I’ve written before about the consequences of smog, one of which is the way it dampens colour and makes everything grey. I’m slowly getting used to the sky ALWAYS being clean. Australians from country areas do talk about how it’s dirtier or smellier here, or about the haze they see over the city. Sometimes, if I really look closely, I can kinda make out a smudged area near the horizon. But I’ve yet to see the AQI monitors in my area go over 60, whereas in Beijing I was thrilled by anything under 80. I am frequently to be seen walking or just standing still staring up at the sky – night or day – amazed at the sight. I can’t get over the bright blue, and the clear clouds are beautiful to me. And don’t even get me started on the stars!! Quite a few people here at college have come up to me and said that my enthusiasm over the air and sky has made them realise how much they take for granted – and even to stop and look up at the sky a little more.
Overall I am amazed by the way my senses seem to come alive here. I was amazed by vivid colours in Cambodia, but Sydney is another world altogether. It is so lush by comparison – green grass and trees and bright flowers everywhere. There is a whole rainbow of bright colour, like a giant paintbox – blue sky and ocean, green grass, delicate shades of clouds, the blaze of sunsets, bright orange of setting sunlight reflected off buildings in the city, and flowers in colours of the whole rainbow. Like Cambodia, the colours of houses seem especially vivid to me after the smog blanket that dampened the colours of Beijing.
But it’s not just colour – it’s sight, sound, scent, and texture. I am still amazed by all the open space, both the big park spaces and also the views – how far the view extends, before hitting a building, or even all the way to the horizon. It never disappears into a smudged blur of smog. I am still amazed by the openness of parks. There are these vast expanses of soft, lush grass – not covered with trees but instead ready to be sat on or played on. And nothing is walled in – no high concrete walls making roads into tunnels.
Then there’s the sounds – especially the missing sounds. There are no blaring car alarms, no fireworks early on weekend mornings, and traffic noise is so muted when I can even make it out. What I do hear often is bird calls. Lots of different types! I also love the sounds of people playing at the park whenever I go there – people exercising or relaxing or playing sport together, strangers connecting over the dogs or children they’ve brought to enjoy the park… it’s lovely.
There are scents, too – freshly mown grass, eucalyptus, flowers. It amazes me how often when I go walking I come across a small cloud of fragrance spilling out from a garden. There was a particular flowering sesanqua next to one of the footpaths around college I walk every day that I particularly enjoyed while it was flowering. Every time I would stop, close my eyes, and breathe in its perfume before I continued on my way. Another day the gardener was clearing some branches and as she chipped the gum tree bits and pieces the bushy scent of eucalyptus was intoxicating.
Finally, there is texture. This is something I really didn’t expect to notice the way I do. There’s the texture of the different grassy areas I can walk on, and especially the textures of tree bark. There are some beautiful gumtrees near school I love to look at. I also love the textures I see in the sky – all the different clouds, the shapes and layers and colours and textures. In Beijing those subleties are rare, as they usually fade behind a curtain of smog. Earlier this month there was a visible rainbow in Beijing, something so incredibly rare that it lit up the internet – not just my personal facebook feed, but making international news. I actually can’t even remember the last time I saw a rainbow there – it must have been years ago.
These are all small things, but they really add up. They are life-giving. I remember feeling this way about Canberra when we returned from living in the US. There were such differences in all these same ways that my senses seemed heightened – I noticed them consciously. In some ways there is a blessing in having lived apart from this sense-awakening atmosphere for so long – I think I notice and appreciate it in a way others don’t, or perhaps can’t. I hope I’ll continue to notice and appreciate, no matter how long I live here.