It’s always busy at the Sydney Opera House

My sister is my lifeline. I’d move mountains for her, but sometimes she makes me want to push her off one. That’s a healthy and normal sibling relationship, I think.

We travelled to Sydney, Australia in March for a music festival that her favourite band was playing at. The band’s called Ghost and they’re a doom metal band from Sweden. The lead singer dresses as an undead pope and they perform Satanic hymns. If that’s anything to judge my sister by… fair enough.

The months leading up to our holiday were exciting. Who doesn’t enjoy looking up where to eat and scrolling endlessly to find the perfect Airbnb? We’d been waiting for this trip for six months and the day finally arrived.

The flight was pleasant (no crying babies, praise be!), food was good, and Netflix kept us entertained. After landing though, my sister looked visibly uncomfortable, she said she was tired so I gave her some space.

Off we go!

She was stopped a couple of times at the security checkpoints – which I found strange because if anything, I look like more of a threat than she does. It wasn’t anything serious though, just additional checks, but I could understand why she was upset. She didn’t get much sleep on the plane, she was tired, and was checked as though she had done something wrong. This will definitely get to you.

Then, getting into the Airbnb took a lot more effort than we had anticipated. The neighbourhood was eerily quiet (not in an unsafe way, just something we weren’t used to as we live by the highway and a shopping mall, so we’re accustomed to noise), and were greeted with a couple of roaches upon entering.

My neat-freak sister freaked.

She was completely put off by the place and burst into tears. “I’m so overwhelmed, I don’t know what to do,” she said. It dawned on me, at that moment, that my sister hadn’t travelled without my mum or someone who lived in the city we were visiting; people that made her feel safe.

Here we were in a country where I’d heard racist slurs being shouted at from cars and warned her about possibly experiencing that for herself, where she was stopped twice by authorities, not knowing her bearings, or having someone who could ‘help’ us if we needed. She was vulnerable.

Settling in

I did what any good older sister would do. I reassured her that she had nothing to worry about and that we’d find our way thanks to Google Maps and the internet. The city is lovely, food is amazing, and we were going to see her favourite band of all time. It was going to be okay. When she finally calmed down, I seized the opportunity to make fun of what just happened. I’m the best.

We’d gone for the festival a day after we landed and had a blast. My sister and I saw plenty of bands whose names might summon a demon or two, gobbled up to-die-for Angus beef burgers, and I caught the guitar pick that the guitarist of Ghost threw! Thank you, Universe. Everything was going great and my sister was feeling better. I was saved, I thought, until it was time to go home.

We had taken an Uber to the festival grounds as the store we went to buy Opal cards from didn’t have any. It didn’t cost too much (it was around RM40) to get there, so I figured the fare would be the same on our way back, except it wasn’t… it was seven times more. Yes, that’s right. I paid close to RM300 (approximately USD72) for a 30-minute Uber ride. Am I ashamed of myself? Maybe. Do I regret it? No.

My poor sister had to try to be calm while I was yelling one profanity after the next for the ridiculous fare, and couldn’t accept that we couldn’t just pay cash to get on buses to get back to our Airbnb (they were all prepaid buses). We booked an Uber which took almost an hour to get to us because the traffic around the venue was like a highway after a little rain – an absolute nightmare.

Goofing around

At this point, I was annoyed. I was worried about having enough money (which we did, but I’d just spent RM300 ON A TAXI and was not over it) and my sister took it upon herself to take the blame for it. It took me a few minutes to get over my annoyance to reassure her that it wasn’t her fault or something she could fix; it was just one of those things that happened.

I hadn’t thought about how dismissing her while I was on an F-word rant would make her feel. From that point, I tried talking her through my emotions instead of lashing out when I was unhappy and encouraged her to do the same because we’re cut from the same cloth, anyway.

So, whenever we needed a moment to ourselves or when our last nerve was being tested, we’d be upfront about it to avoid fighting with each other. It wasn’t easy at the start because we’re not used to sharing how we feel in-person (it’s mostly through texts), but we’ve reached a point now where we can talk about feelings without making stank faces. I call that progress.

To help her get more comfortable with being independent, I asked her to be in charge of navigating our routes and itinerary. She was flustered at first because Google Maps would sometimes switch even if we were walking in the right direction, but after a few tries, she got the hang of it and the rest of our trip was smooth-sailing and no more Ubers. Amen! It took a bit of effort but her confidence in herself and the city increased tremendously.

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I was relieved that she felt safer in comparison to when we first arrived. I was worried that she’d be put off travelling on her own if this trip didn’t go well. First impressions last the longest, right? It took a couple of days for her to get comfortable and for me to breathe easily but the biggest obstacle was over.

We visited some of Sydney’s best attractions – the Opera House (which she was only eager to see because it was designed by a Danish architect), Bondi Beach, and Utopia Records, home of heavy metal. Here’s where I saw my sister really lose herself.

She looked me in the eye before we got to the store and said she wouldn’t pick up more than three t-shirts. I rolled my eyes because: 1) it’s a record store that sells her favourite band tees and 2) refer to number 1.

Within 10 minutes, homegirl was carrying close to 10 t-shirts and had a grin bigger than the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland. She feels the most confident when she wears band t-shirts, almost as though the bands protect her from feeling awkward or ugly in public. She has body image issues, as any insecure 20-year-old would have, and it reminded me of my own journey to accepting my imperfections.

George Street, Sydney (Photo by Laura Cros via Unsplash)

She put most of them back because she couldn’t afford them all, but I offered to pay for one so she could take four t-shirts home. That little gesture made her feel like she was on top of the world. I’d buy her as many t-shirts as she needs to feel good about herself because it breaks my heart to see her have an unstable relationship with her appearance. I know it’s something everyone goes through, but there’s something more painful when you see your younger sister go through it.

I don’t know if it’s because I worry about her experiencing the same dark and gloomy lows that I struggled with or because I’ve got my Protective Sister hat on, but I want to do everything within my means to keep her from that. However, as much as I want to, the clichés we’re told about self-love are true; they are lessons we can only learn on our own. I can give her the equipment she needs to get out of those areas but she’ll have to learn how to use it by herself.

As we left Utopia Records, she was kind enough to list down the other t-shirts she wanted. My heart said, “Consider it,” but my bank account continued with “…when you don’t spend RM300 on an Uber ride.”

On our last day in the city, we’d gone to have Malaysian food because I needed something spicy. I loved the Mexican food and siew yoke (crispy roast pork) sandwiches, but I was convinced that if I didn’t have a serving of sambal, I was going to collapse.

We hadn’t eaten much spicy food during our trip, so having a lot in one sitting did wonders for our stomachs, more so my sister’s. She looked like she was going to throw up and whenever my sister feels sick, my anxiety goes through the roof.

Taking a breather

I asked her every 10 minutes how she was feeling, and I’m sure I was two questions away from her ‘accidentally’ pushing me in front of a moving bus. We both felt discomfort, and yet, I cared less about mine because my younger sister was in pain.

I often joke to my mum about how she tricks me into buying her things (she does so by hovering around me and telling me repeatedly how nice said item is) but the truth is I’d do just about anything for my sister — except if it’s illegal, she’s on her own then. She’s the person I go to when I’m having a rough day, the one I share everything I love with (except Charlie Hunnam, we can’t agree on that), we have our own language, and she understands me better than anyone else; she’s the best sister I could ask for.

Going on this trip with her was more than just for a music festival. She’s about to start college which means she’s going to have less time to hang out with me and as excited as I am for her to learn new skills and have more knowledge, it’s also a reminder that she’s growing up and will eventually move out to be her own person. Also, I wanted to have these experiences with her in case she gets too busy or cool for her older sister.

They say parents are never ready to be away from their kids, but what they should have mentioned in the fine print is that siblings are at risk of feeling the same way. But hey, at least once she gets a job, she can buy me stuff instead, right?

*All images courtesy of the author unless stated otherwise. 

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