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108 braids... the devotional representation of a sacred Tibetan number. Photo by Rebecca Thom, China Semester.

Jie Jie

“Jie jie, ni yao bu yao qu san bu?” (Older sister, do you want to go on a walk?) My didi (younger brother) looked at me inquisitively. Although he had asked if I wanted to go for a walk, I knew what he really meant: it was time for his daily expedition to the milk store, and I had been invited along for the journey. I nodded at him and went to grab my coat- the “City of Eternal Spring” had been pretty overcast for the past few weeks, sending the temperatures into the 40’s and 50’s (extremely cold for a Texan like myself). He eagerly waited for me by the door with his dad’s smart phone in his hand, and his scooter at his side. We slipped out of our house shoes and into our sneakers and headed out the door to begin our 5 story descent. My didi ran down the steps, carrying his scooter and yelling over his shoulder at me in excited Mandarin that I couldn’t quite understand. We reached the bottom of the stairs and headed out into the brisk evening air. As soon as we reached the pavement he yelled “3, 2, 1!” and sped off on his scooter. We raced each other all the way to the milk store next to our apartment complex, him on his scooter, and me on foot. Once we arrived, both out of breath, we called it a tie as he bought his carton of milk.

His excitement at having a new older sister almost matches my enthusiasm for having a younger brother. Having an 8 year old brother is adding to my experience in so many ways. For one, I’m gaining a better understanding of what it’s like to go through the Chinese school system, as I see how hard he works every night on his homework. My didi is also so eager to teach me Chinese and practice his English with me. He’ll happily laugh at me when I accidentally mix up words, and say at the dinner table just how much I like to eat my cell phone. And just as enthusiastically, he’ll tell me how much my Chinese is improving when I say something as simple as “Zou ba” (Let’s go). He never fails to greet me every morning, answering my “Zao shang hao” (good morning) with “Good morning older sister” and a smile. He is an endless ball of energy, and our daily walks (that usually turn into running) never fail to brighten my day. He enjoys showing me things that interest him: the fish in our fish tank, a gameshow on TV where contestants are quizzed on ancient Chinese poetry, and a new Mickey Mouse backpack being just a few examples. When I get home everyday, my didi excitedly announces to the house “ta hui lai le!” (she’s back!) before showing off to me what he learned that day, whether that be a new phrase in English or a technique for folding paper airplanes.

In the U.S., I grew up as the youngest of 4 children in my family, and never had the pleasure of being the older sibling, but here, I am constantly reminded of my new role every time he calls me Jie jie (older sister).