Business Week
January 23, 1989



January 23, 1989
By Bob Neff

When I first read about the Hash House Harriers in a spy novel, I assumed they were the author's invention. He portrayed the group as a pack of seemingly demented Caucasian men who regularly and noisily jog through the streets of Hong Kong.

Then about six years ago at a party in Tokyo, I learned that the Hash was for real when I met a British insurance executive who described himself as the head of the Tokyo Hash. It wasn't long before I had joined what could be the fastest-growing "club" of the 1980s.

With close to 750 loosely organized chapters (including 90 in the U.S.) spread throughout more than 100 countries, the Hash is dedicated to weekly noncompetitive runs, beer-drinking, and irreverence. A very informal group that welcomes visitors, the Hash can be a great antidote to loneliness when you're in a strange city. It's an easy way to meet new people in your own bailiwick, too. I have even found it valuable for making business contacts since it attracts the likes of stockbrokers, diplomats, and lawyers -- men and women in their mid-20s to mid-60s.

The Hash was founded in 1938 in Kuala Lumpur by a grab bag of bored expatriates whose favorite hangout was a restaurant affectionately called the Hash House. Hashing itself is based on the old English game of Hare and Hounds. Two hares mark the trail in advance with flour, chalk, or shredded paper. To slow down the fast runners and give the laggards a chance to catch up, the hares set lots of checkpoints, false trails, and loops. When the hounds are sure they're on the right trail, they yell, "On! On!" and the Hash Horn toots his bugle.

A well-set run covers about five miles in unfamiliar territory, lasts about an hour, and gets the entire pack to the "On, In" -- the destination, usually a bar or park -- at the same time. So at an average of 12 minutes a mile even a barely fit jogger can make it. Waiting at the On In are plenty of cold beer and ribald songs.

Hashing was interrupted by World War II while it was still confined to Malaysia. But it was revived in the 1950s and by 1962 the pastime had reached Singapore. It slowly spread to other Asian communities, with Western expatriates taking the activity home with them -- and to subsequent postings. Last July more than 2,500 Hashers flocked to Bali for the biannual Interhash.

GUYS AND GALS. Once stag, most hash groups are now coed, an some are organized by women. A typical weekly run ranges in turnout from as few as a dozen runners to 80 or so. Depending on the location and the season, the run could be on a weekday evening or a weekend. Expect to pay a flat $5 to $8 for refreshments.


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