When the night comes, my mind travels back to the midsummer day in Busan.

Once again, I am wearing my tattered pink flip-flops, scratching off the sand from my feet as I breathe in the salty air. Inches away from the water, I feel the chill of the ocean crashing into the tips of my toes. I glance at the pure darkness of the night and the unnoticeable boundary between the sky and the sea.

It’s the same scene, everyday. I am back to the city of Busan, South Korea.

My mother asks me to turn around. When I catch her sight, I see her holding up the camera to my side. As she captures my 18-year old self on the old DSLR, I am also capturing the night of the city with my two eyes.

Across the beach, buildings begin illuminating their enormous neon signs, as if they are competing to lure in the aimless visitors. I hear the unending honking of the cars and the melodies of trending k-pop songs blasting in the background. Donned in floral tank tops and shorts, girls and boys rush into the ocean water with laughter.

Yes, in this city of Busan, life is fun, the music is loud, and there is nothing to worry about.

But, no, that is not all. In this restless city, I can somehow also hear the silence. Strolling along the boardwalk of the beach, I hear the silence of the middle-aged man in his dark gray suit holding a cigarette with his right hand. I hear the silence of a student carrying a heavy red backpack as she heaves a sigh and looks down on the asphalt ground. I hear the silence of a street performer as he anxiously begins the first verse.

Perhaps, the reason why I remember the particular night in Busan with such clarity is because I am desperately searching for those missing pieces of the city. At Busan, there is the extravagance and the joy, but there is also the agony and the sadness. There is the laughter and the loudness, but there is also the calm and the silence.

I search for those hidden stories, because I sometimes forget that they exist. I try to define my country in my own perspective, only to realize the shallowness of my understanding of Korea. The night at Busan helps me realize, quite painfully, that I still do not know my country. No matter how many times I revisit the city, I can never fully understand the whirlwind of emotions, sounds, and words that surround the place.

Regardless, I am taking my trip again tonight. My mind goes back to the breezy July day, and, once again, I look around the city for those stories. I try to observe my country in a different light and sound. I try to realize how full of life this nation is–how foolish it is to define it in a couple of words or sentences. I may not be able to find all the missing pieces, but I continue to understand the place I originate from, the culture I am a part of, and the identity I retain.

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