Hashing it Out – The Xi’an Hash House Harriers

Part 1 – A History of Hashing

Article by Julian Brown

I’m standing near the bustling centre of Xi’an with traffic whizzing past. Around me practically everything is grey and everyone is fidgeting to stay warm, rubbing their hands and hopping awkwardly. The temperature is nearing zero and my weather app tells me that the air pollution is at a moderate, “slightly unhealthy” level. Given these conditions you might think that going for a run sounds unappealing. And you’d be dead wrong. Here’s why: the Xi’an hash house harriers meet up twice a month, flouting the laws of Gods and men and the advice of their grandmothers to attend a good old-fashioned hash run.

“What’s a hash run?” I hear you mumble from behind your smog mask.  Hash running is a global phenomenon with a storied history and many bizarre, ancient traditions. Think of the freemasons, but way more fun, and you’re getting close to the mark.16-1

Hashing has its origins in the traditional English schoolboy game of Hare and Hounds, where a designated runner is appointed the hare, given a head start and told to run off, willynilly, into the fields. The other runners, or hounds, have to catch up with the aforementioned reprobate before he reaches a designated end point. The game dates back at least to the time of Elizabeth the first, and Shakespeare is thought to have mentioned it when Hamlet cries, “Hide, fox, and all after.” By the time Tom Brown’s School Days rolled along the game had evolved into the “paper chase.” Here the hares would toss handfuls of shredded paper along the way to simulate the scent of the hare. The wind would scatter the paper, making it difficult for the hounds to locate and track the scent. If a hound spotted some paper he would cry “Forward!” further inciting the baying and frothing of the pack.16-2

Moving on to December 1938, a devilishly handsome group of British expats and colonial officers in Malaysia, abiding in a dwelling nicknamed ‘the Hash House’, co-opted this idea to solve a particularly prickly weekly problem many of us still struggle with today: the Monday afternoon hangover. The sagas state that they met weekly as the excitement of the chase, some beer, ginger beer and cigarettes proved to be remarkably restorative. It’s rumored that the role of the hare was often played by a lady of ill-repute, laying down chalk arrows and leading the lascivious hounds to her chambers. Eventually, due to its popularity, the group was forced to become an official group with a formalized constitution. The rogues stated their aims thusly:

• 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

These are the core values that hash running adheres to, to this day. Chapters have popped up in over 2000 locations globally. There are even two active hash groups in Antarctica. Predictably, the epidemic made its way to China, and in 2008 the mean streets of Xi’an were first exposed to the drinking club with a running problem.

Part 2 – The State of the Hash

Article by Tim Synnott

16-4“On, on!” is screamed out by Stuart (Hash name: Foot Fetish) as he spots another discreet arrow on the pavement running towards Da Ming Gong Park. ”Follow the Arrows marked out on the pavement while being aware of any trick arrows and most of all don’t get lost!” I (Tiny Tim) and Luke (Sheep Shagger), both Kindergarten teachers during the week, had spent the morning as the ‘hares’ marking the arrows for all runners and walkers to follow that afternoon. The crowd comes to a confused halt as two arrows point separate ways at the top of a hill. Written in white chalk is MAN for a left turn OR MOUSE for a right, there is laughter among the crowd, but some look nervous as they search their souls for which way they will run. ”I’m a man!” yells a young American student. ”I’m a mouse, so I’m turning right,” a local student whispers to her friend. MAN was a dead end; the correct way was MOUSE! Back up the hill all the “men” have to come! Welcome to the Hash Run!16-5

So here we are, 30 or 40 people all limbering up outside Da Ming Gong Metro station, with beer or water in hand at 3:30 on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The anticipation is too much; finally, Foot Fetish gets things started: “Make a circle, if you’re new stand in the middle and introduce yourself, say where you are from and what you do.” A cross-section of people, different ages, professions and nationalities, were gathered, many of them regulars for our bimonthly runs. Foot Fetish finishes getting the newbies up to speed and we are about to make a move before an American accent announces that it’s ”selfie time.” Foot Fetish murmured, “That could definitely be an infraction” with a little grin.

We begin jogging, the Hash Run is officially underway.