Monday, May 11, 2009

Kaohsiung Hash

Last night I did my first Kaohsiung hash. And no, I'm not talking about Marijuana.

Kaohsiung Hash is a group of people that have a hash race every week - sometimes in the city, sometimes in the country. Three "hares" go ahead of the group to marl out the trail by putting chalk lines or turn-arrows on the pavement every few blocks or so to keep everyone on the same track. The paths they choose are always creative and a surprise.

I ran the entire hour and a half, energized by the sights and smalls of Kaohsiung at night - and the charm of the three friendly and playful Taiwanese hash-women with whom I kept pace for a good part of the hash. The path twisted and turned, down alleyways, across big intersections, up and down stairs, over the footbridge above the trains, through parks, down lit up street markets full of shoppers, street vendors, chicken and pork-scented smoke, and diners enjoying their dinner fresh of the wok or still on the skewer.

It was thrilling. We dodged scooters, trucks and cars - usual city traffic. (You literally have to dodge sometimes; stop lights and traffic regulations are considered mere suggestions in Kaohsiung.) At one point, while we flew past a luminous baseball diamond, a feral dog (there are many here) lept from the shadows, barking and growling behind us. We ran faster then.

We passed by a whole community of dogs in one of the parks, where nine or so dogs stood barking at each other, at the air, at the night. An ode to the full moon. Other, human, revelers played their own music in the opposite end of the park. At least a dozen couples waltzed around one another to a portable stereo. "Oh yeah, they're always out here. You can always find people in the parks ballroom dancing at night," my fellow American hasher told me, almost bored. I had been talking about trying to find dancing in Kaohsiung all night, you know me, dance-obsessed. And that wasn't the only dancing going on, either. On a street corner bordering yet another city park, two Taiwanese boys practiced popping & locking, smooth slippery break-flowing to their boom box beats. I jog-danced past them, spinning in circles to show my appreciation. I would have stopped - God, I wanted to stop so badly - to play with them, but I thought I should finish the hash. My compatriot reassured me: "Anyway, you'll see people out here every night. Oh yeah, and the Taiwanese guys - they love to dance! In the clubs, too. More than the girls." (I will certainly investigate this claim, and I'll post my findings here when I do.) This comforted me somewhat. Plus, if I stopped anywhere along the trail that night I would have been utterly and irremediably lost.

I can't even describe how surreal it was at times when we would cut in and out of one city scene to the next, totally different one with almost no transition whatsoever except a thinly marked arrow. After we'd been running for an hour we started to spread out more and more. The path zigged and zagged around dark corners and especially narrow allies, and suddenly I found myself alone, pit-patting through an empty warehouse. It looked like it was probably the scene of a "wet market" by day (wet markets have mostly fresh produce, raw meats, fish, wet stuff...) I felt privileged to be alone in that space, unusually vacant and surprisingly peaceful - an unexpected but welcome respite from the incessant noise of city sound and crowds. To think: most people would only see that place during regular market hours, when it probably surges with people and their business; a thousand interactions happen a minute as people negotiate amounts, prices, their dinner, their livelihood, their way through the crowded aisles, a-buzz. And there I was, just me - and the soft rhythm of my footsteps.

I popped out of the warehouse and, just as abruptly as before - cut! - the scene changed again. I was in a dark little street where a stage was set up and a performance going on. About sixty people sat in an audience facing me as I emerged- I'm not joking! - and the stage was immediately to my right. I ran on through, the seated audience to my right, and others, standing, watching, on my left. Over the microphone I hear the loud and clear Chinese script, and as I ran past the stage I turned around and started running backwards so I could watch. There were two actors on the stage, both dressed in striking classical Chinese dress, one in blue, one in red. Their satiny robes glimmered in the spotlights. Their black quafts contrasted with their powder-white painted faces. They made wide, grand gestures, made even larger by the spiny extensions they wore on each fingernail - a uniquely Asian ornament.

I was all alone. All I could do was take it all in and watch. If someone else had been there I would have gasped something like, "Can you believe this! Isn't this amazing? Incredible?!" Or I would have just mouthed to them, "Oh my God" or "Holy shit" with my eyes wide open. Again I felt as though I wanted to stop, and stay, and absorb, and enjoy. How lucky was I! - to randomly enter such a special, secret show - probably somebody's birthday party in the neighborhood. I'll never know. I couldn't stop. So I kept running, mouth agape, bewildered, ecstatic, gitty - backwards - till I ran into a parked car...and had to face forwards again.

I don't know how much I'll end up participating in future hash races, not because I didn't thoroughly enjoy my experience, but because there is also a large drinking culture surrounding the hash. At the end they go through this big ceremony called "down downs," basically big frat-like drinking rituals with lots of call-and-response chants and name-calling. I drank water. And after your third hash they give you your special hash name, like "The Pickler," "Full-on-Felacio," or "Dick-a-licious," which are all examples of current hash members. I mean, maybe some people really like that aspect of the hash scene, (for instance, Dickalicious - flaming homosexual - told me just loves!! his name!) but I can't imagine liking a name they pick for me. It's not easy here to find a cool social scene that's not centered around drinking. People drink a lot here. Even immediately upon finishing a ninety-minute run. Don't they produce any endorphins?

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Yeah, that settles it. I'm coming to Taiwan. I'm just waiting to hear my parents' reactions when I tell them "I'm going for the hash"...