As children, my sister and I had nothing in common musically. I managed to escape violin and piano classes in favor of doodling and stoically perfecting my rollerblading technique (with two left-footed skates that I refused to let my mom return to Canadian Tire).
When Nancie turned 6, our parents decided she would take up the mantle of the good Asian kid. As I listened to the sounds of my sister crying and fighting over piano practice with my mom every afternoon, I couldn’t help feeling like I’d dodged a bullet.
Over time however, I started to envy my sister. While my friends and I were busy swapping Incubus, Deftones, and Linkin Park CDs, Nancie was steadily plodding through Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin. I developed an interest in playing the guitar but promptly abandoned the endeavor because I didn’t have the ability to read music or the self-discipline to practice.
By the time Nancie passed her Secondary II (or Grade 8) piano exam at the McGill Conservatory, I’d accepted that my little sister was not only better, but much better at something than I was (but I was still a superior artist and left-footed rollerblader, I told myself smugly).
In the early 2000s, Montreal exploded onto the international music scene with the emergence of indie bands like Arcade Fire, Plants and Animals, and Wolf Parade. These artists became the sound of our late teens and early 20s. My friends and I began to measure life events against new albums, live shows, and music festivals.
One day, Nancie piped up: “I know Arcade Fire! My violin teacher went on tour with them.” I was stunned that my sister had not only heard of Arcade Fire, but was a single degree of separation from them.
Our relationship to music – and to each other – changed after that. It turned out we liked many of the same bands, including Muse, Radiohead, and the White Stripes. I took Nancie to the XX when she was 16 and I was 23. I had a beer; she had a soda. We stood awkwardly next to each other at first, but the age difference meant little when the band got on stage.
Unfortunately, the demands of university got in the way and we didn’t get to repeat the experience for another four years.
Last July, Nancie visited me in Beijing. We had a whirlwind weekend of manicures (a first for her), scuba diving at the Blue Zoo, home-cooked brunches, and long evenings of sisterly gossip in the courtyard.
On her first night here, we ditched her suitcase at my house and headed around the corner to Yugongyishan. The live music venue was packed to the rafters for homegrown indie act Queen Sea Big Shark. Along with some friends, we squeezed through row after row of sweat-soaked T-shirts and slippery limbs, and emerged panting near the stage. It was quite possibly the hottest we’d ever been, but we didn’t care – the night was a blur of frenetic dancing, soap bubbles, and ruined clothing.
And this time, my sister got to have a beer too.
photos by Sijia Chen
This article originally appeared on p9 of the beijingkids February 2014 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com