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Hash House Harriers turning Korea; 'On-On' to joys of running for beer  
Expats in Korea are often misunderstood. But a certain group deserves a closer examination; with bizarre chanting rituals, code names, a penchant for beer chugging and occasional debauchery, witness the "Hash House Harriers."

The 1938 charter of the Kuala Lumpur Hash House Harriers states its purposes: "To promote physical fitness among our members; to get rid of weekend hangovers; to acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer; to persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel."

Hashing in Korea started quietly in 1972, but in recent years has seen its membership continue to expand all over the peninsula. Hash House Harriers hate being called joggers and refer to themselves as "an international drinking club with a running problem." Other people, it must be noted, refer to them as odd types who like to run, sing, and chug beer.

What they do every weekend and holiday is not called a race, but a run or a "hash." Equipment is minimal: A pair of running shoes, five bucks for beer, and a temporary leave of the senses. Hashes range from three to four miles for a walking hash, and up to six or seven for a running hash. While there is no real winner, plenty of trash talking, tomfoolery and shenanigans abound before, during, and especially after the hash.

Loosely based on the old British game of "Hare and Hounds," one or more harriers (the hare) marks a trail with road chalk over a course of their choice, be it the big city, the forest, jungle, swamp -- pretty much anywhere. Antarctica, for example, has a [H3]. So does Seoul, one of the world's most populous cities. The other harriers (the hounds) then set off after the hare, trying to avoid false leads and catch the hare until the end of the hash, the "On-On!" where they sing songs, make fun of each other, and drink beer -- a big part of the hash in the past, but non-drinkers are now welcome, as it is more about camaraderie, good times, madness, and the feeling of belonging to a world-wide family.

Korea can thank pioneer [Ian Young], who started the Seoul HASH in 1972. [Rick Mendonsa is] the Religious Advisor to the "Yongsan Kimchi HASH," founder of the "DELTA HASH," and a member of the Seoul Full Moon and Mystery HASHes. The mixed Yongsan Kimchi [H3] with Grand Master "PMS" now at the helm, formed in 1987 and has evolved into the largest in Korea, with anywhere from 80 to 150 members gathering for a hash Saturday mornings and holidays. There are over a dozen "[H3]" groups in Korea, boasting hundreds of members and growing bigger every year.

The origin of hashing began with A.S. Gispert and a bunch of English blokes hanging out in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1938 who decided that an early morning jog would be the perfect way to sweat out their weekend hangovers. To engage their foggy brains they played the English schoolyard game of 'hare and hounds,' using scraps of paper to mark the trail. Tearing through the jungle, forest, across swamps, up hills, down ravines, and pretty much anywhere the hare could run proved to be thirsty work, so the lads would head to the Selangor Club (nicknamed the "Hash House" for the lousy food) and celebrate their good deed with a few pints of lager. Thus began a fine tradition, interrupted only briefly by World War II. But in 1962 a man named Ian Cumming restarted a group in Singapore, and soon the madness spread. There are now more than 1,500 hash clubs in well over 100 countries on every continent on Earth.

The Yongsan Kimchi Hash House Harriers have run 663 times, while the veteran Seoul Hash House Harriers, founded in 1972, have cracked the 1600 mark.

Bizarre put-down names are a must, and hashers may only use these names during the hash. "I think the attraction is the disorganization, the running, the camaraderie and the dirty songs with beer afterward," Kimchi runner "Ol' Faithful" says. With both a run and a walk available, anyone can hash.

"You'll see more of this country in a day on a hash than you would in a month. We've been all over Seoul and Korea, and every hash is a new adventure. Nobody knows the trail except the hare, so you have no idea what you'll see and experience," explains PMS. "As well, the weather can make a big difference for the hash, but we let nothing stop us, be it typhoon season, whatever. The [Seoul Southside] Hash ran on the coldest day in Korea since 1947, but I'm sure we'll top that."

Regular Hasher "Cheeri-Ho" points out, "Beyond the weather, the hare sets up false trails and fake loops to throw the pack off the scent. These can wind a half-mile off the real path, so even the FRB's (runners in front) don't really have an advantage over the [DFL's] (runners in back)." Seasoned hashers welcome a challenge - the more creative route, the better the Hash - and Korea's combination of parks and crowded streets let the imagination run riot.

"There was a Hash where the subway was part of the trail. In these cases, we have a 'dead hare' hand out tickets and tell us where to go," "What Au' Pair" says. "Then, of course, there is the 'Red Dress Run,' one of the world's largest cross-dressing spectacles, when both our male and female Hashers dress up in their finest red dresses."

Worldwide, Hashers tell tales of stumbling into armed guerrilla rebels in foreign jungles or being chased through the U.S. Library of Congress. Even their passionate singing has landed them in hot water.

"As you might imagine, especially on 'Red Dress, 'Halloween,' and 'Full Moon' Hashes, the sight of a hundred shouting, singing expats charging through the streets of Seoul gets some pretty strange looks," assures PMS with a touch of pride.

The run always ends with a "Down-Down" celebration at the "On-On!" apres-Hash bash. It could be at a park, a bar, or someone's house - anywhere a few brews (or soft drinks) can be consumed for an astounding and often nonsensical array of perceived infractions: Running too fast, running too slow, getting words wrong to a sacred song, a wrong turn, a right turn, you get the idea. This is where the five dollar fee comes in.

As with so many things, what was once an exclusively male arena has come to its senses and ushered in women, usually by a ratio of about three men to two women.

"Romance?" laughs Cheeri-Ho, "Yeah, there's a fair amount of that. There was a Hash wedding last summer. It's a great place to meet cool people."

At the end of the Hash, plug your ears and drink your beers, as it's time for the singing: solos, duets, and a capella renditions of each Hash's favorite drinking sing-a-longs. A sharp tongue and a quick wit make up for lack of vocal talent, so quaff another beer and join in the fun.

Hasher Web sites in Korea include,, and


By Bruce Dawson Staff reporter

This article appears on this site by permission of Mr. Bruce Dawson.
2001.11.23 - Original Article appeared at: