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Tails And Trails: The Hash House Harriers Of Vientiane

Are they a gang of reveling runner enthusiasts as their name implies or are the Hash House Harriers into something even more mysterious?

With their own argot, rituals, traditions, and leadership positions including titles like ‘Grand master’, ‘Religious Advisor’, and… ‘Hare’, one might expect something more insidious is going on, but in fact what they are at their core is a group of runners who enjoy a good nightcap.

‘Hashers’, as they are called, belong to a very loosely affiliated international network of clubs that boasts chapters in nearly 2,000 locations around the world.  The group in Vientiane is similar to those in other cities because it follows most of the same traditions and aims.

One of those traditions is getting a hasher name.  “Names are based on anything, like personality, some hilarious or stupid story, jobs, appearance, or something rude that is sure to evoke a reaction,” says Vientiane Grandmaster, Joe Rumble, who is known as ‘Sir Tapeworm’ because of his inexplicable ability to eat without gaining weight. “No one chooses his or her own name.”

 The Hash House Harriers Of Vientiane

But, one consequence of having an alias is that it is hard to recall real names.  Rumble, of Europcar fame, recalls an incident where the group had to call out the name of a hasher in a small village.  In English his name is ‘He Man’ which in Lao has a less savory meaning.  Ask a Lao friend if you are curious, but only in safe company.

“We called out his name and the villagers in the street all erupted into laughter”, says Rumble.  “Everyone has to have a sense of humor to be on a hash.”

The reasons most cite for joining the group is to meet people, stay in shape (kind of), and enjoy a tasty beverage.  However, some hashers are into the scenery.

“You get to see surrounding parts of Vientiane, meet locals, make new friends, and enjoy great camaraderie”, says Connie Terry, a teacher in Vientiane.  “Hashers help each other a lot.  It’s a strong network, but more like a family.”

Terry, also known as ‘Bad Habit’, got her name in the customary way after attending at least five hashes in Hawaii, where she was working as a social worker more than 10 years ago.  Some hashers actually thought she was a nun because of working for a Catholic charity.  Thus, another hasher is named.

Hashers often enjoy visiting other groups to explore to new places and make some fast friends in the area.  These people tend to stay in touch and remain open and helpful to hashers from other places.

“I try to make it to as many international hashes as I can”,says Rumble.  “In China, we ran up an un-restored portion of the Great Wall.  I really liked meeting the Chinese hashers.”

Publications like Harrier Magazine and many others including countless blogs and user groups online help hashers stay in touch and aware of regional or international events. Once you enter the world of hashing you are instantly connected with a community that may seem quite large but is remarkably familiar.

They joke that they are ‘drinkers with a running problem’, but others emphasize that they are more like a tight family that helps each other.  Some groups and people focus more on the running, while others are more into the social aspect, but every hasher expresses that all people are welcome as long as they have a good sense of humor and believe it if you are told to bring a dry bag.

The Hash House Harriers Of Vientiane

Some of that humor might include tongue-in-cheek comments or penalties for breaking clubs rules like downing a beer or sitting on a block of ice and listening to a long spirited rendition of the club’s sing-a longs.

One of the rumors floating around in the Asian hasher circles is that in the states some groups are prone to a bit of streaking from time to time.  Don’t worry, the Vientiane group assures me that this is not what happens here.

“There are always a few exhibitionists who decide to show all of us what they’ve got,” says Karen Barefield, a hasher in Washington, D.C.  “Inevitably, with few exceptions, it’s no one you want to see with their clothes off.”

The Hash House Harriers began as a Monday social club in Kuala Lumpur for expats who wanted to stay fit by running with the added reward of a little ‘hair of the dog’ to shake off the previous weekend of drinking.

The group takes its name from The Selangor Club where the founders met to eat and carouse, which had famously uninspiring cuisine and thus was affectionately referred to as ‘The Hash House’.  Harriers are runners, so there is the origin of that name.  But, there is more to the story.

The play on words over ‘hare’ harkens back to the English sport of using hounds to chase a hare or a paper chase which involves following a trail of markers left behind by a lead runner (the hare) who is being chased by the group (hounds). So if you go on a hash you are participating in a centuries old tradition.

The Vientiane Hash House Harriers meet on Mondays at 5:00 and start from a restaurant that is chosen and every Saturday from 3:30 at Nam Pou for a ride to a ‘Bush Hash’ outside of town.  There is a small fee of 60,000 Kip in ‘Hash Cash’ which covers organizational expenses such as beer, food, and transport.

“I love running and drinking,” says Kevyn McGraw, 23, a newcomer to the city, “So, I think I’ll join.”
For more information, contact Sir Tapeworm at 020-5551-1293

By Greg Dolezal, writing for J&C Expat Services