks have small ponds and lakes within them, and at most of these you will find a few birds here and there. The South Lake park had quite a few. But whether because pigeons are on the restaurant menu, or because it gets too cold in winter, the everpresent flocks of gray and white scavengers you see on the sidewalk in every city in America just aren’t here.
When you are accustomed to hearing birdsong all day long, used to seeing birds flying overhead, used to seeing pigeons fleeing oncoming pedestrians, used to seeing ducks swimming in every puddle big enough for a bath? It’s strange for them to not be there.