Lost in Thailand, Joggers' Jamboree
I walk over to the petite bartender, her light brown cleavage revealed under a tight tank top, to find out more. She assures me that the poster has nothing to do with potatoes or marijuana—two food items that I have always been partial to. Instead, she says, "Man who stick poster drunk. He wear red dress and have sweaty long hair."
I laugh but skip the idea of a drink. Instead I head back home, keen to find out more about the InterHash 2006. After Googling the website, I am thrilled to discover that this coming weekend, coinciding with the Loi Kratong festival, some six thousand foreigners—hailing from Pakistan to Portugal, the U.S. to Uganda, from the Solomon Islands to Switzerland—are gathering together for a three-day joggers’ jamboree at the 700-Year Stadium on the outskirts of the city. However, these are not young, lean, athletic types, but ordinary men and women, shapely and obese, beer guzzlers and vegetarians, health freaks and party animals. With funky nicknames like Assholiness Delay Llama and Dumber than a Redneck, they sound like fun-loving folks. Apparently, as I find out from other website links, humor is their only rule. Mostly expats, they join local jogging clubs just to meet people to party with, before sweating off their hangovers the next day as they straggle along jungle trails and mountain paths. Every two years, they come together from all over the world for a shindig in some pre-chosen, unsuspecting city.
For the 2006 InterHash, the organizers are the Chiang Mai Hash House Harriers, led by a Thai “Hare” nicknamed Emelda, and they are going all out to show the world how to jog and party Thai style. The website boasts of jogging runs with spectacular views, followed by banquets of Thai food, Leo and Singha beer stands, bands playing at three different stages, and a Hash Bazaar where Thai souvenir vendors and Hash House Harriers clubs can sell their wares during the festivities.
My initial intrigue has now morphed into desire. My mind wanders. Wow. A hodge-podge of revelers from seventy-four countries. A multi-colored motley crew of crazy fun lovers. A potpourri of cultures and languages—all sashaying together at the very same stadium where I play tennis when the sun goes down.
I have to find a way to get in on the action, especially now. Three months ago, I published a travel memoir that highlights my expulsion from Uganda and my experiences as a political refugee on five different continents. The fact that some twenty plus East Africans will be present thrills me no end. My mind wanders further. This will be the perfect global bazaar for me—not only to promote cultural awareness through my book, but also to plunge into the multicultural throng of languages and cultures throughout three days. By night, I can swing to the bands with all the global folks, as kegs of alcohol flow.
Bring it On On. I soon learn the Hasher’s jargon that Emelda uses in her e-mail correspondence as she signs me up for a booth at the Hash Bazaar. My HHH nickname is to be “Chameleon Mojo” and my booth will be called "Global Crossroads."
Now that I am in, I figure I should read up on how the Hash HouseHarriers came about and how the movement reached such global proportions. Turns out that way back in 1938, over lunch at the Selangor Club Chambers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a British colonial called Gispert came up with the idea of a jogging club. It started as an officers-only club, but word got around and over the next two decades HHH chapters sprang up in various cities in Asia.
According to Stu Lloyd, author of Hare Of The Dog, a Harriers bible, the first ever InterHash took place in Kuala Lumpur in 1966, with twenty-four clubs showing up from Malaysia and Singapore to celebrate the one thousandth run. Over the next four decades, a total of seventeen hundred chapters had sprouted up in such far flung places as Antarctica, Papua New Guinea, and Oman. After the 1978 gathering in Hong Kong, InterHash became a bi-annual event that now attracts over six thousand revelers. At each gathering, after three days of noisy campaigning by various cities, all registered participants vote by secret ballot to decide where the next InterHash will be held, two years hence.
That Chiang Mai was chosen for the 2006 InterHash is a pure stroke of luck for me. I’m in the right place at the right time. I find out on their website that this year, the places competing for InterHash 2008 are Perth, Australia; the Genting Highlands and Penang in Malaysia; Mombasa, Kenya; Bali, Indonesia, and Singapore. All are exotic places where the beer is cheap and the weather ideal for skimpy clothing. Who will win this year?