A long-time runner takes a leap with Bangkok’s Has House Harriers
Warning: This story is rated PG-13. Actually, make that R. What did you expect? We’re talking about the Hash House Harriers, those notorious groups of “drinkers with a running problem.” I’d been regaled with tales of beers chugged on knees, relentless “down downs” and thinly veiled (make that blatant) dick jokes sung together in the groups’ infamous circles, and behaviour so debauched it would make Larry David blush. So when I was asked to join the Bangkok Thursday Hash, I prepped myself for the verbal abuse and Friday’s hangover. Never did I anticipate enjoying myself so much, not to mention discovering a group of people so diverse, respectful of others, team-oriented, and welcoming.
All those down downs, the dirty humour, the scurrying around in search of tiny arrows scribbled in chalk on sidewalks? We’ll get to that. But let’s start with a confession: I’ve been a competitive runner for over half my life, and on more than one occasion I’ve been guilty of looking down my nose at groups like the Hash House Harriers. I’ve been in the “running as self-flagellation” camp for as long as I can recall. Throughout university, I was surrounded by semi-pro studs, guys who could run a 10k in less than 30 minute (and thundering herds of women hot on their heels), and runners that were savage on the trails but so generous they would give up their seats at the dinner table an hour later. So maybe my conceit stemmed from being a product of the system. It wasn’t until I entered the real world that I finally appreciated the way camaraderie could take precedence over competition. I was late to the party, I guess. Most runners, open-minded and self-aware, already lived on that higher plane of understanding. And I was about to get an unforgettable initiation into a group of them.
For the Bangkok Thursday Hash, I was instructed to take the BTS to Sala Daeng and exit toward Soi Convent. From there, I was supposed to go to the second floor of a restaurant across the street from Molly Malone’s. When I arrived, about 10 minutes before 6:30pm, when the run was scheduled to start, nearly 20 singlet-clad men and women were already seated at the tables—and this, I was later told, was a light showing. I introduced myself to the current “Hash Cash” (that’s a “treasurer” in everyday parlance), Osama Rajkhan, a bald-headed man with a strong physique who told me he goes by “Minnie Me” in HHH circles. “I’m a virgin,” I told him. Meaning, I’ve never done one of these. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one to lose my virginity that night; a French runner was doing his first Hash, as well.
Minnie Me introduced me to Cord, the Hare, or the person who lays the trail that the Hounds follow. At some Hash runs, the Hare will take off running 10 minutes before the pack and mark the trail on the go, a veritable rabbit racing for its life. That’s called a “Live Hash.” For this run, Cord told me he had gone out beforehand, in the insufferable 3pm heat, to mark the trail. Owing to Bangkok’s climate (hot, wet much of the time, overrun with cars and motorbikes all the time), the Hare for the Thursday Hash will usually stuff bits of paper into holes in concrete utility poles, the markers placed at about eye-level. This Hare, however, had used chalk to scrawl small white arrows into the asphalt. It would be his downfall this night.
After everyone had paid Minnie Me 50 baht, money that covers the “down down” drinks after the run, the group made its way downstairs and almost immediately set off running down a non-descript soi toward Sathorn. “On on!” shouted Drunken Donut, who is commonly known as Eric Cornile outside of Hashing. I thought this was a rally cry—“Hurrah! Here we go!”—that sort of thing. It turned out he was guiding the way. “Yes, we’re on the right path,” he was saying. Before long, when the darkness had set in and the narrow arrows became harder to find, Drunken Donut and another runner had sprinted away, disappearing from sight. Minnie Me shouted, “RU?” When asked what that means, he replied, “I’m asking the Front Running Bastard if we’re on the right trail.” Front Running Bastard, or FRB, was another slang term from the Hasher lexicon, but this one was self-explanatory: the person running in front.
Hash House Harriers have a long and fabled history. The tradition began in 1938 in Selangor, in what is now known as Malaysia. A small group of British soldiers stationed there used the “hare and hound” running format as both a diversion and a way to work off the weekend’s indulgences. The founding members live on in folklore, still influencing the current rites of passage and rituals for hash groups around the world. For example, when Trailmaster KC “Boobalube” Marshment brought all the night’s virgins into the centre of the circle after the run, he spoke with military tone and diction of the young soldiers who zealously chased the first Hare—all to pull his pants down once he was finally caught. Rather than give us a hearty de-pantsing, Marshment instead commanded us to “empty our drinking vessels,” filled either with beer or water, for those who had chosen to abstain, as the entire circle sang a Hare Hymn. It’s these traditions, this codified language—RU, FRB, Shiggy, Hash Hymns—that have mythologized the HHH.
Every time someone from the pack had sprinted into the distance, he or she would invariably return, confused and slightly irritated. It had taken longer than usual to run into a checkpoint—fittingly, a circle with a large “X” in it. I learned that this group liked order. Make the trail challenging, sure, but leave the marks in plain sight, and remember that teamwork trumps all. “French Hashers don’t like checkpoints,” said Minnie Me, as other Hounds wondered (and swore) audibly about the lack of checks. “They prefer to race all the way to the end, but that’s not the point. The checkpoints make it so that the fast runners don’t get ahead of the slow runners and we all finish together. It’s about the camaraderie.”
A man dubbed Arakie, an American expat who has been Hashing his way across the globe for over 40 years—most often in Asia, where it all began—also took the occasion to comment on the Hare’s style. “This Hare doesn’t know what he’s doing. There’s supposed to be 100 metres between marks, at most,” he lamented. “I’m going to triple down down him later.”
The rest of the run was a blur. By 7, it was dark as pitch outside, especially on the tiny sois behind St. Louis Hospital that we were navigating. At one point, I went back to look for lost runners, but I returned to a meeting point to find everyone gone but Arakie. We blazed our own trail then. Or, as he put, we “aborted mission,” jogging back to the starting point down Silom Road with proverbial tails between legs. So it goes. But by the time we reached the 7-Eleven across the street from the starting point (Thursday Hashes start near a BTS station and end at a 7-Eleven to streamline the beer purchasing process) his mood had improved. It was, after all, a fun run. Besides, with the hard stuff out of the way, it was time for the circle.
All those stories you’ve heard about beer-bullying, comments about various bodily parts, dirty in-jokes, and other such raunchy rituals happen in the circle. As the other virgin and I waited with bated breath for the show to begin, a Hasher named Keith struck up conversation with me. “Where are you from? Oh, America. I haven’t Hashed in America, but I understand that’s where all the coarse stuff happens. The nudity, and groping, and binge-drinking. Very different from England, you know, which is very prim.” This was coming from a man affectionately known as Diarrhoea, mind you. Names aside, he was right. Even if you can’t decode all the dirty jokes, know that, certainly here in Bangkok, beneath every one of them is the verbal equivalent of a pat on the back or a friendly hug. The Hashers were good people.
Need proof? Every May, the men and women in the various HHH chapters don red dresses and run around the city, raising money from passersby that goes to immediate disaster relief—as was the case last year, when the ‘Red Dress Run’ followed the earthquake in Nepal—or local charities. “We raised over 4,000 [US dollars] last year in one hour,” Boobalube told me. And many of the Hashers hold service-related jobs. From UN employees, to medical professionals researching treatments for HIV—the tie that binds all is Hashing.
The circle was literally that. Boobalube, who was filling in for the GM that night, would pull in Hashers individually or in groups, sometimes for breaking the unspoken rules (“No talking in the circle! No wearing hats in the circle!”), lead a hymn, each punctuated with “Drink it down, down, down, down…” and commence the down downs (“down down” derived from the hymn ending mentioned here). By 8:30pm, after many hymns were sung and all cups had been emptied, the circle disbanded. The Hare, who had heard plenty of—let’s call them “light-hearted”—remarks about the quality of his trail, had earned the many down downs he was given. Now, it was his turn to return the favour—by buying dinner for all the Hounds.
Bangkok Thursday Hash runs take place every Thursday at 6:30pm. Visitors and virgins are always welcome. Locations vary, and joining in on the runs is a great way to see odd and interesting parts of the city—places you may never have known about before. Bring a little pocket cash and, if you wish, a bag with clothes to change into (the Hare keeps watch of all belongings while the Hounds run). For more information about Bangkok Thursday Hash, visit: bangkokthursdayhash.com.