Imagine a group of crazy people scampering through the rice fields following a trail of shredded paper. Come rain or shine they run; over the rice bunds, through the forests and the little villages, up and down the hillsides, past the waterfalls, across deep gorges, over bamboo bridges and across raging rivers. Every now and again they hesitate, running around in confused circles like chooks with their heads cut off trying to find that elusive trail of shredded paper. Then someone finds the right way and they are off again with triumphant cries of “on on”.
This may all sound somewhat bizarre but more and more people across the world are turning to this rather eccentric form of exercise to while away their leisure hours. These are the Hash House Harriers, a strange group of people who would rather run through the countryside than sit knitting in front of the television or walk the dog. They gather every week to have a run and share some fun and fellowship around a barrel of beer.
The House House Harriers were first started in Kuala Lumpur in the 1930s by a group of Englishmen who, seeking to amuse themselves in their own peculiar way, set out to create their own variation of the English public school tradition of a paperchase otherwise known as hare and hounds.
This wayward group of eccentric expatriates lived in an old boarding house that served up meals of such dubious quality that the place became known as the Hash House. It naturally followed that our exuberant runners would call themselves the Hash House Harriers. Their founder, a man called A.S.Gispert, sadly was never to see the havoc he wreaked on an unsuspecting world through the incredible proliferation of his idle distraction. He was killed defending Singapore in February 1942.
As a result of some typical bureaucratic officiousness the original Kualar Lumpur Hash House Harriers were required to set themselves up as a legal entity and to state the purpose of their organisation. As a result their charter of 1938 stated the following aims:
• To promote physical fitness among our members
• To get rid of weekend hangovers
• To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
• To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel.
Revived after the war the Hash House Harriers became a worldwide phenomenon. These days there are more than 1,700 clubs on all continents of the world. Indonesia has more than its fair share of these clubs particularly in the Bandung area where groups of runners numbering in their thousands frolic through the countryside every week.
The first Hash House Harriers club in Bali was founded in May 1977 by renowned birdwatcher, butterfly expert and legend in his own lunchtime, Victor “Nightjar” Mason. That first club, the Bali Hash House Harriers, continues to thrive, flourish and multiply. These days there are six clubs in Bali running on different days of the week attracting anything from 40 to 150 runners to each run.
While there are thousands of hash clubs around the world most follow the traditional format of the original Kuala Lumpur hash. Every week a different run site is selected and the “Hares” set off with bags of shredded paper to set a trail through the countryside. Every ten yards or so they drop a handful of paper or chalk an arrow on the ground that the runners will follow later. Now and again they may play a little trick setting a short false trail ending with a cross, this is known as a check back, and the runners must retrace their steps and search for the correct trail. The check back has an important function, it reminds the runners that the purpose is to have fun and anyone who takes it all a little too seriously and starts to become competitive will be quickly restored to a healthy sense of reality.
The runners gather and at a predetermined time, usually in the cool of the late afternoon at around 4.30pm, they set off to follow the paper. It will lead them through beautiful countryside far away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist areas of Bali. After running or walking for an hour or so the runners return to the starting point where draught beer and soft drinks are served and, after half an hour or so of catching up with friends, the group gathers to form a circle. Led by the Hash Master new members and visitors are welcomed, stories from the run are shared, jokes may be told and songs may be sung. It is a time of fellowship and merriment and has led to the tongue in cheek description of the hash as a drinking club with a running problem.
Hashers come from all age groups and all walks of life from schoolchildren to company executives, from chicken sexers to royalty. It is a very communal activity and being a hasher means you have immediate access to a network of clubs and friends wherever you go. Everything is lighthearted with clubs being run by ‘mismanagement’ committees. Commercialism is shunned and anyone caught advertising or promoting themselves in any way is likely to find themselves sitting on a block of ice in the centre of the circle.
Everyone is welcomed and treated equally. Bali club members include diplomats, hotel general managers and even an Indonesian high court judge but you wouldn’t know, they all look the same in tee shirt and shorts. Not only that, hashers have a tradition of giving each other hash names usually based on their background or something the person may have done during a run. It is all good fun but in fact the names have another purpose, they allow people to relax and be themselves without their professional lives catching up with them. You could be running along with Prince Harry and you wouldn’t know (although his red hair and freckles are a bit of a giveaway and I’m sure you might notice those 2 burly fellows running along with him with curly wires hanging our of their ears).
Every now and again there are large gatherings where many clubs come together to run. There is the EuroHash and the InterAmericas Hash and each year the Pan Indo Hash sees clubs come together from all over Indonesia.
The largest of these gatherings is the ‘Interhash’ a world event held every 2 years where as many as 6,000 hashers from all over the world meet for a weekend of running and socialising. Rather like the Olympics there is always intense competition as different regions compete to win the honour of hosting an Interhash. Indonesia won its bid for the next Interhash which will be held at Borobudur during 2012. One thing we can be sure of – hashing will never become an olympic sport!
It is, however, an excellent way of getting regular exercise and, probably far more importantly in the ever increasing pace of our modern world, a great way of clearing the mind and easing the stresses and strains of everyday life. For a hasher the idea of a running machine in a gymnasium, a television screen and a set of headphones is a rather strange notion somewhat akin to having a shower with your clothes on. After all who would want to be in a gymnasium when this is probably one of the most beautiful places on earth to run a hash. The island is crisscrossed with endless small paths and the topography is such that every moment the view changes.
In Bali the best running country is in the area between Tabanan in the West and Gianyar in the East. The landscape can be stunning with sculptured hillsides and tropical forests in a mix of vegetation that is ever changing. This is also an area that is far enough ‘up country’ for the air to be cool and fresh while the hills are not too steep. Everywhere there are what landscapers would call ‘water features’ with tumbling streams, waterfalls and the irrigation canals and weirs of the world famous Subak system. It is rather like running through a huge natural park. This is the way to see the real Bali.
Bali Hash House Harriers 2 was formed in January 1992 and has run every Saturday since then starting at 4:30 in the afternoon. On 19th March 2011 the club will be holding its 1,000th run and there will be a weekend of celebrations with runs held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A celebratory party will be held on Saturday night.
Everyone can take part and you don’t have to be fit to get started. Two runs are provided each week, a short one hour walk for the more leisurely minded and a longer one hour run for the more serious runner. We tend to follow well established paths and there are always plenty of people around to give advice or lend a hand to newcomers.
Our oldest member is uncle Leong who will be 94 this year. Even at his age he rarely misses a run, he is noted for being the oldest active hasher in the world and for playing his trumpet in the circle.
Visitors are always welcome and if you would like to take part in our celebratory weekend all you need is a T-shirt, a pair of shorts and some running shoes (no, flip flops will not do although one or two brave souls run in bare feet!). If you would like to come just contact our hash cash (the club treasurer) Mike Ward at 0813 3712 0882. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can look us up on our website at www.1000.balihash2.com
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