A few years ago, if you'd suggested I'd be sitting in an unheated bus station (at 15 degrees Fahrenheit) in a city I'd never heard of before-- in Korea-- at 9 p.m. on Christmas night, I'd have thought you delusional. Nor did I, oddly enough, envision running across a horserace track-- in my boxers-- at an equivalent temperature the next day.
But, in fact, I did both.
Actually, I guess that would have been an odd opening paragraph if I hadn't.
Christmas is hard far from home, with just a cat-- who speaks only Korean-- as company. So I jumped at the chance to join the Yongsan Kimchi (my group) hashers down in the city of Songtan, 45 minutes south of Seoul, on Christmas. I took the bus down and shivered my way to the Osan Bulgogi hashers' home bar, just around the corner from the US's Osan Air Force base.
After a long time of milling and mingling and chilling and jingling, the hash started. It was soooo cold, but the hares laid a great trail, through the city and up and down a trail on the mountain as the lightest of flurries started, and we all got back safely and happily.
Then the festivities began, amid the twinkling lights and Christmas music. We had the usual postrun circle, though people tried to clean up their comments and song lyrics because one of the hashers had brought his son and daughter. And finally it was time for the pot luck, with draft beer and turkey and ham (though not for me) and fresh fruit salad (I cut it myself!) and cookies and apple pie and pumpkin pie and pecan pie. It felt like being rushed by the august fraternities, Eata Bita Pi and Tappa Kegga Brew.
Apparently the festivities went on long into the night, starting with beer pong and ending with people sleeping on other people's floors, but at about 8:00 I made the cold walk back to the bus station and waited for the penultimate bus back to Seoul.
The next day was Boxing Day, so the Southside hashers sent directions to wear boxer shorts on their run. So we did, over our tights and sweatpants. We met at the deserted Seoul Racecourse Park, just a few miles from my apartment. The windchill, I think, must have been in the single digits. That's actually plenty warm enough when you're running, but the gathering time and the circle afterward, in the light flurries... well, we took turns sitting in somebody's heated car.
Southside has the reputation of being more hardcore than my home group, Yongsan. And this trail was laid by Mr. Blister and Soju Sonata, who are a) active-duty military and b) insane. Their trail led us through a lot of shiggy (hash talk for hills, brambles, thorns, fences, some with wire of the barbed variety) and across both sides of the actual racetrack, which I had never known consists of thick soft sand... I really would have hated to be arrested in my underwear, by the way.) Then it was up the mountain and over, sliding down parts of the slope on my boxer-clad butt on a carpet of dead leaves...
For the second half of the trail, I kept company, far behind the pack, with LesBalls (a female South African friend) and Cooper.