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  • I sat down, slightly winded, on the edge of the stone monument and looked out towards the lighted rooftops of Zhangjiajie. The hill, a favorite haunt of teenagers and pickpockets, was shrouded in the glow of orange streetlight, its silence punctuated by the occasional giggle or the soft pounding of sneakers running up cement. The hilltop commanded a view of the antique edifices of the city center surrounded by the bustling lights of modernity.

    A month beforehand I roamed around Sedgwick Farm, the Syracuse neighborhood I grew up in. My brother and I set out on an evening walk together. We decided to climb up the road behind our house towards Schiller Park, where I had worked as a lifeguard during the quiet summer months of my teens. Despite my job and the childhood years I spent living in Sedgwick, I had always avoided Schiller, never wandering past the blockade that led to the top of the park. Vague warnings from my protective parents about drug dealers and muggings kept me away from the forested hill above the entrance and the pool.

    My brother and I traversed the sloping concrete road up to the forested peak. We reached the top easily—there were but four steps to climb after the road, each a mossy tumble of bricks. We emerged on the top of a grassy knoll and beheld Syracuse, a city of low buildings and industrial lights, beneath our eyes.

    As I sat and looked out over the skyline in Syracuse, a brief orange light flashed in front of me. I refocused my eyes and saw a firefly floating by my face. More orange lights sparked and diffused through the air; I was surrounded. The firefly, an insect I had never seen before in the quiet neighborhood that makes up my side of the world, suddenly materialized. My locality revealed its foreignness; perhaps the foreign would come to reveal the local as well.
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