Sleepless in South China

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There is nothing so terrible as birdsong when you crawl home after a Friday night, wearing your liver on your hip and reeking of secondhand smoke. Nothing like a few sparrows to drive home the fact that morning, most awfully, has broken.
I mention this because tonight is Friday night, but my anticipation at the thought of a drink is tempered by the knowledge that on the small island where we live, the birds have been waking up earlier and earlier. I climb off the ferry at 2am to a mini dawn chorus, and the dissonance between birdsong and black of night sometimes makes it impossible for me to sleep. Some ancient circadian rhythm in my brain is being violated.
Light pollution is what’s responsible for the birds’ behavior. And when I look around our island – at the vast and floodlit estates across the channel, at distant orange highways burning up the night and at the sulfur-colored glow above Castle Peak, beyond which the shiny mills of Guangdong are going about their ceaseless labor – I must say I can’t blame the birds for thinking that some strange, apocalyptic dawn draws near.
My only hope is that these feathered, flu-stricken vermin will be exhausted by their constant early rising – that their little hearts will give out and they will start dropping out of the branches, giving me my nights back. But I don’t see that happening. Nothing needs sleep in south China these days. Everything is switched on, all the time.

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