Travel Features > Leisure> Hash Run

Loosing Your Hash Virginity

Wayne Tarman finally goes on the Kuching hash run
and despite his reservations is pleasantly surprised.

Some expatriates view joining the hash as a rite of passage, an absolute must for any white skinned person who happens to set foot in Malaysia. One of their reasons for joining the hash is to meet other westerners so that they can live in a cocoon of whiteness, hang out with their own and limit interaction with Malaysians. I've meet people like this who are firmly fixed in their isolated expat nirvana. I met a lot them when I first went on a hash run in Kuala Lumpur many years ago.

The run itself was most enjoyable but the crowd and the post-run activities and banter were a nightmare. I was surrounded by real sad characters, westerners who constantly whinged about living in Malaysia and thrived on beer boy talk. Their pathetic attempts at male bonding via a stream of racist and sexist jokes and their constant reference to their willies put me off the hash for life. Since then, despite enjoying a cross country run, I've made a point of avoiding the hash and bluntly refusing any invitation to join on. But after four years of avoiding the hash throughout SE Asia I recently succumbed. When Valerie Mashman, a long term resident of Kuching and keen hash fan, invited me to one of Saturday's mixed City Hashes I surprised myself by accepting the invite.

I must confess I wasn't keen to go but I didn't have much choice in the matter. For the previous few days I had been followed around, 'fly-on-wall' style, by Clare and Vibeka, a BBC Radio 4 production team. They were in Kuching to record a programme for a radio series on young Brits living in Asia. Clare and Vibeka had heard about the hash and wanted to check it out. They hadn't travelled all the way form the UK to miss out on recording a bizarre tribal gathering of locals and expats scampering around the Borneo bush. So, in the interests of furthering the cause of radio journalism I dusted down my running shoes and laid off the beers the night before.

The run was set to take place just outside Kuching. The meeting point was a somewhat scruffy seafood restaurant at '13th Mile' Serian Road. Clare and I arrived early to take in the scene. Valerie was there and introduced us to the a few of the regular runners. Sarawak is just a little bit different from West Malaysia and I soon found out that the Kuching hash offers a totally different experience from the KL hash (thank God). For a start there were very few expatriates, and those that turned up were surrounded by their Malaysian friends and had nothing but praise for Malaysia. This was a welcome change from the sad expats on the KL hash I'd meet years before. Local Sarawakian made up 90% of the runners. I spotted a few people I knew, and a few familiar faces that I didn't know but now do.

The Kuching hash certainly attracts a motley crew of human beings from around the globe. There were fit looking athletes, armchair slobs, wide boys and tough no-nonsense girlies. Most people looked decidedly normal, the kind of people you meet in the veggie section of Kuching's Sunday market not the kind of people you'd expect would enjoy a regular cross country run. One old boy had done 1,000 hash runs. You could tell, he was edging 60 but looked 40. A few fellas were wearing long silly socks. I naively asked why. 'No got scratch, short socks lousy, cut everywhere' was the answer. He then pointed to my sparkling white tennis socks. A quick 'No good lah' followed by a chorus of laughter signalled that the undergrowth was going to shred my shins, big time.

The expats were a varied bunch. There were a couple of Aussies involved in construction in Kuching, a few expat wives, a 60 year old ex-Peace Corps worker, a British soldier who lived in Germany and was back in Kuching for a holiday with his Sarawakian wife, and a super fit American who lived in China and was a member of the Beijing Hash. This guy immediately made a few friends with the Chinese-speaking contingent as he was fluent in Mandarin and enjoyed demonstrating his wide knowledge of Chinese swear words.

Pre-run rituals were kept to a minimum. Some super fit looking Sarawak State runners flexed their muscles like they meant business but most people just sat around talking. A few guys tucked into jumbo plates of Foochow noodles, the perfect pre-run meal no doubt. Another bloke nursed a large bottle of Carlsberg whilst a group of women were in deep debate.

Then we were off. The first part of the run followed the busy Kuching-Serian Road. Dodging cars and trucks on a Malaysian road is not my idea of the perfect cross country run. After 10 minutes I could hold back no longer and started to whinge. Thankfully I was not the only whinger. Even the regular runners were miffed that they had to pound the road for 10 minutes dodging speeding trucks before the paper markings lead off on to a jungle trail.

After passing a few farmhouses the trail disappeared in to a field of overgrown thorns, bushes and leaves. At this stage Clare was recording like a dervish, shoving her microphone in front of Valerie & I and any runner that was game for a bit of banter. But as the weeds grew in number and wrestling matches with some stubborn vines took their toil, the Sony diskman was placed in the backpack. Periodic recordings were the order of the day, priority number one was to navigate through the sea of green.

Valerie was on a roll, describing Borneo's forest types as she ploughed on up the trail and chatted to fellow runners. In fact her enthusiasm kept me going as I was not particularly enjoying this stretch of barrier-like bush. Half an hour into the hash and I hadn't even broken into a jog as the undergrowth was too thick. I was also in desperate need of a pair of silly looking socks to save my shins from the razor-like palms that were slicing my shins.

Someone raced by and commented that we were in the middle of an abandoned rice field. It must have been abandoned in the 1950's as you needed a parang to cut your way through. Finding ourselves near the front of the hash without a parang to clear the undergrowth we decided to let a few of the experienced runners pass by and act as our parang, clearing a path through the tumble of leaves and assorted jungle-like crap.

After a while we came to a clearing and a beautiful bamboo grove. Time for a rest. Fortunately the front runners were lost amongst some false trails and loops and were not far away probing for a way forward. Shouts of 'are you' from the bunch of slackers at the back filled the air until a distant 'on, on' encouraged the pack of back markers, me included to move on.

Having crossed an abandoned paddy field that resembled a patch of secondary forest our next obstacle was a rather rank looking stream, a metre or so deep. Everyone else waded through the stagnant scum-laden water and not surpassingly emerged the other end covered in green and brown scum. I didn't fancy it. I'd already made up my mind to circumnavigate this obstacle even if it meant getting my shins lacerated by some undiscovered palm species with monster spikes. A quick glance at Clare, our intrepid radio journalist, and I realised that she was also in no mood for an afternoon dip in slime. After a quick look a round we found a fallen tree and a bridge to slime-free safety.

10 minutes down the track we found ourselves at the front of the pack as everyone else had got lost on a false trail. I now felt great and was beginning to appreciate the hash formula of a confusing trail that ensures that the front runners are never too far ahead of the rest. We let the front runners past including the man from the Beijing hash who came charging down the trail, earning the name 'Speedy' in the process.

Spurred on by Speedy and his pals I decided to give it some and broke into a sprint and followed the front runners. It was a mistake. I managed to keep up but after running around in a circle of false trails I decided that the best place to be in a hash run is either in the middle of the pack or last. After half an hour I turned a corner and bumped into Valerie and Clare, the back markers. They were sensibly strolling through the jungle enjoying the scenery and having a chat. After that I left the front running to Speedy and chilled out at the back. Speedy passed us another couple of times as he went in search of the paper markings that would lead us to the finish.

After one and half hours of strolling around the jungle and the occasional jog we came back to the main road and the restaurant meeting place. The hash was over. To be honest I thought that the trail was crap as there was very little opportunity to run, but I enjoyed the overall experience. The regular runners also agreed that the trail was not up to much. They took this in the stride - some trails are good, some are not, it depends on the hare. As were all drifted into the restaurant Tom Leng, the hare, was waiting with a grin on his face. He thought the fact that we had run around in circles was great and welcomed everyone back with smile, herding them over to the beer wagon.

After a rest and a glass of beer I was ready to leave but I wasn't allowed to. As a Kuching hash virgin I had to participate in an end of hash initiation rite. As the whole group of runners gathered round and sung a song I had to down a beer and place the glass on my head. As rituals go this is not a bad one. All in all I had a fun afternoon that changed my view of the hash. Although I won't become a regular I will join in occasionally. The combination of cross country run, a bit of fun, the odd beer and the company of a motley crew of friendly individuals does have a certain appeal.

Kuching Hash Details

The Kuching Hash warmly welcomes visitors. If you fancy joining in contact Tom Leng (082-416778) or Jennifer Yap (082-411694) for further details, meeting places, etc.

Harriers (Men only) Tuesday at 5.30 pm
Harriettes (Ladies Only) Wednesday at 5.30 pm
City Hash (Mixed) Saturday 4.30 pm

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