Anyone who has a sibling knows the complexity of sibling relationships.
Anyone who has heard my little sister recount childhood stories probably assumes that she grew up in a torture chamber, where her evil older sister warped her innocent little soul beyond repair.
It’s funny, she doesn’t remember wearing my new clothing under a layer of hers to school and taking it off once she arrived. She’d strut through the hallways like a fashionista in my new threads, with her old stained clothes jammed into the back of a locker.
She doesn’t remember stealing my diary and reading it aloud to my family with the gusto of a Shakespeare monologue performer. Only reading the pages that detailed my high school love life, of course.
She doesn’t remember laying on her back and bicycle kicking her legs like egg beaters, covering my tiny body in bruises.
She doesn’t remember pulling my hair so hard, that when she unfurled her fist, she’d yanked out enough hair to fill a Pottery Barn throw pillow.
No. This girl only remembers the time I convinced her that:
- the main ingredient in mayonnaise was whale fat (a fact she shared with the rest of her class during a speech)
- our dad was pregnant (with a cartoon dwarf)
- her name was actually Chantae and my name was her name (our parents had forgotten who was who)
- her bellybutton was a knot holding her organs inside her body (no wonder she had such a terrified expression whenever people tickled her)
- our grandma was a witch (love ya, grandma)
- gravity was basically God’s sidekick — an invisible man pushing you down onto the ground with his invisible arms (a super controlling imaginary friend)
She is also still bitter about the time I pantsed her on the school bus, revealing “Thursday” Snow White panties to 30 elementary school kids on a Monday afternoon.
Today, she is one of the most skeptical people you’ll ever meet — demanding that I back up every statement with three primary sources and a written reference from an expert.
So, when we started planning our trip to Bali together, I felt nervous. Would we fight the entire time? What if she hated Bali? Should I start training for hand-to-hand combat?
Was this really a good idea?
On her layover in Taipei, she texted me a picture of a swastika. “Why is this at the Taipei airport?” She asked.
“It means peace in Hindu, the Nazis stole it and turned it a hate symbol,” I explained.
She wouldn’t believe me until I forwarded her an article.
I picked my sister up from Denpasar Airport. She had a brand new backpack slung across her shoulders and a smile spread across her face.
“Okay, I’ve gotten us an Uber — we gotta move fast, though. Uber drivers are often threatened by taxi drivers. We need to be discreet,” I told her after our hug.
My sister nodded, rolled her eyes, and followed me to where we’d hop in our Uber.
The Uber driver ran over to us and whispered into my sister’s ear, “Get in the car! It’s very dangerous!”
My sister’s eyes shot open, “You were serious?”
“Yes! Throw your backpack in and get in the freakin’ car!” I shoved her into the seat.
The Uber driver slammed his doors and shook his head, “The airport is very very dangerous for Uber driver. Very dangerous.”
I locked eyes with my sister. Her smiling expression was replaced with a look of confusion.
On the drive, I told my sister a few cultural Balinese facts. I mentioned that every day, Balinese Hindus put out canang sari, offerings meant to please the Hindu gods and appease the demons. I’d recently written a story for Parabola Magazine about canang saris, and started rattling off facts that I’d taken down in my notebook.
A few months ago, a local Balinese man told me that he’d seen a tourist kick a canang sari. A minute later, as a cosmic act of karma, the tourist fell into an open sewer.
“So don’t step on them,” I mentioned, “Or you might get cursed.”
“Right.” She said.
The driver dropped us off at our hotel and my sister stepped over a canang sari. She looked back at me and mumbled, “I thought you were kidding about those.”
Every time we walked on the streets near canang saris, my sister’s eyes scanned the floor like a minesweeper, paranoid of stepping on an offering.
After a few days, I started to earn her trust. She’s vegan, so we gorged on nasi goreng and fresh foods from boutique health restaurants. Though I’m vegetarian, I try not to think too hard about what has fish sauce and what doesn’t when I’m in Southeast Asia. My sister, however, sticks to an ethical hard-line with her dietary choices.
One night, after having a drink at a bar in Canggu, we stopped at a roadside shop on our way back to our homestay. It was the only place open until the early hours of morning. We were starving. I picked up a cup of instant noodles and racked my brain, trying to remember the word for vegetable. One familiar word stood out on one of the cups, so I proudly purchased two and held one out to my sister, “Don’t worry — this one’s vegetarian.”
My sister peeled back the cup of noodles. A steam cloud of beef stock wafted into her face.
“This isn’t vegetable! It’s meat!” She said, disgusted.
I panicked, “No, wait. Maybe the brown chunks are mushrooms?”
I pulled a spongy brown ball out of the cup and examined it. It was beef. Or pork. Or something else. The brown meatball was so far from being a vegetable, I’m not convinced that the animal ever even ate a vegetable while it was still alive.
“You can be such a know-it-all,” my sister said before she placing the cup of noodles onto a table. She ripped open a pack of Oreos and snacked on those for dinner.
Disgusted myself, but too proud to forfeit the cup of noodles, I teased the noodles out of the cup, shook off the brown chunks, and swallowed the noodles behind a gag.
My sister and I haven’t lived in the same home for nearly eight years. Since I moved to Australia, we’ve rarely gotten a chance to spend one-on-one time together. At some point during my distance, she grew from being my annoying tween sister into a smart, independent adult. Our relationship would need to evolve into two adults choosing to be friends while we traveled together in Bali — instead of two siblings forced to wear matching dresses and share a room together.
That night, we’d gotten in the first major fight we’ve had in the past eight years. The kind of fight that only siblings can have, before defaulting back to best friends in the morning. We said things we shouldn’t have and both of us cried ourselves to sleep. After we woke up, we apologized.
We swapped our childish communication tactics for an open conversation.
I worried about what would happen over the next few weeks together. Would we fight again? Did she want to leave, already? Fortunately, that was the only time we truly hurled insults at one another, and the rest of our trip went smoothly.
Lie #1: Opening up a can of worms
After a long day of exploring, we drove our motorbike to an out-of-the-way vegan café. Ten cats crowded the front doorway and cats lounged on every surface inside the cafe. One kitten, resting listlessly on the floor, had a distended belly.
The cat café owner came up to us and said, “That one has a lot of worms.”
That should have been our warning sign.
My sister ordered a plate of a loose interpretation of spaghetti — a pile of zucchini shredded through a cheese grater and a few shredded carrots tossed on top for good measure. With just a few bites left on the plate, a small movement caught her eye.
“Oh no. Something just wiggled on my plate,” my sister said, scooting her chair back from the table.
I leaned closer. A little white worm, the same size and color of her zucchini shreds, wriggled along the plate.
She shot her hand to her mouth and let out a high-pitched scream.
“You CAN’T tell mom!” I blurted.
Unfortunately, I have a poor track record of when it comes to contracting viruses and parasites overseas. My mom sent my sister over with about 10 antibiotics and medications to give to me “just in case”. My sister, despite being an adult, is still the baby of the family and I knew I’d cop the blame if she went back to the USA infected with worms.
My sister pulled out her phone and sent a video of the worm squirming to our grandma (the one who rescued me in East Timor).
And then she sent it to our mom.
A few days later, at our hotel, she put her toothbrush under the tap to rinse it before brushing her teeth. A pink worm dropped from the tap and onto the tip of her toothbrush. She screamed, filmed it, and sent it out in a group text.
“Doesn’t that disgust you?!”
“Nahhh,” I lied.
“You’re definitely full of parasites.”
Lie #2: That’s your circus. There’s your monkey.
My sister and I spent a day exploring Monkey Forest in Ubud. The monkeys were vicious. I put my camera gear into a yellow dry bag and we entered the forest. One of the dominant monkey with a hunger for a bushel of bananas latched onto my yellow bag filled with my life savings in camera gear inside. My sister ran backwards during the kerfuffle and another person had to lure the monkey away with a real banana.
A few minutes later, we saw a monkey jump on a man’s head and sink its teeth into the man’s scalp, trying to get his designer sunglasses.
I followed my sister down a vine-covered path and watched as she took in the scene. It was the perfect opportunity to scare her.
In my loudest and most panicked voice I pointed and yelled, “LOOK OUT! ONE’S COMING AFTER YOU!”
My sister shrieked, threw her arms in the air, and sprinted down the path with a speed that could rival Usain Bolt’s 100 meter dash.
She only stopped when she heard me laughing — and refused to say anything other than, “I hate you,” for at least five minutes.
Lie #3: The night watcher
Our first night in Bali together, a small gecko fell from the ceiling and dropped onto the top of my sister’s head. The gecko got tangled in her hair, and she shook her head until it was free. The gecko landed on its feet and scurried away.
Following this experience, she’d walk into buildings and look at the ceilings — checking the whereabouts of the kamikaze geckos.
Indonesia is home to one of the largest geckos on the planet. At times, their bodies can grow to be nearly a foot long. I kept this fact from my sister (she wouldn’t believe me anyways), and hoped that we wouldn’t encounter one during our trip.
One night, at a homestay in Amed, my sister connected her phone to the charger and rolled over to sleep. I stay up late most nights and rarely sleep before 1:00 a.m. My sister passes out by 10:00 p.m. nearly every night.
Something caught the corner of her eye.
“Chantae…” her voice quivered. “What’s above me?”
A massive gecko and its bulging eyes lurked inches away from my sister’s face.
She slowly swiveled her head.
She jumped out of the bed.
We shooed the gecko to the other side of the room using a broom. We tried to get it outside, but it hid behind a painting.
A few minutes later we turned off the lights, and my sister tried to sleep. The gecko slowly crept back a second time. Then a third time. Then a forth, like a silent stalker.
Finally, she fell asleep in between gecko shenanigans and made me promise to wake her if it came back.
The gecko spent the rest of the night with its bulbous eyes trained on my sister’s body.
Lie #4: What lies beneath
My sister is that she has a slight fear of the ocean. As a child, she was afraid of the “holes.” For some reason, she never accepted the fact that even if there were holes in the ocean, you could just… swim over them. This fear followed us onto a five-hour snorkel tour around Nusa Lembongan.
The diving in Nusa Lembongan is incredible and I’d never let anything, including my sister’s fears, get in the way of a good day of diving.
At our first snorkel site, our boat driver pointed at a manta ray swimming beneath our boat. I quickly put on my gear and jumped overboard, hoping to get as close as possible. My sister jumped in after me, on the other side of the boat, far from from the manta ray.
She kicked away from the manta ray whenever one came near. I tried telling her that they don’t bite — they don’t even have teeth — but she refused to believe me.
Back in the boat, my sister was smiling. I could tell she had a great time seeing the manta rays up close, even if it was too close for her liking.
The boat driver asked if we wanted to go snorkeling at the Mangroves. My sister blurted out, “NO!”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because it sounds freaky.”
I mouthed to the driver, “Yes, mangroves!”
We snorkeled at a few other sites where we saw hundreds of different types of marine creatures. I taught my sister the basics of freediving and how to spot me. Our boat pulled up to the mangroves and my sister slipped on her fins and mask, completely oblivious to where we were.
“What site is this?” She asked.
I told her I didn’t know and muttered that I thought it might’ve been called “South Island” before jumping in.
She hopped in right after me.
After we got back into the boat she told me, “Hey — that spot was my favorite!”