The small picture vs. the big picture

Posted by on October 21, 2011

People are always saying you should step back and look at the big picture, there are quotes on it, websites that list the 5 best ways to look at the big picture and so forth. Here in China, I’ve learned that I can’t look at the big picture but I have to step back and look at the things right around me instead. I’m choosing to look at the small picture.

CCTV BuildingThis week while driving in the car I looked out to the direction of where I should on a clear day be able to see the CCTV building but that day I couldn’t because of the smog. This normally frustrates me. Not because I love the building but it’s a landmark I look to when it’s clear out, kind of like “yeah it’s clear enough that I can see the CCTV building”, I do it with the mountains as well (which I didn’t even know were out there for the first 2 months). When I can’t see it I know it’s a really bad pollution day.

Recently while flying back from the US I met a woman on the plane that works for the US embassy. She was telling me how she knows the guy that wrote the program for She said that normally (like in the states) the pollution index wouldn’t reach over 200. Yet here in Beijing he put the highest index at 500 thinking there would be no way it would ever get that high. He called that index “Crazy bad”. Sure enough it’s been that high, there have actually “crazy bad” days. I guess he’s been asked to change the wording so that on the website it won’t say “crazy bad” when it reaches 500. Personally, I kind of like it. It is crazy bad if you think about it.

The Morning that WasBack to looking out at the CCTV building and not being able to see it. Normally this would really bother me and make me hem and haw for a minute and long for the nice blue skies(just kidding, I’m from Seattle, I really mean the foggy raining skies) of WA. I instead looked down at the road and buildings around me and at a park near our place there were people fishing, walking their dogs and also children playing and the air looked ok (though and I tried not to think about it but the air is still polluted and bad) and it was beautiful. I realized that here in Beijing I can’t look out and at the big picture (because for one thing Beijing is just too huge and overwhelming even on a clear day), I can find beauty and feel at home right here in my little area of Beijing.

I find beauty in the old men that take their birds outside in the morning and hang their cages from trees while they go talk with other old men. It’s like the birds need a little fresh air and the men get to socialize. I find beauty in the grandparents that are out walking around with their “one” grandchild, helping them play at the play ground while they talk to other grandparents. I find beauty in the simple structures of old neighborhoods. I’m learning to find beauty in small and simple things and to not let the pollution, the massiveness of the city in the big picture bring me down and cloud (no pun intended) my way of thinking while living in Asia.Hutong

Chuck Palahniuk (an American author) said, “the trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.” I couldn’t agree more.

3 Responses to The small picture vs. the big picture

  1. Beth Shepherd

    Finding beauty in the details, the small picture, is why you are such a talented photographer. Plus, it’s all the small pictures–put together–that make the big picture anyway.

  2. Stacey griffith

    Did you mean Mark is the talented photographer? 😉

  3. Andrew Nicholson

    Great post – I’ve been telling people to pay attention to their local environment for years. It helps with what you see, what you pay attention to in politics and the media, the people you meet etc. You see the things you can affect and change to make the world a little better. If everyone paid attention to just the small area around them and made it better, there would be no need to worry about all the things you couldn’t change because other people would take care of those.

    Keep on writing and posting the photos. I’m enjoying them immensely even though I’m not commenting on every one. Cheers!

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