Hashing it Out

Saigon’s most bizarre and certainly most eclectic sport and social club

Text by Jonathan Rebours
Image by Wade Brackenbury

Created from a need by British officers to shake off the excesses of the weekend, hashing began in 1938 in Malaysia. Keeping the public school traditions of songs and nicknames alive, while also keeping fit, they would play harriers by chasing a paper trail on a cross country run before finally enjoying a drink at the end. Hashing has become a global phenomenon, with an estimated 2,000 groups worldwide.

The Saigon Hash House Harriers was started in 1990 by workers at the British Petroleum Plant in Ho Chi Minh City and has been going strong more or less ever since. Each Sunday a hash meets at 1:30pm outside the Caravelle where a bus awaits to whisk away harriers (no prior sign-up necessary) to the running area for the day. Dong Nai Province has been the main location and the ‘hares’ will have papered out the trail the day before, laying colored strips to be followed as you find your way around the course.

Problems have previously occurred where on the day of the hash the road has been bulldozed up, or the run has accidentally wandered through private property, or even well run routes have inexplicably transformed into barren swampland. Experience is on their side though and the club has always managed to have a good time, despite such occasional obstacles.

Around 50 hashers a week join the event, combining regular expats, locals and visiting hashers from around the world. “It truly is the most diverse social club in the city. We have anyone from company CEOs to teachers, students and NGO workers, you name it, they’ve probably hashed at some time or another,” says Julia Stanton, the Grand Mistress.

This mix is what makes hashing such a great thing to be part of, Julia is keen to stress. “There are no boundaries based on fitness level or occupation, but what you absolutely must have is a good sense of humor.”

After the final runner or walker has finished, the hash holds a ‘circle’. This is an important component of hashing worldwide, where new members are welcomed, songs are sung and, most alarmingly, people are ‘charged’. A charge can range from any offence, from using your mobile phone on the course, to being involved, however tenuously, with something in the news that week.

“At last week’s hash,” recalls Julia, “a British coffee dealer joined the hash, and in the Thai news there were reports of the mistreatment of elephants on coffee plantations, so the Brit in question was subsequently ‘iced’.” The man had to sit on a block of ice as penance for the crimes of his trade. Like Julia says, “you cannot take yourself too seriously.”

Every week also involves an ‘on-on,’ a post-hash dinner held somewhere in Saigon and a well-deserved drink after a tiring day.

To join, visit www.saigonhash.com.

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