It’s taken three weeks to write about our joining the Hash House Harriers running group on Koh Samui. This is because the first one left me dumbstruck and the second, although less confusing, was still pretty incomprehensible. If I tell you, that on the internet, the club is described as ‘a drinking club with a running problem’, it may go some way to illustrate what it’s all about.
This group of about sixty international ex-pats get together weekly, at different locations on the island, and set off on a 6km to 10km run or walk, along narrow jungle paths, through buffalo territory and local backyards, setting off all the dogs in the neighbourhood.
The first thing to try to understand about the Hash is Hash language; this includes general repartee, drinking songs and Hash names. Apart from your usual name, everyone has a Hash name too. I am not yet sure how you are given a Hash name, but I think it is assigned once someone in the group comes up with the rudest thing they can think of to call you.
Then there is the trail itself. It is laid out by the ‘hares’ who don red and black wigs at the beginning of the run and describe the route to the hackling Hashers. They are the ones who drop dollops of shredded paper to mark the route a couple of days before the event. The problem with this approach is compounded by a number of factors:
1. These back trails are often so littered, that it is difficult to distinguish a HHH paper dollop from the local litter.
2. Parts of the trail often thread through villages, where well-meaning local residents sweep up the HHH paper dollop mistaking it for litter.
3. Resident buffaloes may consume this sweet little dollup of shredded paper as a welcome reprieve from their usual boring diet.
The complications of the trail does not end there, however, for what you will also find are check-points. Check-points consist of two crossed coconut palms with a dollop of shredded paper placed on top. This indicates that you need to search for the on-going trail, somewhere within a hundred metre radius of the check-point! And it is not quite as simple as that, for those sneaky ‘hares’ try to trick you, by laying out a few false trails too. After making you travel some distance they mark a false trail with a coconut on a dollop of paper.
As you can imagine, there is chaos and confusion at each check-point with everyone running in separate directions to try to find the right trail. I quickly learnt that the sensible thing to do here was to hang around the check point, pretend to search, but actually just catch my breath and wait for someone to shout “ON-ON” which translates to “I’ve found the friggin trail!”
If you are lucky enough to make it back to the lager site, you can get yourself a welcome cold beer and hang around to ‘circle-up’. The circle is a time of reckoning for those who have dared to infringe on any ‘rules’ during the run. Yes, spies run and walk among you, and your every move (and word) is noted. The punishment consists of either downing a beer from a coconut shell or, in severe cases, downing a beer from a coconut shell with your bottom in a bed of ice. All of this is accompanied by coarse drinking songs, the kind of which I have not heard since my student days.
Those standing in the circle are patrolled by ‘The Enforcer’, a fierce Thai lady in hot pants, big sunglasses and ‘Hello Kitty’ ears, who wields a huge water pistol and squirts anyone who is talking and not paying attention or, to my surprise, for standing like a teapot (i.e. standing with your hand on your hip). I suspect that that is to show contempt for tea drinkers?
So far we have completed each run relatively intact and only had to endure one down-down because we were ‘virgin’ Hash runners and this is the manner in which you are welcomed.
On our most recent run I lost Stefan towards the end of the trail and found out later that ‘The Enforcer’ had stopped him and asked him to pick her tamarind from a tree next to the trail. True to form he obliged, but quickly brokered a no ‘shoot-shoot’ pact with her, before handing over the desired tamarind fruit. He was unforthcoming as to whether this arrangement had included me!
It remains to be seen what our Hash names turn out to be, but if they are anything like some of those we’ve heard, they will not be revealed in this blog.
KOH SAMUI, THAILAND: 15-02-2015