I love my brother, Aaron’s, Chinese name. It means something like “looking upwards,” implying humility and also, in my opinion, great dreams. My name is less fitting. Mine means something like “beauty and grace.” Our parents struck much closer to the mark when they named Aaron.
“My Chinese is pretty terrible,” Aaron said one night over dinner. He turned to his then-girlfriend, now-wife. “It’s so bad I think I’d name my first kid 叉燒 (cha siu: Chinese barbecue pork).”
She laughed. I gasped. “Yes,” I nearly shouted in excitement. “Do it. No matter what you name that kid now, I’m gonna call it 包包 (bao bao: bun). And then I’m gonna chase that little munchkin around the house and pretend to eat its cheeks.”
“Yeah, you would,” Ally said, digging at her pasta.
“唔好啊 (m4hou2aa3: it’s not good/don’t do it),” said my father, thoroughly unamused by the suggestion. Unsure of how serious Aaron was being, he looked a little scandalised.
“Cutest name ever,” I said, undeterred.
Dad looked at us, half bewildered and half confused. Where did you two come from?! I could almost hear him thinking.
Sometimes, when I call home and last December when I went home, I remember how stupid Aaron and I are when we’re together. Half the things we say don’t make sense, even to us, but can reduce us to ugly, choking laughter and tears.
Don’t get me wrong. We still drive each other crazy. We are siblings, after all. We’ve fumed and screamed and done all that. Now that I’m in Japan, we don’t talk nearly as much as we should. And now that we’re older and I’ve stopped literally copying everything he does, our tastes and interests don’t always match up either.
He, for example, could ride his bike for hours and even made a gym in our garage.
“Come see,” he said, trying to usher me in. I was trying to avoid physical contact. He looked filthy. “Check it out, I just put a bench in the garage.”
“Oh!” I said, a little surprised. He was rather good at woodwork in early high school but he had already given it up for a while by that stage. “What are you going to put on it?”
“Huh?” He pushed the door open. Instead of a wooden table, like I was expecting, there was a flat chair with a metal bar across. Aaron scoffed. “This kind of bench, you idiot.”
“Well I don’t know!” I said. “I’ve never been inside a gym before!”
He pfft-ed at me and pulled me in. “Get on,” he said, still giddy. “I’ll teach you how to bench.”
I looked at the chair. “You’re joking, right? This looks like torture. Literally. Like out of the movies. You know? Like in James Bond?”
He sat me down and started pulling the weights off the bar. “Just do it, ok?”
I sighed and leaned back. There were no weights on the bar.
“Ready?” he asked, effortlessly pulling the bar off its stand.
No, I thought, accepting the bar anyway as he coached me on which muscles to focus on and when to breathe. When he finally released the bar, my arms wobbled.
“You serious?” he laughed, watching me struggle to push it up in one neat movement. “I haven’t even put any weights on yet! You’re so weak.”
No arguments there.
Other times, he’s the one confused and I’m the one pushing him with my interests.
“So instead, some people think Harry should’ve named his kid after other people like Neville or Mr Weasley. Because, you know, they loved him because of who he was instead of whose kid he was,” I explained.
Or rather, I ranted.
“And I see where they’re coming from and I totally agree but at the same time, I think it’s really nice that people loved his parents so much that they loved him too. Before they’d even met him. Like, Harry didn’t remember his parents but he could at least feel what kind of people they were by this overflowing love from everyone, you know? Like the parents had to be pretty great to inspire that kind of loyalty.”
Aaron took his eyes off the road for a second and blinked at me. He’s never read Harry Potter before. I’m not even sure if he’s seen all the movies.
“Umm, it’s just a book,” he said, apparently ending the conversation. I slumped back into the passenger seat as Aaron hummed contently to the radio.
Regardless of what he thought, Aaron has always been the champion of my wants and needs.
With a mum like ours, Aaron never felt the need to bake. But when I began to try my hand in it as a preteen, he got pretty excited.
“What’s this?” he asked as I pulled the first batch from the oven.
“Cookies,” I said, watching him take a bite. He hissed at the heat before choking it down.
Then he made a face. “That’s disgusting.”
I sighed. Practice, I thought, thinking of Mum’s impeccable baking skills. I set them all on the cooling rack and went to watch TV. Twenty minutes later, I came out to put them all into a container only to find an empty cooling rack.
“Where’d they all go?” I asked.
Aaron smiled sheepishly. “I was hungry.”
“But,” I stammered, “you said they were disgusting.”
He nodded. “I was hungry,” he repeated simply.
I’m a bit out of practice now but my baking got pretty good thanks to my willing taste tester.
And when I finished high school and got a good score, good enough to enter the university of my choice, he was even happier than I was.
He and Mum knew I would be too nervous to open the text message with my scores. So they came into my room in the morning, and sat on my bed to do it themselves. Aaron positively squealed with happiness.
“You can look!” he said, bouncing a little on the bed, his boyish features bursting into a smile. “You did great! You killed at English!”
It is no secret to anyone who knows us that he is my greatest supporter and friend.
So that – my new niece, the newest little noodle to our Pho family – that’s the person you get to call “Dad.” He’s the person who will undoubtedly become an even greater source of strength for you, much more so than in the physical sense.
That’s not even to mention your mum, who I’ve shared a good many adventures with and who I love like a sister.
I know we won’t meet for a while yet and I know that I can’t be there for you the same way your parents have been for me.
But grow up assured that it kills me not to be there with you. Know that I will support you the way I’ve been supported, no matter what your dreams and interests are. Know that I’m looking forward to sharing our own in-jokes and adventures together. Know that I love you just as much as I love my brother, your father.
Welcome to the world, Bao Bao. You’re in good hands.