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July 7, 2010

A Mad Hash

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia – “Good on yer mate” I yelled at the Hashers crossing the roundabout. “Darling, meet me at my condo tonight at eight” was hurled to all the pretty girls and elderly ladies walking or dashing by. “My god, my ex-wife shows up in my Borneo dream!” I shouted at a particularly ugly man dressed in lipstick, a red dress and a hairy chest.


My job was to assist the police in directing the Hashers across the roundabout and up the other street to their reward of cold beer, just a few kilometers away. For the first 15 minutes, all I did was hold out my arms and point the correct direction as they had to make a hard left while running, walking, staggering or crawling along the five kilometer route through the city.


Realizing this would soon become a very boring exercise, I decided to spice things up and began yelling “What a beautiful group you are!” to no one in particular. “Can I pop those balloons with my mouth?” to a shapely lady dress in a balloon costume, with largest balloons, well, you know where. When traffic backed up, I had to urge them across the street a little quicker.


“Let’s go mates! Traffic’s backed up to Perth and Sydney!” “We are from New Zealand,” a couple shouted as they ran by. Of course, a city from those two magnificent islands would not pop into my head at the moment but Auckland and Wellington were ready in my brain when the next group of Zealanders went by.


My neighbor, Lutz, had asked me to help out at the Fifth Annual Red Dress Charity Run where hashers from all over supported three charities, the Sarawak (the name of the state on Borneo Island where I live) Heart Foundation, Children’s Cancer Society and Autistic Associations.


According to the national English language daily The Star, the red dress event started when a lady showed up in a red dress and high heels not realizing the Hash were a group of runners. She ran anyway and the event became a tradition in the worldwide chapters.


I asked several locals what they thought of the event. Since everyone wore a red shirt, they compared them to the revolutionary group in Thailand which recently tried to bring down the Bangkok government. They could not understand why a huge group of westerners would fly into their city, don dresses and run through the town. Gila gila, crazy lah, they commented in a very nice way.


“But mad dogs and Englishmen go out into the noon day sun” was the Noel Coward lyric that stuck in my mind as the race began at 2 P.M. The fierce tropical sun was mercifully hidden by clouds and three or four heavy downpours kept everyone cool and wet.


The Hash House Harriers was begun in prewar Malaya by a group of Englishmen and other expats who met on Mondays and to run and sweat out the heavy weekend drinking. The “Hash House” was the mess hall that served the monotonous (can English food be described any other way?) English food where most were billeted. After the war, the Hash concept spread out throughout the world, opening chapters.


A social group, not known for athletics, people of all sizes, ages and shapes walked, crutched, hobbled, sprinted, pushed strollers, lolled, carried beers as they passed in front of me. Incentive was the beer at the end of the jog.


“What beautiful people you are,” I yelled. And they were for the monies raised for Sarawak’s worthy charities.


…Life is good


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