Our baby boy, Craig Eugene "Tiny" Brelsford II, with his parents, Craig Eugene Brelsford and Elaine Du. Shanghai, China, 25 Jan. 2018. Photo by Mǎruìshā Értóng Shèyǐng (玛瑞莎儿童摄影).

Elaine, Tiny, and I Are Returning to America

by Craig Brelsford
Founder, shanghaibirding.com

Elaine, Tiny, and I are returning to the United States. Our final day in China will be 30 January 2018.

The main reason for moving to America is our infant son, Tiny. Tiny’s birth changed Elaine and me forever. We want the best for Tiny, and we believe that the best for Tiny is to grow up in America.

Why are we leaving so suddenly? Elaine and I would have preferred a long goodbye to China and then departure in the summer or fall of 2018. But last month, with only 33 days before my current visa ran out, I was strongly advised not to apply for another student visa. The Chinese government has made a sudden change in policy. Old Chinese-language students are no longer welcome. (I’m 50 years old.)

I accept the reasoning behind the policy regarding old students. What is questionable is the suddenness of the change. Elaine and I have been considerably inconvenienced.

I have been studying Chinese for two reasons. One was that I sincerely wanted to learn Mandarin, and my Chinese friends can attest to my constant improvement these past few years, all owing to my work at the Chinese-language program at the Shanghai University of Engineering Sciences.

The other reason for studying Chinese was, here in Shanghai Elaine has no hukou or right of abode, and so I am ineligible for a family visa as long as we remain in this great city. By studying Chinese, I have been able to remain in Shanghai.

As Tiny’s birth approached last year, Elaine and I discussed opening a business in Shanghai and securing a business visa for me. In the end, we decided against it. We were afraid–not that I would fail, but that I would succeed, and that our family would live in China for the rest of our lives.

Living the rest of my life in China, and especially in Shanghai, is certainly not a bad thing, but it never was my plan, even before Tiny was born. My plan always has been to return to the land of my birth, and that is what my family and I are doing now.

Elaine, Tiny, and I will return to Florida, where my parents live and where I attended the University of Florida and began my previous career in journalism. In Florida I will manage my translation agency, develop new conservationist projects, bird in America’s premier birding state, and raise Tiny. Never again, I hope, will I spend another Christmas far from my kin.

When that plane takes off later this month, I will be ending a journey abroad that has lasted 17 years–since a few months before 9-11. Seven of those years were spent in Europe. The past 10 years have been in China.

I arrived in China in 2007 fascinated by Light-vented Bulbul and with almost no birding experience. I leave China having noted 932 species in the People’s Republic, making me the highest-ranked eBirder in China. (Elaine, at 735 species, leaves China the highest-ranked woman eBirder in this country.)

I stayed so long in China in part because of a naive but heartfelt wish to write a field guide to the birds of China. That book proved impossible to do. The dream to write a field guide did come true in a way, though, through shanghaibirding.com, a project that has proved to be far more interesting than a field guide.

shanghaibirding.com has allowed me to develop my talents as photographer, writer, editor, and publisher. Through this Web site, I have lived out my birding motto, which is, “No hobby combines science, art, culture, and physical fitness better than the great hobby called Birding.” shanghaibirding.com has been a labor of love, and it now stands tall, a monument representing my accomplishments in China.

Even though I’m going home, shanghaibirding.com will very much continue to exist. I have much unpublished material that I will run in the coming months. I will continue to update the site later this year and beyond, and I will keep the site online for years to come, no matter whether I am updating it or not, and even after I have moved on to other projects.

Featured image: Our baby boy, “TinyCraig Brelsford, with his parents, Craig Brelsford and Elaine Du. Shanghai, China, 25 Jan. 2018. Photo by Mǎruìshā Értóng Shèyǐng (玛瑞莎儿童摄影).
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Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford is the founder of shanghaibirding.com. Brelsford lived in Shanghai from 2007 to 2018. Now back home in Florida, Brelsford maintains close ties to the Shanghai birding community and continues his enthusiastic development of this website. When Brelsford departed China, he was the top-ranked eBirder in that country, having noted more than 930 species. Brelsford was also the top-ranked eBirder in Shanghai, with more than 320 species. Brelsford’s photos of birds have won various awards and been published in books and periodicals and on websites all over the world. Brelsford’s Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, published in its entirety on this website, is the most Shanghai-centric field guide ever written. Brelsford is a graduate of the University of Florida and earned a master's in business administration at the University of Liege, Belgium.

15 thoughts on “Elaine, Tiny, and I Are Returning to America”

  1. Thank you Craig for your interesting contribution to Chinese ornithology. All the best to you and your family!
    Dan Zetterström

  2. This is an epic birding blog that is a true inspiration to us expat birders that call China home, even those of us several hundred miles from the Shanghai area. I hope you continue your birding and blogging in the American south.

  3. For us, three empty chairs and no-one to ask how to tell a hawk from a handsaw!
    For you, let there be no sadness; back to the future!
    Colm Moore, Beijing.

  4. This blog has been a great read for the past few years, I’ll miss the topical updates !
    Good Luck to the three of you back in the “Sunshine State”.

  5. Wow Craig, that was “shocking” news! Visiting family in Shanghai will not be the same when you (and your family) are not around. But I am sure we will meet somewhere anyway, possibly either in Sweden or the US. Wish you all the best for the future!

  6. Craig – I just came to know you and Shanghaibirding this past fall. I appreciate all the great work you’ve done, and I’ve followed your story with interest. I know how disruptive such life changes can be – I wish you the best in your transitions. Where in the states will you be? Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to go birding. I am in the DC area.

  7. Craig – as a formerly very active, but increasingly less active birdwatcher (moving to Nanjing, Jiangsu in the nineties, initially lacking time to visit hard to access birding spots and eventually becoming a bit disillusioned by “natural wetlands overnight turning into wetland parks …”): I admire your persistence birding in a not very birding-friendly environment, and always truly enjoyed reading about your explorations. So thanks for that!

  8. You have made a huge contribution to Chinese birding Craig (tireless energy and lots of hard work have been involved, never mind all that enthusiasm). Well done, and may your move to Florida work out for the best for you and your family. I will miss your posts.

  9. Craig, I must admit I will miss having you in China creating those wonderful reports. I don’t ever expect to be there, so your elegant writing and stunning photography brought that vast country to me. You have created an enduring body of work. Somehow you, birds and China will always be one in my imagination.

    What a brave woman Elaine is. And you also are courageous to leave this life you have known and lived so well. I can only imagine the deep thinking you and Elaine have done to reach this monumental decision.

    I am certain your mom and dad are gleeful at your return. And to have that beautiful baby nearby is surely a gift from the gods.

    Craig, I wish you and Elaine much happiness. Such a huge transition takes a lot of adaptation let alone planning, settling in and finding your way in this foreign land.

  10. Sorry you have to leave China so quickly under those circumstances. You have put a lot of time and effort into your website and done a lot of important work on the birds there. At least maybe we will run into each other at some point in Florida or elsewhere!

  11. I thought you were a “professional” ornithologist. But then, committed birders have always made the greatest contributions to ornithology. Is early Forties the age when birds start bugging you and begin obsessing you? That was when Allan Octavian Hume transformed from game hunter to a birder and ornithologist.

  12. Hi Craig, sad to hear of your move away from China, was hoping to do some birding with you there one day….however, you must do whatever is best for you and your new family. All the best, and hope everything goes well back in the US ? Tom

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