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[ City of Stars ]
07 October 2023

I was born and raised in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, a metropolitan where almost 10 million people, a fifth of the entire population of Korea, live. The neighborhood I grew up in was a relatively calm residential area, but I could easily reach downtown by bus or subway. Downtown was always full of 'hot places.' However, those places disappeared after a few years, and new hot places were born. This sense became clearer after I started living abroad and went to Korea only once a year. The same street I went to this year, and a year before were never the same. There were more and more people, new things popping up, and the buildings were remodeled to be fancier. I tend to say to my friends, 'Seoul is like a world of stars, a different world.'

Another city that I am familiar with is the city where my grandparents live. (I won't mention the name of the city, so imagine a small city around you.) Changes happen slowly there. The building was still low; the shops I used to go to, roads, and houses remained the same. It was comfortable and sentimental, but at some point, I could see that many places began to deteriorate without proper management. Of course, not everywhere aged. Particularly, a street, where traditional houses stood became a famous tourist attraction and many young people came to visit. I also went to the place with my friends when I was in college, and it was completely different from what I've seen for over a decade. Fresh food, new accommodations, and well-decorated stores. However, my grandmother, who has lived there for almost her whole life, said it has been more than ten years since she went to the street. Once, I took my grandmother to the street, but we just stayed near the entrance for a while and soon returned to her home. Her legs hurt, and the area was too crowded for us to walk around slowly. Hot places in the tourist area were continually renewed, but ordinary sites that make up the daily lives of citizens were wearing out like a seafront breakwater, being eroded by the wave of time. Statistics indicate that the city's population aged 0 to 40 has been declining sharply since 2000. Where are they going? To the bigger city? To Seoul? Seeking what?

There are stars in the city, too. Stars on Earth. At night, glass buildings light up the inside, streets sparkle with countless neon signs, and headlights of cars shine, creating a long line of light on the road. It seems like I am a part of the galaxy and stars pour down on me. To confess, I also love big cities and hot places. Infrastructures, restaurants, cafes, events, crowds...things that make my life diverse and convenient. However, sometimes, when I think of the old town that only remains in my memory, when I feel lost among people on the busy street, or when I envision my grandmother's feet stopped in front of a traditional street that has become a hot place, a question mark appears in my head.

Every object with mass has gravity. It is said that stars exist and glow because their internal explosions and gravitational pull are in balance. However, when the star grows tremendously, no matter how big the explosion occurs inside, the gravity is so great that the balance collapses, and matter gathers at a point in the center. A huge, massive star becomes a black hole when it cannot handle its own gravity. The gravity of the city attracts people.

There are songs about the city. One song says, "All I see is lonely people in crowded rooms…This city's gonna break my heart, this city's gonna love me and then leave me alone, this city's got me chasing stars…" And another song says,"City of stars, are you shining just for me. City of stars, there's so much I can't see." And it ends like" City of Stars, you never shine so brightly." Would this lyric mean that it shines most brightly at this moment, or that it did not shine as I imagined? I was not sure, and may be confused in the future, too. But hopefully, I wish that the city could remain a shining star for a long time with balance, rather than becoming a black hole, pulling everything into the unknown center.