Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Hashing in the ROK



Since January, I've been waking up earlier on the weekends than during the weekdays. You might wonder what could make me get up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning; certainly it was something I wouldn't have predicted a year ago. However, last January I became a Hasher. I don't mean that I started smoking anything: on a cold, wintery day, I went out running with a bunch of women dressed in normal, cold-weather running gear and men in dresses. The Hash House Harriers aren't your average running group; with a tag line about being a drinking club with a running problem, that is probably to be expected.



Hashing is a worldwide phenomenon, though I personally have only hashed in two countries. It is quite popular amongst the expats here in Seoul - there are five groups in the city alone and several more throughout the Korean peninsula. Hashing is not smoking, but it is also not exactly running. It's sort of fox hunting, with humans.



Each hash starts off with a circle, when the signs particular to that hash are explained to the new runners. Virgin hashers also introduce themselves to the pack. Since most of the trails run by the Seoul packs are live-hared (more on that later), there is usually a song or a story told by the GM (leader) in order to give the hares time to lay the trail.



A hash trail is not just run, it has to be found. The hares (there are usually two, perhaps three) lay a trail using a series of chalk marks, or if the trail goes through what we call shiggy (off-road trail like forest or rice paddies), flour or bits of shredded paper. Three hash marks or a true trail mark mean you are heading the right way and a checkpoint indicates that the trail goes in a new direction. In Korea we say that at a checkpoint, the trail can go in one of 369 degrees, though not back the way it came - Korean roads tend not to have orderly four-way intersections. While most trails are scouted in advance and perhaps some marks are even pre-laid, most of the runs here in Korea are live-hared: the hares are making the trail as the pack runs behind, theoretically trying to catch them. Checkpoints, false trails, whistle checks and other stops along the way are to give the hares a chance to stay ahead. When I hashed with TWAT (Toronto Women's Alternate Thursdays) during my vacation, I learned that they pre-lay their trails, which is called a dead trail.



Once all the hashers have made it to the end point (which can be where the trail started, called an A to A trail, or somewhere else, called an A to B), the down down starts. Named after the downing of our beverage of choice (beer), the down down is the social aspect of the hash. In addition to once again getting the virgins to introduce themselves, down downs involve recognising the hares, any hashers who have hit a certain number of runs, birthdays, leavers and returners, that sort of thing. Each round of people called up on the line by the GM is accompanied by a song and a drink (though not everyone drinks alcohol necessarily). On a hasher's sixth run they lose ther no-name status and become a named hasher. Namings are run different ways by different packs, but generally involve the sharing of stories or asking questions of a rather naughty nature.



I have really enjoyed hashing. After three and a half years of living in Seoul, I had started to get a bit bored with my usual scene when a coworker introduced me to hashing. I'm not much of a runner - I usually walk the trails, though I do occasionally run them very, very s l o w l y. The social aspect of the hash and the friendships that have developed are the reason I keep going back. In Seoul, each group has a slightly different feel to it. The Saturday morning group, Yongsan Kimchi, has a lot of military members and more hardcore runners. Southside, which is the best hash running at 11 AM on Sundays south of the Han River, is quite chill and has a long On After (drinks/dinner in Itaewon usually). Saturday afternoons the Seoul Hash runs, men only, and once a month Seoul PMS is held, women only. An hour's bus ride south of Seoul in Songtan, the Osan Bulgogi pack runs Saturday as well - it's got a lot of air force members and is what I tend to refer to as Seoul's frat hash.



There are definitely some barriers to hashing happily. The hash was started by three British military men back in the day and it is certainly not free of sexism, homophobia, or racism. The songs that are traditionally sung are often fairly offensive. Many pack members will say that the hash is an equal opportunity offender - everyone gets to be insulted. When I go to the PMS hash, our toast goes, "Here's to the men we love and the men who love us, but the men we love aren't the ones who love us, so fuck them and here's to us!" Our song is to the tune of Three Blind Mice and is entitled I Love Cock. As a bisexual woman who was recently dating a woman, it's a bit odd. Other out hashers (and there aren't many of us) have felt tensions. There are times that I wonder about my participation in hashing. Times that I'm uncomfortable with some of the attitudes, rituals, or certain members. It's not always comfortable to participate in a group in which heteronormality is so in your face. It can be uncomfortable to call people on their attitudes and uncomfortable not to.



Last weekend one of my friends celebrated her 300th run. When such numbers roll around, usually the hasher throws some sort of a special run and she chose to have a Rainbow Run. Straight herself, it was in honour of a relative who had recently come out and of all the other important gay people in her life. To my knowledge, there were only five LGBT members in the pack, but there were a lot more people wearing rainbows, playing the games, and just generally being good allies.

And that is worth some uncomfortable moments.





Crossposted at my blog Life in a Suitcase

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