The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

A sibling means you’re never alone

on March 28, 2014

As much as I feel the responsibility of being the best partner I can be. As much as I feel the responsibility of being a parent to young children. As much as I feel the responsibility of parents getting older and the balance of concern shifting over from them to us. There is one responsibility I don’t have. The responsibility of being an older sibling.

So I will start this off by saying that I love my Big Brother Li very much and I am thankful for all the things that he takes care of that I don’t need to worry about.

Of course, I haven’t always realised this. I haven’t given much thought to what he shoulders. He’s eight years older than me and in my youth, that’s quite a head start in being a grown up dealing with the dull stuff. Not quite a whole generation gap but enough years for him to have to wait for me to catch up.

He was already 15 years old when we met for the first time. Big Brother Li was raised by our Dad’s Mum in Hong Kong, not an uncommon occurrence in those day for migrant workers. My Dad Mr Li had always talked about My Brother in Hong Kong but that really has no meaning to a small child whose concept of the world stretches as far as home, school, the shops.


I don’t remember there being a momentous introduction, he just seemed to be there one day. Like he’s always somewhere. Be it Sunderland, Newcastle, London or Hong Kong. When he lived in London, I used to call about 10 minutes before he got in from work so he would have to call me back and save me on phone charges. You don’t have to be around someone all the time to take them for granted. I think that’s the thing with siblings. You always expect them to be there. Which is probably the reason why we often don’t treat them as well as we do our friends. How many times have siblings said something truly outrageous and shocking that would end friendships and cause unrepairable rifts for life?

I’ve never said anything of the sort by the way to Big Brother Li. Perhaps because we hardly shared roof space as I was growing up. By the time I was 10, he was off to University. So there are hardly any anecdotes from our childhood of conspiring against parents, of any major punch ups or memorable family holidays together. It would have been great if there were but that doesn’t define us as siblings.

We will always share the same parents and that’s bonding enough. Only we two are allowed to have those conversations about the quirkiness of our family. Only we two will understand some of the views we hold because of our upbringing. Only we two can fill the other in on information a parent has seemingly forgotten to tell the other.

It’s ok that we didn’t share much of our childhood together because I think it’s far better you can share your adult years together. There are far more of them after all. It pains me to hear of people who talk about siblings they’ve become estranged from or have nothing in common with and who hardly see each other. It also fills me with a degree of envy when I hear of siblings who do get on well and have the opportunity to frequently spend time together. Besides your parents, who else would be equally as happy and interested in hearing about all the details of every good event in your life. Who else would be equally as upset, disappointed and concerned for you when things go wrong? Who would offer to punch the lights out of the nob who doesn’t deserve you?

It’s been over 20 years since my brother relocated back to Hong Kong and pursued a successful and fulfilling career that he has worked hard for and with a tenacity to pursue his goal of completing a PhD in his forties. He has a family that gave me my two wonderful nephews and he gives me plenty of reason to make the journey to visit Hong Kong. Because of him, I am connected to family members and a cultural identity that is hard to imagine and maintain having been born and brought up in the UK. Whilst we did not grow up together, his upbringing in Hong Kong with our beloved Grandma and two of my favourite Aunts has helped to fill in the gaps of events and people that I am missing. If I want to know something about our past, then he is the one I will ask.

The strange thing about Big Brother Li is that much like Benjamin Button, he seems to regress with age. Often described as a very serious young man, he is now quite the opposite. He’s not wearing his jeans around his bum, a hoodie or baseball cap back to front but he’s definitely more relaxed. Easier to share a joke with, have a laugh and just hang out with.

Maybe because of the fact that we have always lived far apart that when we do get together we actually get to spend some real quality time together. Quite often on our own, either he’s showing me around Hong Kong or I’m showing him around London, the Lake District or Singapore.

I don’t particularly share his enthusiasm for all things cultural. I can muster the enthusiasm for most museums and art galleries but I lose the will to live slow shuffling past every interesting portrait and reading the small print that goes with it in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Yet my brother takes great delight and enjoyment in this and can spend hours in the place. Same goes for all museums and art galleries. In two days he went to all the museums that Singapore has to offer. In five and a half years, I’ve been to two.

We do share a fondness for the great outdoors and running and it so happened that my brother was in the UK when I took a few days break up in the Lake District before starting a new job. He took the coach over from Newcastle to Keswick and we spent the day on a hike that led up the hills overlooking Derwentwater. We discovered that neither of us are very good at map reading and went off piste over a steep scree, startling a lot of sheep that he insisted on chasing. We finished off the evening by a curry and a beer and discovered that we do share that very attractive Asian beer flush look. The positive side of this is that if #1, 2 and 3 have the same affliction, they will never get away with any underaged drinking.


When I got married, I felt the day was complete when he travelled half way across the globe to be there with a three year old Nephew #2 and favourite Aunt in tow. You may think, well of course he would be there, indeed of course he would be there. After missing out on so many other milestone events in his younger sister’s life, of course he wasn’t going to miss this one. If only to make sure that I really was going to be taken off my Dad Mr Li and his hands. Something pointed out in his speech that he took the honour of presenting with our Dad Mr Li beside him. He also took care of the Chinese Wedding Banquet and he also shielded me from the hiccups that can occur at such big and complicated family events.



Unlike siblings who are closer in age, we don’t share friends in common but I do know he enjoys meeting the ones who mean something to me and give that Big Brother seal of approval. When I’ve met his friends, he reels off a list of facts about me as an introduction whilst I just stand there and smile politely.

Sometimes it’s a pain being the younger sister by that many years when my Dad Mr Li and my brother unite against me to stop me from doing something like when I wanted to go to Beijing one year. He took me across the border into Shenzhen as a compromise.

But overall, being the younger sibling, you’re always going to be shielded by a good older sibling. The one that always has your back. The one that goes out of their way to help you. The one that takes cares of things because that’s what older siblings do.

But I hope I’m not taking his sense of responsibility for granted because it’s so easy to do. I’m older now, I’ll never quite catch up of course as my brother will always be the eldest but I’m old enough to share some of the responsibility and for things that happen to be a discussion between us because when you have a sibling, you’re never alone.

It’s my brother’s birthday today, he spent it at Ocean Park theme park. See what I mean about the regression? I wish him a very Happy Birthday with much love from your sister.



One response to “A sibling means you’re never alone

  1. bunnybakery says:

    I can very well relate to this post as I have an older brother too. Not as far apart, only 4 years older but that made such a massive gap when we were kids. We grew up together and no days were spared without me ended up crying. Anyways, we get along very well now and I will blog about him too when the time comes.. Happy birthday to your big bro Li! X


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