|In Seoul as Elsewhere, They Also Run (sort of) and socialize (Mostly Socialize)
The Hash House Harriers are goups of runners - or, more accurately, they are drinkers with a running problem, as their motto says. Beer keeps them together.
Hash clubs, or "hashes," span the world, inclucing Korea. There are seven hash houses in Seoul, from a family-oriented group to single-sex groups to a "hard-core" hash popular with military personnel. All told, there are 14 hashes in Korea.
Hashing is a noncompetitive sport rooted in the old English schoolboy game of "Hare and Hounds." Some players, called hounds, chase other players, called hares.
"I hate running, but this I love," said Lesley Spoliker, a Briton known as Groveller in the hash circle. "It's good fun."
The nicknames, based on an embarrassing circumstance or personal traits, are often laced with sexual innuendos. a person is given a nickname after participating in more than five runs.
"It shows that you're pretty keen," Mrs. Spoliker said.
People from around the world belong to Seoul hashes. Susan Nicholson of New Zealand has met teachers, business people and embassy personnel from Germany, New Zealand, Britain and Holland.
"It gives expats a chance to meet people in a cultural setting they're used to," said Dirk Foster, an American known as Davy Crotchet. "We get physical fitness out of it and have a hell of a lot of fun."
The three main parts of hashing are the run, the circle and the on-on.
One of two hares set up a running course with false trails and confusing loops. The hares might lay the trail a day ahead or a half hour before the run.
According to the Yongsan Kimchee Hash House Harrier Web site (ykhhh.homepage.com), "The object of the trail is to get to the beverage of choice" - beer - "and have fun meeting the challenges and seeing the sights along the way. Amuse the hounds in the pack. Confuse the pack. Even slightly abuse the pack. But never, never, never lose the pack."
The pack follows the trail, yelling, "Hash," when they pass a trail marker, usually a lump of flour or chalk dust. During Seoul winters, a hare will often lay a trail of colorful Fruit Loops cereal, Mrs. Spoliker said.
When the fast hounds reach a circle, which marks a division in the trail, they split up and check possible routes. If they are in the wrong path, they loop back. The runner on the correct route yells, "On, on!" the pack starts running again.
The idea of the maze-like trail is to keep the runners reasonably close.
"It makes it more interesting because I'm always at the back," Mrs. Spoliker said.
At the end of the trail, which takes 40 to 90 minutes to cover, the runners gather to drink beer and go through rituals. The hash "grandmaster," the "religious adviser" or a committee of "mismanagement" leads the circle.
"Different hashes have different rituals," Mrs. Spoliker said, but the format is the same - singing and drinking. "Down-downs" are awarded for "crimes." The punishment involves drinking. Most clubs offer alternative drinks to those who do not drink alcohol.
At the Mixed All Seoul Hash, a family-oriented hash based in Seoul, runners who have embarrassed themselves, taken a short cut,finished first or last, are made to sit, with beer in hand, in the middle of a circle of people.
They must either drink the beer really fast or throw it behind them if they don't want or, Miss Nicholson said. After five runs, she has not yet earned a nickname.
At the conclusion of the circle, there is the on-on, the more social aspect of the hash. Depending on the club, hashers either retire to a nearby restaurant or bar or eat food that another hasher has brought.
According to Hash House Harriers lore, British civilian ex-patriots in Malaysia founded the first hash in 1938. They named the club after "Hash House," a mildly derogatory nickname for the place where they ate - the Selangor Club Chambers. The 1938 charter of the Kuala Lumpur Hash House Harriers listed the founding hashers' philosophy:
Hashing went onto hibernation during World War II, but it resurfaced and spread through Singapore, Australia, New zealand and beyond. According to the Harrier Web Site(www.harrier.net), as of 1999 there were more than 1,799 hashes in more than 180 countries. There is no central organization.
Some of the loosely knit groups join for regional interhashes. Major regional gatherings include the PanAsia Hash, EuroHash and InterAmericas Hash.
Mr. Foster is trying to organize a regional hash in Korea, but the date is still tentative.
The hashes in Seoul have not strayed too far from their roots.
The Seoul Hash House Harriers, a traditional men-only hash, starts at 6 p.m. on Saturdays for the winter. The Seoul Hash, the oldest in Korea, was established more than 28 years ago.
The seond oldest hash, the Yongsan Komchee Hash House Harriers, draws 50 to 100 people weekly. The hare on the Yongsang hash is either alive or dead. The hare starts marking the trail 10 minutes before the pack starts chasing.
Many of the harriers are from the nearby army base, so the average pace is quicker than the other hashes, Mrs. Spoliker said.
The Korea Mystery Hash House Harriers meets on the second Sunday of the month.
The Seoul Full Moon Hash House Harriers meets on the Friday clsest to a full moon.
About a year ago, "there was an explosion of hashes in the area," Mr. Foster said. The Mixed All Seoul Hash was created during the increased activity. It celebrated its first anniversary with an October 21 hash on Mt. An near Yonsei University. The trail included a long ridge run along dirt trails amid the beautiful colors of fall. Afterwards, 60 people joined the on-on for a barbecue. Since the Mixed All Seoul Hash is family-oriented, harriers usually include children. Runners are aged 10 to 50. The course inclueds a walking trail.
MASH meets once a month. The next hash is 2:30 p.m. on November 18, starting near the Swiss Grand Hotel.
Shortly after the creation of the Mixed All Seoul Hash, a splinter group from the Yongsan hash created the Southside Hash House Harriers. The Southside Hash meets at 10 a.m. every Sunday on a longer running trail. The next hash will meet by Exit 1 of Nambu Bus Terminal on the orange subway line.
Just under a year age, female hashers created the Seoul PMS Hash. "They try to meet nearest the 28th of the month, for obvious reasons," Mr. Foster said.
Mrs. Spoliker has one piece of advice: Never wear new shoes. It's considered a crime.