At the “Red Dress Run” for charity, male and female members “honor” a woman in San Francisco who wore a red dress to a HHH event years ago, not realizing it was a running club. Here, members are pictured in the charity run in front of the Forbidden City in Beijing.

[Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]

The expansion of the Internet has made it so much easier in modern society to find people who share the same interests, spanning from the eccentric to the mundane. Whether it’s knitting or skydiving-or perhaps running and drinking beer-the Web can unite people who are like you.

CRI Reporter Andrea Hunt has more:

The Beijing Hash House Harriers club embraces a world where, rain or shine, runners who also appreciate drinking beer can explore China’s capital and create their own ideal social event with like-minded people.

It may sound a bit quirky since during the week, these people are Chinese and expat consultants, teachers, writers, bankers, students and the like. But on the weekend or during the full moon, these people can finally enjoy burning off calories then quickly replacing them with beer guzzling in the company of friends.

Andres Vargas is marketing and communication specialist from Colombia who has enjoyed the experience since he first ran in 2004, when he was living in Turkey.

In Beijing, he is now the GM of the “Full Moon Hash,” which meets every month at night, and unlike other runs, which are marked beforehand, this one is “live,” or improvised along the way.

Vargas explains why he loves being part of a running group like this.

“It’s a perfect way of meeting people, it’s incredible, and I can say that my best friends here in Beijing are “hashers,” it’s like a kind of family. It has been like that wherever I go; for example, some time ago I went to Thailand I didn’t know anybody. I went to the Hash there I contacted some people, friends that I didn’t know before. It works as a networking group you can find people where you can do business, it’s not only about the fun or the running or the beer. “

Bystanders in Beijing may be surprised to see a group of runners pausing for a moment to chug a beer before searching for the next trail marker made of flour or scribbled chalk lines. The runners follow the “hare,” or the person who planned the event and marked the trail. The runs range anywhere from 5 to 18 km.

The Beijing HHH groups are part of the “Hash House Harriers,” a worldwide, self-proclaimed “drinking club with a running problem.” Their Web site informs those of us confused by the name that a “hash house” refers to a cheap place to eat and a “harrier” is a runner on a cross country team.

In their words, “hashing is a form of non-competitive cross-country running with the main objective of working up a decent thirst.” In addition, they want to improve the fitness of their members and give them a chance to run off weekend hangovers.

The idea started in 1938 with a group of expat running enthusiasts sprinting to a club in Kuala Lumpur called the “Hash House.” Seventy years later, this quirky tradition has spread globally to major cities in more than 160 countries worldwide.

George Cuzzocrea works for a private banking services company in Beijing and describes himself as a “keep fit fanatic” who has been running since he was a kid.

He had never heard of the Hash House Harriers until coming to China, when his boss took him to the 500th run in Shanghai, a three-day event with hundreds of people eating, drinking and running.

Since then, Cuzzocrea has attended Hash House Harrier runs all over the world, but he notes that each one is different.

“The Cyprus one I would say is more of a family type hash with small children, it’s more family orientated. The Hash in Borneo, I think that’s really for serious runners because most of it, it’s running in jungle. If I look at Shanghai compared to Beijing, I think Shanghai is more competitive; the Beijing Hash is all about the social run. At the end of the day, it’s all about running; it’s all about having a few drinks, food and just generally enjoying yourself.”

Yvonne Wei is originally from Taiwan and has worked in Beijing for five years doing finance. Though there are other running clubs, she says this one was a better fit for her.

“Most of the running clubs that I know are more competitive, they are training together to improve their time, maybe for a marathon and sometimes they even have maybe a sports company sponsoring them. This one, I think it’s more sociable than training for a run, although we do have serious runners in our club as well.”

Sometimes the “hares” plan holiday runs or camping trips, or a weekend trip to Beidaihe Island, where members can run on the beach.

Moreover, the group does a variety of charity events to raise money for a number of causes, Mr. Vargas explains.

“It’s not only about having fun, it’s also about having some social responsibility. We try to do it as much as can, the ‘Red Dress Run’ is one of them, sometimes at Christmas we collect some money or presents for children.”

The “Red Dress Run” is one of the charity events done internationally every year. Apparently, it started in San Francisco, when a woman wore a red dress and high heels, not realizing it was a running event.

To honor this embarrassing error, both men and women participate in a local once-a-year charity event in which everyone does the run wearing a red dress.

In addition to the charity events and social benefits, George explains his favorite part of having the HHH club in Beijing.

“Obviously, we’re running in the capital of China. One of the good things about the Hash especially when you’re running in town is that you get to see the places that you probably wouldn’t get to see. I’ve been hashing now in Beijing for 7 years and I’ve seen the transformation of the city, for me the best part of the Hash is seeing Beijing.”

The Beijing hashers’ advise newcomers to show up and get ready to not only meet new people and explore a new side of Beijing, but also approach running in a whole new light.

For CRI, I’m Andrea Hunt.

Beijing Hash House Harriers run in the hills of Beijing. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]