This morning, I sat on the balcony of my apartment, facing a small forest of giant trees. I closed my eyes, and heard the rooftop rainwater dripping down the pipe, onto the tree leaves, the stone paths, the lower roofs. I heard the singing birds flying by, and the tree leaves up high padding each other in the wind. The sound of the leaves gradually got louder; that was when I knew the rain was coming down again. I once told my mom, who was back home in China constantly worrying if I am living a happy life here in a far-away country, that the experience like this is the best thing I could ever ask for.
I came to Furman two years ago from my hometown, Beijing, China, where I have lived since the beginning of my memory. At home, I also have a balcony, a larger one actually, right outside of my bedroom. However, I never go out there, because the dust only stays away for at most one day after one cleans it – thus it is always covered with a thick layer of dust. In the streets if there were ever a tree that has a trunk thicker than one can embrace, kids would probably wow at it. I can go on and on talking about how bad Beijing’s environment has become over the years of exploitive development, and why I am now so determined to lay my life career in sustainability. You can also easily check on the news these days and see reports about Beijing’s deteriorating air quality everywhere. Beijing has made itself onto the news only because it is the capital, not because it is the worse or the only city in China that is suffering from poor air quality. Now that I am at Furman, I always eat my meal on the balcony when I can. The forest is the only thing I can see out there, because the trees are so tall and lush that I cannot even see the building behind them. But that is exactly what I need. My eyes crave for the greenness as much as my lungs crave for the clean, fresh air.
Just like how it appears, at first I thought I have come to a place of good conduct where I could learn all the good things to take back home. But not too long I realized that things are in fact no better here. The notable wasteful lifestyle of the general population of this country is contributing to the other side of the same story, while the cost is usually out of sight. There are a couple “culture shocks” that have given me a hard time trying to understand. I saw a nice café in a fancy place where the staff were wearing disposable plastic aprons, the very thin kind that was not only very nondurable but also very unpleasant to look at. I wonder what made those plastic aprons better than some nice cotton aprons with the café’s logo on it that advertise at the same time? Is it really too inconvenient to just toss them into a washing machine at the end of the day? In community washrooms, I often see people keep the tap water running while they brush their teeth, or washing their face, or just staring at their pimples in the mirror. Then I get very confused. Is it really too inconvenient to turn the tap water off for the few minutes that you are not using it? Life is too good here that people’s demand for high-pressure water taps has become a must-met necessity. For just a few minutes, a significant amount of water has, in fact, run off. Unfortunately, I was the only one in the washroom aware of and saddened by the water being wasted. These single events may appear to be nothing compared to what the environmentally damaging industries are doing, but the scary thing is this kind of lifestyle has become a norm nationwide that people are so disconnected to the fact that everything comes from a limited resource and what you waste does not just disappear; rather, it has indefinite impacts on other people and the environment.
For these two cultures, if we characterize one as exploitive and the other wasteful, it is quite obvious how these two are intertwined. The two sides are constantly in battle about who is to blame and to be responsible on the issues of the environment. As I see it, the two different stages of development each has its own problems; they are two sides of one story, with neither better than the other. Furthermore, no one can deny that Chinese people do not waste because they are or they had been poor not long ago. It is, in fact, very easy to imagine an even more wasteful society in China when it gets affluent, and, trust me, everyone should be as worried as I am about this potential future. Indeed, living in the United States and looking at how “developed” it is has given me a stronger and more urgent drive to bring the science/concept of sustainability back home. I hope people can soon see the right path of connecting to the earth and the environment.