The Rangoon Hash House Harriers (RH3) later to become the Yangon Hash House Harriers (YH3), first started running on Monday, 23rd June 1980. Andrew Engel, a diplomat with the Australian Embassy, has always been credited with being its Founding Father because his name appeared on the notice advertising the first run (that we think started from his house) but, in true Hash fashion, when he was contacted some years ago his memories of instigating this historic event were decidedly hazy and he professed surprise at being given the credit.

bridges togetherHe wrote, “Dear Bob, My own recollections have grown somewhat dull by the passage of time and the passing of brain cells. Like the flash of a camera at night, I have some very clear memories, while other details have been lost completely. I cannot recall for example what triggered the formation, or exactly how I became involved. I had first run on the Vientiane Hash between 1970-72, than later in Manila 73-75. Perhaps that background had something to do with it, and we were a very tight expat community in those days in ‘Rangoon.’ I recall the pleasure of the runs, being young, the people, the damp tropical heat and paths/tracks winding through the stands of trees and the beautiful countryside.”

On the basis that he is recognised as its Founding Father, the Yangon Hash is the great grand-daughter of the original Kuala Lumpur H3 [1938] through Jakarta H3 [1971] and Manila H3 [1973] and was probably among the first 200 or so Hash clubs to be formed.

Another person who ran on Run 1, Geoff Percival, was also tracked down and his comments are interesting in that he may have a counter claim to being the founder of the Yangon Hash. He wrote: “Bob, Thanks for your email. It has brought back quite a few very happy memories, but unfortunately the memories are a bit vague. I used to have some copies of documentation from the early RH3days but, after a lot of searching over the last couple of days, I cannot find anything. I suspect they were tossed out during one of my many moves since then. All I have are a few vague memories, and a few, generally incomplete, diary notes. I know I was very much involved in starting up the RH3 in 1980. In fact (and now I am having some doubts after reading your email) I had always thought I was the first GM. I was definitely on the committee as I have a number of diary notes relating to organising hash committee meetings and attending them between June 1980 and June 1981. The diary also says that I wrote, or contributed to the writing of the ‘Hash Herald’ on some occasions. This would confirm that we had a newsletter with run write-ups, but I have no copies of any. I have a record of setting the run on several occasions, including runs on 29/9/1980, 2/3/1981 and 22/6/1981. From July 1981 until August 1982 when I left Burma, I only have records of attending the hash so I may not have been on the committee during that year – not sure.”

The first run was from Bawdigone Lane (now Bawdi Yeik Tha Rd.) when 17 Harriers commenced a run of approximately two miles at 5:30 p.m. The original signing-in book notes that the On On finished at 10 p.m. – a hint of the ratio of time spent drinking as opposed to running! The Hash fee was originally set at 20 Kyat per month and the runs were initially held every fortnight or so. The schedule was always somewhat flexible but the runs started to become increasingly irregular in the mid 1980s resulting in a hiatus between May ’86 and January ’87 when the Hash stopped running – presumably due to lack of interest. When the Hash was restarted, the runs were held at roughly monthly intervals until there was a second and somewhat longer hiatus with only one run being recorded between June ’87 and January ‘89. This long break coincided with the infamous 1988 student uprising at which time the political crisis in the country made Burma a somewhat dodgy place in which to live and go running. The emergency brought with it a ban on groups of five or more people meeting, plus a curfew and petrol rationing, which naturally made Hashing a bit difficult. When the Hash again reformed, it was renamed the Yangon Hash in accordance with the official name change of the city (in 1989 the Union of Burma became the Union of Myanmar and the official English names of various towns and cities also changed) and the runs were held at somewhat variable intervals but usually monthly. In these early days the Hash was very sociable and the On Ons often went on all night (usually at someone’s house because of the curfew that was then in force), a tradition we may want to revive – no not the curfew!

Run 191, held on 25th January 1992, marked the start of a regular weekly run and, in general, the weekly Hash has been sacrosanct ever since even if it was only around the decks of a riverboat one Boxing Day! There have been a few “special” runs which have boosted the official total (e.g. the infamous 9999 Run in September 1999, together with various Hangover Runs following major events such as the Mekong Indochina Hash or Outstation Runs). As an aside, the start of the regularly weekly Hash also marked the start of a tradition of meeting at the Sailing Club. Prior to that time the Hashers gathered at the starting point of the actual run, the location of which was usually advertised in advance. The meeting point was eventually moved to its current location on 3rd March 2012 on nearby University Avenue when various roadworks made the old location increasingly untenable.

After Run 402 in February 1996, the numbering of the runs became very confused in the records of the time and, in true Hash mismanagement fashion, we eventually ended up in June with four “missing” runs. However, many years later your Hash Historian, by careful sleuthing, established beyond doubt (well there is just a little bit of doubt) what the correct numbering sequence should have been. In the interests of historical accuracy a compensatory change in the numbering of the runs was therefore required. So Run 633 suddenly became Run 637. However the Hash Historian then realised he had, in fact, forgotten to count the special 9999 run and so the next Hash became Run 639 instead of Run 638.

The turnout on the various Hash runs has been highly variable over the years. However there are always more people than usual for “special” runs. The official verifiable record turnout for a “standard” Yangon Hash stands at 103! The occasion was Run 221, held on 22nd August 1992 and the reason for the exceptional crowd was that many of the “Oilfield Trash” were leaving town because almost all the oil companies had decided to pull out. As the oil companies were major sponsors of the Hash at that time, and as Unocal were sponsoring this particular Hash with free beer and food at the Hash Bash, and as there was a free T shirt being given out, lots of freeloaders people turned up. This record was beaten by the 106 Hashers who attended Run 1175 but around 40 of them were from a visiting Hash that was “on tour.” The second Red Dress Run (Run 928) held in February 2006 was bigger still, having been attended by 120 people, many of whom were not Hashers but who enjoyed dressing up in women’s clothing. However, the two Mekong/Indochina Hashes held in November 2003 and November 2009 were by far the biggest events the YH3 has ever hosted. We had approximately 175 and 250 Hashers respectively at the two events, most of whom were visitors from overseas, and three separate running trails were provided on each occasion. In the recent past, other “special” events such as the centenary runs starting with the 600th, 700th, … , 1000th, etc., and various birthday Hashes, commencing with the 20th were celebrated with good turnouts of 75 or more, often helped by the addition of many overseas visitors. We also got some large local crowds for other specials such as the 666, 777 and 9999 Runs. In fact some Hashers only seem to show up for the “specials” when they know they can pick up yet another free T-shirt!

The average attendance has steadily grown in recent years and, from a base of around 20 Runners in the late nineties, numbers climbed into the 30s and 40s throughout the 2000s and, at the time of writing (September 2013), attendances at the Hash are now averaging over 50 per week.

The 9999 Run

The special 9999 Run was actually officially cancelled at the request of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) who were “concerned for the safety of the Hash” following a “collision” between the Hare, Bald Eagle Diver, and one of his military intelligence« (MI) “minders” while he was out reconnoitring the route one night. The GM received a phone call from MOFA on the following day and he was advised “for the purposes of his continued good health” not to run. In view of the concerns of our host nation we thought it would be polite to accommodate their request! As a result there was no run and the unofficial city wide “curfew” that was in place at the time was not threatened but several bars including The Jack Of ClubsThe Palace and Paddy’sbenefited hugely from the largesse of the frustrated YH3 and Full Moon Hashers and so 9th September ‘99 turned out to be an inauspicious day for some. The sensitivity of the authorities was due entirely to numerology since the 8th of the 8th ’88 (8888) was associated with the uprising led by the students and the 9th of the 9th ’99 was considered a potential flash point.

Although Bald Eagle Diver, as a result of his “contacts” with government security representatives, ensured that the 9999 run was cancelled, a special post-9999 run was held in order that the Hash didn’t miss out on the opportunity to accumulate the celebratory T-shirt. The 19th of the 9th ’99 seemed as close to an auspicious date as we could get and a joint YH3 and Yangon Full Moon Hash was eventually held in the environs of the Tiger beer factory. However the revealing of the celebratory T-shirt and the subsequent group photos did cause a bit of a  panic amongst the factory hierarchy.

Note: «MI was a routine presence at almost all Hashes of this era. What made this case somewhat ironic was that B.E.D. was a defence attaché at the US Embassy!

You can see what The Myanmar Times said about our 30th anniversary Hash here (21 June 2010).

– BoBo