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Materia-non-Medica - "Why I Run on the Hash"

Somewhere, somehow along the way, terms like "marathon", "zen" and "the hash" entered my education and became a part of my adopted vocabulary and limited world-view.

I have heard of the "hash" when I was in school – many years back recalled only remotely from a forgotten time in the distant past. I had conceived of the hash then as a bunch of unruly expatriate white-men, who spent time beating about the bush chasing a paper trial as an escape into a popular past-time during their work attachment and sojourn in a foreign (Asian) land. They also indulged in a lot of beer drinking as a reward, somewhat, after their paper chase.

I had also read, much later, an article with photographs in the "Asia Magazine", then given out with the Sunday weekend newspapers, about a hash event in Hong Kong where the hash ran through the lobby of a famous 5-star hotel, to the amazement of the locals and the annoyance of the stiff-lip crusted Britishers.

But my first solid encounter with the hash was a fateful Sunday fore-noon on 8 July 1984, when I dropped by the Laagar Lounge of the Temasek Club for a cold beer after a morning jog. There, perched on the bar stools, I met for the first time, the founders and stalwarts of the Seletar Hash – viz, SANDO, CHAMP, FER and DEEP SHIT (hash names are used only when amongst themselves), who had also gathered for a cold beer, but not after a run.

"You should try hashing," SANDO suggested, when he invited me to their weekly Tuesday runs. "There’s a nice reward, even if you don’t run. Most of us walk."

And so, I made my first run with Seletar Hash House Harriers, the following Tuesday on 10 July 1984 (Run No. 214) at Science Park Drive, set by DOC Cherian and DERBY. DOC Cherian was encouraging and prophetic when he said, "We see a lot of doctors come and go on the hash, but you will enjoy it."

It was particularly painful on the knees, up and down Kent Ridge Park, in my leather army boots. SANDO had advised me to wear shoes with studs (for the grassy slopes), and the only pair I had was those army boots with which I had completed my IPPT (individual physical performance test) in the army.

During the Circle gathering after the run, when announcements were made, the Grand Master Leon NUTS Lui stood on a box to gain attention, whilst I made my acquaintance with Raspal GUZZLER Singh, who had just returned from an inter-planetary journey to outer space. I was given a "down-down" (ie. quaff a glass of beer quickly whilst seated on a block of ice), and was signed up on the spot.

I set my first hash run on 25 September 1984 (Run No. 225), a day after my 50th birthday, and was assigned to a senior hasher William SAYETING Cheng, who was to be the next Grand Master. It was a long run – some 10 km – at the East Coast Parkway. The first runners in, at 7.30 pm (an hour and a half later, when runs should be between 45 minutes to an hour and a quarter), would have invited the "hashshit award" for a poorly set run, but for the exclusive, boutique designer T-shirt that was given out by myself, the hare – an orange all-cotton windcheater-cum-sweatshirt, that became a national emblem when it was worn by the Seletar delegation at the Interhash in Pattaya in the following year.

I have set a run every year, since joining Seletar, on or around my birthday, but every year, or very often so, I earned the hashshit. The verdict was always the same, as was with my run on 20 September 1994 (Run No. 769) when the Grand Master solemnly pronounced: "Too long for our youngsters – technical hashshit!"

But I have always enjoyed running with Seletar – bus runs, boat runs, trains, MRT tunnels – I’ve ran them all and, in so doing, I’ve come to see a lot more of rural Singapore that would otherwise have been inaccessible, and would have escaped me.

Seletar Hash has always done its bit for charity with our annual charity events. For a motley, unkempt, unruly, mob coming as most of us would be, from a lower income group, we could every year raise more money than the other social clubs that I also belong to, such as the Rotarians.

In 1984, Seletar Hash had targetted for its annual charity fund-raising, a run through the unopened MRT tunnel at Clementi Station. The MRT chain-gang, comprising Marcus RAINBOW Karakashian, John SLEEPY LOO Townsend (of Hotel New World collapse rescue fame), and Haydn Davis, were amongst our finest members and entertainers, and they were the engineers who dug the MRT tunnel. But their request for a MRT Tunnel run was turned down by the Chairman of MRT "for safety reasons." It soon became obvious why, when it was announced in the newspapers that the Prime Minister was going to open that segment of the tunnel. Charity would have been better served if we had stolen his thunder.

Undaunted, RAINBOW & Company laid on an overhead run across the still unfinished MRT lines at Yio Chu Kang. Them came Singapore’s National Day on Tuesday, 9 August 1988, when OPERA announced that the run site would be at Victoria Street.

A quick run about the Bugis Street junction before the transvestite parade hour, and the hash pack descended into the MRT tunnel at Bugis Station, which was still under construction. This train went through the 3 to 4 km of underground MRT tracks, following the trail which was well lit up with naked electric bulbs, to reveal the drainage holes under the rails and the ventilation shafts at the side of the tunnels. Truly, there was no way anyone could have ran through there.

Then, surfacing at the unfinished Kallang MRT Station and running by the side of the National Stadium, only to encounter President Wee Kim Wee, who was driving in with his presidential motor-cade for the ceremonial opening of the National Day Parade at the stadium. There were no accompanying security guards but the police outsiders were taken aback by 60 to 70 unkempt hashers emerging from an underground tunnel. Trust Karakashian, our Armenian mole, for this trick! We waved to the President and the President waved back to us, even before his motor-cade turned into the stadium, to the acknowledgement of the nation.

Have I made any overseas runs? I have, and I have always enjoyed my outstation runs with Sungei Ujong and Tanjong Putri (our brother clubs in Malaysia), at our annual rotating triangular runs, as well as on invitation runs in Malacca, Batu Pahat and Kulai. And I have run on the Central Coast in NSW, with LITTLE BROWNIE, whom I had introduced hashing to when he was in Singapore.

I’m a 100-percenter on Seletar Tuesdays, but I don’t care to run with or on the other days of the week in Singapore (there are hash runs everyday, organised by the other clubs, except on Thursdays and Saturdays). Come rain or shine, at 6.00 pm precisely, you’ll find me there.

Hashing reduces us to the basics, ie. no pretence. But make no mistake here – being a hasher is not a qualification. It’s a dis-qualification which I don’t dare to mention even to my closest friends, let alone my patients.

(PS. The hashers have their own glossary, which defies definition.)


Ophthalmologist in private practice