True to form it took me nearly three months before I got around to doing something that I had planned on doing the week we arrived. I went for a run. Not just any old run but a run with an expat running club. Joining the Phnom Penh Hash House Harriers on their weekly run definitely showed me something of rural Cambodia that I would have otherwise missed.
Come 2:15pm Sunday the tracksuit wearing exercisers congregate at the Phnom Penh train station. At first glace it looks like a club for nerds, misfits and middle aged blokes with no mates who, one afternoon per week, get together, assume imagined identities and escape reality. There certainly was a bit of that but there was also a whole lot more. A closer look revealed quite a diverse group of people: expats and locals, young and old, fit and bordering on obese.
With the beverages and booze loaded and we climbed into the back of a truck taxi and made our way out of the city. We pulled up at a quarry about 45 minutes out of the city. The crowd unloaded and split into those running those walking.
The running experience was like orienteering on heat, in heat. The Hare, (in our case, Blitzkrieg, one of those typically crazy yet likable Germans that are impossible to avoid no matter how far you travel) sets out first, marking the trial using various symbols spray painted on the ground or plants. Everybody else sets out in an attempt to follow as quickly as they can. This involves a lot of running, sweating, yelling, sweating, backtracking and sweating.
Participating in a Hash definitely provides an opportunity to see places you wouldn’t have otherwise seen. No just that but see them in a way you don’t normally see things when you travel, up close and through a haze of sweat and dirt. We ran through rice paddies, quarries, up and down jungle goat trails, past temples and through people’s houses. One of the highlights was seeing a Cambodian cocky’s gate: which amounted to nothing more than a pile of tree branches covering an opening in the hedge. Nowhere near as functional as the Australian version but built for at the same price.
Apparently there are Hash groups around the world. For some, it is more about the running, others, the drinking. It was made abundantly clear that the Phnom Penh Hash was a drinking club first, running club second.
Running through the Cambodian fields I kept wondering how it would go down in back home. A quick internet search upon my return revealed dozens of Hash clubs throughout Australia. I am still unsure how any self respecting farmer would tolerate forty headband wearing roosters running uninvited through his paddock or how well a catholic congregation would cope with the a church garden being filled with the distinctive print of a dozen Dunlop KT46s. The Cambodian locals definitely took it with good grace. Men, women and children all went out of their way to stop, stare then shake their heads at a bunch of weirdo’s sweating their rings out to run around in circles.
With the running concluded, it was time to wheel out an oversized novelty hat complete the nonsensical rituals. Songs, chants and ridicule were completed with an enthusiasm that wouldn’t be out of place at a frat party or a Masonic meeting. It was just like being back at uni, people standing in a circle making up absurd excuses (hash virginity, hash anniversary, extended absence, etc.) to make each another scull beers.
If you happen to be in Phnom Penh on Sunday with time up your sleeve, you really can’t afford not to. Five bucks gets you transport out to the run site and all the water, soft drink and beers you can drink. You certainly meet some interesting cats and see a different side of Cambodia.