It seems like half of Hong Kong has been chasing Pokémon over the past few weeks. But how about a good dose of reality instead? Strap on those running shoes, take to the hills and chase real symbols that have been created on a special trail by a ‘hare’. Welcome to the wonderful world of hashing – a pastime that’s been growing in Hong Kong in recent years.
Hashing began more than 80 years ago in colonial Malaysia. The original Hash House Harriers club – named after a local annex of a social club in 1930s Selangor – was founded by a group of British officers and expats as a way of running off the previous week’s excesses. The idea soon spread throughout Asia following the Second World War. However, it was when jogging and running became trendy during the 1970s that hashing grew into an accessible, inclusive and globally popular pastime.
On paper, it sounds like an odd activity. A bunch of friends get together as part of a Hash House Harriers ‘club’, which is usually abbreviated to names like H4 and RS2H3, and then take to the streets, the hills or the forests, following a special trail that has been laid out earlier by the aforementioned ‘hare’. The trail is marked out with regular chalk-drawn symbols, some straightforward to track and others serving as clues for the running ‘hounds’ to solve. The runners leg it around the course in teams and, when they reach the end, there’s one more convention – beer. And, often, lots of it. Every hash ends with participants regrouping for pints, drinking forfeits and dinner.
As such, hash houses have been described as ‘drinking clubs with a running problem’. And there are 12 groups in Hong Kong to add to the thousands of others around the world, each with its own distinctive culture and traditions. Hong Kong even has a unique hash that meets only when a T8 Typhoon signal is hoisted, so they just got back together a couple of weeks ago for the first time in a while. Visitors,too, are always welcome to turn up unannounced and there’s no better way to explore Hong Kong than joining in, following the trail, getting lost together and then finding your way again. So, we join seven of our city’s hashes in seven days so we can find a run that suits all tastes…