If you ask me why I spend every second Sunday afternoon running haphazardly through the island’s jungliest patches searching for pieces of toilet paper, the answer might not make much sense: “It’s the hash!”
Hashing – organised, non-competitive running in a social group – is muddy, sweaty and tiring, but I find that it’s great exercise for my children and it gives them a sense of their place in the great outdoors of mostly urban Singapore.
The Hash House Harriers has been around for decades (it is thought to have started in Malaysia in the 1930s) and Singapore’s “Horrors” is the junior version. Founded in 1982, it’s aimed at children up to 12. Many start at birth: take a look around any hash and you’ll see plenty of babes in carriers giving their parents backaches as they scramble to keep up with other runners.
A hash starts at a pre-arranged meeting point – typically a car park in a quiet area, or at the edge of a green zone. The “Hares”, or run organisers, set a trail in advance using toilet paper, flour and chalk to mark the way and provide direction. It’s these signals that the children search for – and the cry of “on, on” rings out to let followers know that the trail is good.
Older children run, but the smaller ones tend to walk at their own pace. It sounds easy, but it’s not. Occasionally the trail is false (this is known as a “T-check”) and you must double back, scout for new signals and find the trail again. Dead ends and false trails slow down the faster runners and allow stragglers to catch up.
I follow my five- and seven-year-olds as they scramble over logs and rocks, across watercourses, up rocky slopes and down inclines. Every hash is different and some are more difficult than others. Rain presents its own challenges and the heat rarely lets up.
After about an hour, and usually very red-faced, we find our way back to our starting point for a cool drink and a rest. Dinner is catered for the children; they tuck into lasagne followed by an ice cream. A dedicated man brings his “drinks van” to every run and supplies well-earned beers and soft drinks for the adults. The markers are cleaned up along with all the rubbish, so the hash has no environmental impact.
Not to be missed is the post-hash “circle”, where new guests are welcomed, milestones awarded (a 100-run veteran was recently awarded a medal) and “charges” for infringements dispensed. Short cuts are frowned upon; for these and other misdemeanours, the children have to enter the circle for a “down, down” (sculling orange cordial) to the tune of a well-practised song.
In Singapore, there’s a hash run for adults every night of the week; bike riders and dogs are catered for, too. I like to think that participating in the hash will lay the foundations for my children to develop a good sense of direction, learn to appreciate their surroundings, and just have a lot of fun in the great outdoors.
Hash House Horrors organises around 26 runs a year. Runs start at 4.30pm on alternate Sundays and guests are welcome. Check the website for location. The cost is $90 for two children per quarter.