The Jason Hahn Files: Let’s Talk About Travel Porn

"Not 10 minutes later, my mother called. 'Don’t you think it’s dangerous that your sister tells the whole world she watches porn?' she said immediately."

So my sister was in Bali recently and like everyone else, she posted a picture of a sunset on the beach, and she hashtagged it #travelporn.

Which, in the general scheme of things, is innocuous enough, but then, almost immediately, someone commented, “Where?!”

Michelle didn’t recognise the name but replied, “Bali!”, and forwarded me her post with a note that had the emoji of rolling eyes, and I replied, “And you even hashtagged it with ‘Bali’!” and she said, “IKR?!”

Not 10 minutes later, my mother called. “Don’t you think it’s dangerous that your sister tells the whole world she watches porn?” she said immediately.

I gasped. “Oh my God, that was you?”

“But what I don’t get is what a sunset has to do with porn! I thought I’d missed something and tried swiping right and then nothing happened, so I swiped left. Then I checked out her earlier posts and it was all pictures of food and temples!”

Meanwhile, my brain was still trying to catch up. “Wait, you’re on Instagram?!”

“Jason, dear, please keep up. Where’s the porn?”

“Okay, you have got to promise me you’ll never say that in public because that’s seriously one of the most disturbing things a mother of your age can say!”

My mother sniffed. “I don’t see why. I’m a woman, and I have urges, too. How do you think you kids came about? We…”

I disconnected the call, and immediately called my sister.

“That woman just kills me,” Michelle said after I’d repeated the conversation. “It’s no wonder I’m in therapy!”

“I still can’t believe she’s on Instagram. I just checked out her account and it’s got no posts at all, but she’s got 800 followers!”

Eight hundred? She’s got more followers than I do! Who are they?”

I scrolled down the list on my phone. “Complete random people as far as I can tell. I don’t recognise anyone!”

Amanda later said the whole episode was a timely reminder that old people are people too, a comment that Saffy immediately pointed out made no sense at all.

“Yes, it does,” Amanda said, tossing her luxuriantly glossy hair. “We look at an old person and we subliminally think that she’s has always been old, but that’s not true obviously. Once upon a time, they were young and vibrant and, in your mother’s case, a sexual person.”

Saffy paused and stared hard at the ceiling. Eventually, her eyebrows lifted. “Okay, I see what you mean.”

All of which reminded me of the time when my mother and her sisters went to Amsterdam for the first time. In one of the family albums, there are still faded photos from that trip, the sunglasses, beehive hairdos and the flared bottom jeans a dead giveaway of the 1970s. To this day, everyone remembers Auntie Wai-Ling packing away in her Samsonite a bag of red chillis. At every meal, she pulled out one, carefully chopped it up, and sprinkled it all over her food because she said European food had no taste.

And one night in Amsterdam, the tour guide told them he was taking everyone to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, a prospect that was greeted with a lot of eye-rolling from the Singaporean contingent. “At least, bring us to a peep show!” Auntie Sook-Ling muttered to my mother. “Come all this way to watch Disney!”

As it turned out, the Dutch version of the Disney classic literally involved seven real-life dwarves and a very naked Snow White. And even here, the Singaporean contingent found a reason to complain.

“She was from Nigeria!” Mother later reported, and in a comment that predated, and turned on its head, the whole discussion of white-washing by several decades, added, “I’m not a racist, but why would you stage Snow White and cast a Nigerian girl in the lead role?”

“Probably the Chinese girls were all at home studying,” said Auntie Sook-Ling, an observation Michelle later said was disturbingly racist and sexist on so many levels she didn’t even know where to begin.

Auntie Wai-Ling who had not gone on the trip was astonished. “Wait, you mean that was the whole show? Snow White taking turns with the seven dwarves?”

My mother had rolled her eyes. “Not even taking turns. I mean, I fell asleep about 10 minutes into the show, I was so jetlagged, but I woke up just in time for the finale and it was Snow White doing it with all seven dwarves at the same time!”

And now, years later, it’s little wonder she was so confused when her daughter felt that a picture of a beach sunset qualified as porn. The other day, in the middle of lunch at Din Tai Fung, she said, “Did I ever tell you about the time your Daddy took me to see a tiger show in Bangkok?”

“Oh dear God,” my sister moaned into her xiaolongbao.

 

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