Living abroad changes you considerably. One thing that has challenged my thinking here in Shanghai is the way things are used well beyond the point where they'd be tossed in America (and in many other affluent countries). Take the rust-covered bicycle above. There's no doubt it would be taking up space in the landfill in the States, but in China it is used every day as the primary mode of transportation for the person living behind that red window frame.
A friend of ours is headed to America in August for two weeks, and willing to bring back a suitcase of goodies for us. Two years ago I could have filled it with a long list of things I thought were impossible to live without. Now we are practicing the art of making do or doing without, something that gets easier only by doing it. There was a time when I craved the ease of going into Target in America to pick up everything we needed in one shopping trip. But during our visit to America in February, our 2-3 visits to Target in one week left me overwhelmed and grumpy instead of joyful.
I see a change in my children as well. The toys and games the boys have damaged or broken or lost in the last couple of years create a hole in their young lives, one not be easily filled by running out to replace. Even if they have the money, there isn't the availability. I've seen them mourn a loss and then treat their remaining belongings with greater care. A broken zipper on Nathan's hoodie prompted a request for me to fix it, not just run out and buy a new one. A broken board game inspired Benjamin to find a way to repair it on his own instead of asking for a replacement.
In the midst of challenging days, the sight of rusted bicycles all over town reminds me to be grateful for the things I have, and even for the things I don't. Some lessons can only be learned through experience. China has much to teach us.