I lost my hash virginity – a rite of passage marked by obnoxious singing and the guzzling of “potties” of Cambodia’s finest. I’m sure most people remember their first time. I ran through rice fields, waded through knee-deep waters and fell in the mud three times. With the combination of high humidity and Cambodia’s hot afternoon sun, I sweated more than I ever sweat in my life – salty streams running through my hair and off the tip of my nose and the skin on my arms boasting more than a glisten. Villagers watched in amazement or laughed at the bizarre “barang” yelling “on-on” through their typically peaceful and quiet commune. Even the cows gave us quizzical looks.
Yes, this is the picture of my first run with the Hash House Harriers of Phnom Penh. I’ve wanted to join up with the local chapter of this international running club since I arrived in Cambodia, but I kept chickening out. Fears of not being able to keep up with the run and general obstacles of shyness supplied me with limitless excuses of why it would be “better to start next week.”
I finally came to my senses this week and gave it a go. Especially given the fact that I’m going to run the Ankor Wat Half Marathon in two weeks, I’d better be able to keep up with the pack.
Each week the group of walkers and runners meets at the train station, a few blocks from Central Market. We load up refugee-style on the backs of trucks and they ship us outside city limits, a perfect chance to get a taste of Cambodian countryside. I’m sure trucks of white people maneuvering through town must look outrageous to the locals, as we were met with laughs and waves.
This week the trucks dropped us in Kandal Province in a village on the outskirts of southern Phnom Penh, on the road heading toward Sihanoukville. This week’s run was a “live run,” meaning two runners (or “hares”) set out marking trail. Then in English hare-hunting style (you know, the kind with the foxhounds), the hashers follow, trying to catch the hares. It was a crazy free-for-all of foreigners disrupting village life, but I think the locals (even the monks) were amused and enjoyed the chance to participate by pointing us lost runners in the right direction.
As dusk approached and the run came to a close, we circled up. The ring leader, wearing a soft top hat, shined a spotlight on the first timers as well as those who are moving on from PP. He attempted to solve world problems with a chorus of silly songs and punished bad running behaviors, like peeing on the run or smoking in the circle, by passing out more “potties.” The evening ended on a light-hearted note with a promise of reconvening next week for an “8-8-8” run, the meaning we are to ponder throughout the week.