Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster

After Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai we headed into Bangok. The taxi driver who'd driven us out, whiny kids, cranky parents and all, insisted that he would like to bring us back. Why I am not sure, but he quoted a fair price so we went with him.

It's been so long since I've posted about running that I'm having withdrawal symptoms, and I do have a story abour running, which happened, yes: one night in Bangkok. Indulge me, won't you?

Much appreciated, my friend.

Sooooo, I was worried that my running would suffer from being on vacation.

And it did. Training went totally out the window.

I was also nervous about running in a strange country, about getting lost (and not speaking the language), about getting run over (a very valid concern, noting how often Thai drive on the shoulder of the roads and on the left side to boot), and so forth.

All this said, I really wanted to get at least one run in, for crying out loud, so I surfed the web to see if there were any groups whose weekly runs fit with our travel schedule. I have found that running is an amazing way to see places up close and personal, without the distance you get from being inside a car, or with a guide.

I found a run on a Wednesday night. A hash run with the Bangkok Harriettes.

What is a hash run, you ask?

This is a good question. I wasn't really sure, but I was about to find out.

Hashers are "drinkers with a running problem." There are hash groups worldwide. Harriettes are the feminine version, and the hash I was going to was a "mixed" hash run: men and women. The point is a social run followed by, well, yes, social drinking. For folks of all abilities. This counts for the running part of the equation too.

The idea of drinking after a run wasn't that all appealing, to be honest. Don't get me wrong...I like to earn my beers, and they are truly enhanced by hiking or mowing the lawn on a hot day, but after a run I want water.

And, OK, I admit it. I'm not much of a drinker.

I figured I could maybe nurse one beer and nobody would really notice, right?

An email, a phone call, and I was all set with directions to the start of the hash run. Mike indulgently sent me out to meet my fate. From the hotel I would need to take one boat, two trains, and finally a 15 minute walk. In a new and strange city. Sure, I could do that.

This is what I was telling myself.

The boat was easy enough, down the Chao Phraya River to the Skytrain crossing, which we could see from our hotel window.

On the Skytrain I was shaking like a nervous horse. I was that worried about messing it up and getting lost, and couldn't even fool myself into thinking otherwise. Pathetic but true. Honestly, some world traveller I am. On the train at Saphan Taksin station, past Surasek, Chong Nonsi, Sala Daeng, and Ratchadamri, switching trains and getting on a different line at Siam Chit that was going towards On Nut station, through Lom Phloen and Chit, then off at Nana station.

Thank goodness the station names were written in English as well as in Thai letters. I doubt I would ever have been able to sort the letters out in time and then I would be going off my nut instead of toward On Nut, which, considering the thought process that went into deciding to go out and do this run in the first place...yeah.

Once off the train I floundered around trying to find the correct street, finally got my bearings and set out on foot. The streets were narrow, full of motorbikes, with tons of places obviously catering to Western tourists looking for nightlife. Nothing too crazy, but that's how it was.

Worried about going the wrong direction, I couldn't have been more relieved than when I finally came upon men in running gear hauling boxes of beer. Obviously I was in the right place. I introduced myself to many a chuckle of "Ho HO! A virgin!"

It didn't stop there.

The runners were greeting each other by their "hash names," rather than those ones their mummies and daddies gave them when they were sweet little babies. These names were, by design, of sexual inuuendo and gleefully immature. Very Austin Powers.

This was becoming interesting.

The Grand Mistress, Hash name "No Meat" (one of the more publishable monikers of the evening, though none were truly obscene, to give them credit) greeted me and asked if I knew what I was doing. I confessed total ignorance, to which she laughed loudly and said none of them did either.

She ruled the members with an iron fist, roughly demanding "skid marks" (payment for the run) and giving each member a good tongue lashing, saving the primest tidbits for her husband, which he accepted and gave back with alacrity. Obviously verbal abuse was the name of the game, though with much laughter on both sides.

The whole thing was reminiscent of playing pirate.

When the run started I immediately began to ingratiate myself with as many of my fellow runners as possible in a ploy to not get left behind or lost. They were all perfectly nice people, curious about where I was from and was this really my first hash run and what was Dubai like and so forth.

I could also tell I could keep up just fine with the group, which was a real relief. It was more humid than our Dubai winters, but I'm well used to running in thick air, and settled in for a good run through the streets and palm trees.

We were to follow chalk arrows and also "tape", scattered bits of white shreds on the ground like this:

The Hashers and Hashettes showed the standard, but what I have always thought to be a foolish, penchant for running with less concern for the traffic than I feel large vehicles in motion deserve. Runner vs car = car wins, in my book. I was also a little taken back by the total disregard for the police officers gesturing runners to stop at crossings. The runners just went around them like they weren't even there.

I kept my head down and followed, feeling I'd broken the law, and paid attention to not looking the wrong way for vehicles as they were coming from the right instead of the left, a sharp lookout for stray dogs, and, most importantly, keeping up with the guy in front of me.

The route took us along a murky river, through poor neighborhoods with the locals out cooking on their doorsteps, working on their motorbikes, smoking and watching us go by with the bemusement, and sometimes pity, I often see as a runner from non-runners.

I loved that we were running though neighborhoods I would never have gotten to see had I stuck to the tourist areas, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The locals were exceedingly helpful in pointing out which way those before us had gone, and through some shook their heads, they also, like all Thai, smiled at us.

The Thai whose soccer game we ran through were, perhaps, not so welcoming. I ran next to the stands, but some of the hashers ran right across the field, and there was some shouting from the spectators and players, though no one tried to stop the runners. Insanity.

On on, as the hashers say, we ran up a series of stairs and over bridges, the sun setting over the city. Someone had kicked a goodly amount of the white tape down some stairs as a false trail and one of the fast runners followed it, and I followed him. Then I followed him back up the stairs while he demonstrated his swearing talents, which were impressive.

Finally we were back near the Skytrain and town area. Avoiding the motorbikes was becoming a real game of Frogger, but we all made it back to the start. I chugged a water and was slapped on the back for holding up well. A few folks jumped into the pool.

The beer drinking started in earnest, Heineken, Tiger or Chang poured into plastic cups. Another water for me. It was dark now, and eventually the group assembled for the traditional Hash Circle and singing. I was given a beer and began to drink it in tiny sips.

I was starting to catch on to some of the vernacular, (the runners are "hounds" and the group is known as a "kennel", for instance) and understood that basically these were sound folks letting it all hang out while going running in an attempt to balance out their drinking. As the running bit is already, admittedly, an insane practice, it all fit in a tweaky, goofy sort of way.

Sarah, (the only other American there) who had given me directions to the run, and had laid the trail for us to follow, (therefore referred to as the "hare") implored the runners to keep the volume to managable levels as the nearby neighbors have children. She was already shiny-cheeked and having a good time. I'm pretty sure the Hashers did their best but didn't really succeed in being quiet enough by any stretch of the imagination.

The Circle worked like this: a person or persons was called into the center for songs, down-downs, and accusations. The singing of hash songs was led by a runner with a great baritone voice, sung in the "I'm in the shower and no one can hear me" style. It was getting downright silly and vulgar in the way that only the British have mastered, and both increased exponentially with time and alcohol consumed.

If one was called into the circle you had to chug your beer before the song, sung with much vigor, was finished and then turn it upside down over your head to prove it was empty or wear the consequences.

As a first-timer "virgin" I was in the circle pretty darned quick. I had to say how I felt about the proceedings and had my answer all ready: "I'll never forget my first time!" I averred. This went over well, but then, oh criminey, I was required to slam down not only the beer I had intended as a shield to last the entire evening but also the other one I was handed.

Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Then I was back in the circle to explain how I could be a virgin and be the mother of two. I was in serious danger of getting the hash name "Immaculate Conception". Another beer, chugalug, and cup clapped atop my head. Then another in my hand as I left the see how this was going. All intentions of being healthy and sober slipped away, which is fitting, considering it was Bangkok. It also seemed like my glass was magically refilling, though I thought I was doing a good job of emptying it.

At one point I was called into the circle again, this time nominated for "Tit of the Week". My crime was being "The lady from Dubai," where, an Irishman accused, "all our financial troubles have originated". Not having kept up with the news, (hey, we were on vacation!) I was blissfully ignorant of the Dubai debt woes hitting the newstands all over the world that week, and probably looked like a idiot, but also fit in nicely.

The Grand Mistress quietly assured me in my ear that it was just a nomination. This did not reassure me in the least, but it was meant well.

Two others were nominated, and fortunately another was chosen for the honor. I say "forunately" because the man upon whom the title was bestowed had to strip down to his skivvies and don a pink underwire bra and sarong. I get the feeling that his six-pack stomach muscles sealed the deal in that case.

In and out of conversations with all sorts of different people, I was told in hushed tones that this group was actually quite a conservative one. I must have looked disbelieving, particularly in light of Sarah in the circle down on her knees, hands behind her back, picking up a beer with her teeth that she then drank; punishment for a drummed-up charge. Oh, no, they said, this is nothing. There are hash groups in Dubai, you should check them out!

Hashing in an Islamic country? Were they serious?!

Sarah and Natalie

I decided than and there that while hashing is interesting, I could entirely see the appeal, that these were good people and I'm glad I went, it's not really for me.

All in all the drinking took approximately twice as long as the running had and many of the runners were looking markedly glazed by this point. The hilarity factor was at a high, and it was decided that the group should continue the party at a local pizza parlor. I felt that this would be a good time to excuse myself and go back to the hotel where Mike was devotedly watching our kids while I was out, no longer running but boozing. Not deliberately, but still. Guilt reared its ugly but inevitable head and I said my goodbyes as the group peeled off to the restaurant and I continued on to the Skytrain.

I have to say, having those beers after a run made all my aches and pains disappear. Knees? What knees? Suddenly running was so fun! I was running, effortlessly, all the way back to the train, up 6 flights of stairs, and on.

I highly recommend feeling that good, if not, perhaps, the method by which it was acquired.

On the train I tried to keep my arms tightly down at my sides so as to not stink out my fellow passengers. They, being Thai, neither stared nor frowned at the odd American in shorts and soaked shirt, but sat politely. I concentrated on breathing through my nose. Watching the stations, I made it back through both trains and to the boat with no problem at all.

Which, considering that, like I said, I'm not much of a drinker and was probably totally sloshed, was a pretty good trick.

Boarding the hotel's courtesy boat, I plopped myself sloppily down onto the luxurious leather seats and watched the river go by. The conductor took one look and fetched me a water. Oh, those easy courtesies of well-trained hotel staff. I do love them so. He also offered to take my photograph:

Which pretty much summed up the entire night. I felt I had gone out, conquered some fears, dealt with the unknown, and come home relatively unscathed. I was pretty darned proud of myself. But then, perhaps that was the beer talking. A real Bangkok-esque experience for me.

And on that note, enjoy your New Year's Eve, and cheers to you for 2010!


Cindy Napier said...

What an experience! I can't believe you did that by yourself, but how fun!

BTW- Love your t-shirt! :)

Cathy O. said...

What a great account of your hash! :-) And that really is one swell shirt you're sporting. Someone really cool probably got that for you....

Cathy O. said...

Oh and yes, they do hash in Dubai. I found them when I did running in Dubai research before we moved. DRR was much more my speed. :-) (coed) (men only)

Anonymous said...

Brave , brave of you!
Always get more if you put yourself out there!
Have a good year!!

Mom2ABJ said...

wow! i doubt hashing is often listed as a tourist activity ... good for you and better for us to get to read about it!

*Paula* said...

LOL - that is quite the story Natalie!! I love it! And I'd be petrified. :) Happy new Year to you and your crew. Oh and I have to tell you that my Dad was very curious about you because of your last comment on my blog about the Wren's Day!!

Julia said...

Ha ha ha, too funny! What a fabulous experience, and I'm so glad everything turned out alright; like not getting totally lost, or ending up with "Immaculate conception" as your nickname, although there are much worse...

dorothy said...

Love it Nat! Wonder if they have similar groups in Colorado? Might help me make friends?

Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

You really have to write a book about your experiences. I love the stories!
And the adventures you're having are so much fun to read!