Phnom Penh Hash House Harriers

We meet at the train station every Sunday at 2:15pm sharp. Foreigners pay $5, Cambodians pay $2. We hop in the back of a truck and stand shoulder to shoulder like cattle, chomping at the bit. Twenty minutes later, we are out of the city, surrounded by greenery and barefoot shirtless kids with tattered shorts shouting, “Hello!” I cannot tell you how good it feels to breath air untainted by exhaust fumes from thousands of two-stroke moto engines. We catch our breath, hop out of the truck and start to run. We look for spray-painted white dots on the trail–three dots in a row means you’re going the right way. A circle means you need to check several different possible paths to try to find the right one. An X means you’re going the wrong way. We look for the dots, and when we see the first we shout, “On, 1!” all the way down the line, fastest to slowest runners. “On 2!” Our cadence quickens, then comes the third dot which prompts, “On, on!” We continue down dirt trails carved by bicycles and ox-carts. We run through a grassy field littered with trash, hop over a fence, tiptoe over a makeshift bridge. Kids in the village run after us. I get a young girl to run with me for a few hundred meters. I tell her it will make her stronger; it will. We have to stop a few times as the path is full of wide-eyed cows. They have never seen a herd of humans like this before. My foot strikes the ground and I am ankle-deep in warm and sticky, but choose not to look down. We cross through a rice field, loop through another village. Even on foot the potholes in the road prove problematic, and we tread carefully for fear of twisting an ankle. I think I’ve seen about ten X’s already. Since I am the newbie, the others make me check the least possible paths. We are surrounded by green rice fields lined by coconut and banana trees. After the run is over in 10K or so, we gather around with beers in hand. I get called out for being from Idaho, and for talking about running too much on the run. We sing some Hasher songs, we yell, we laugh. We are the Hash House Harriers. I first joined the international organization in Boise, Idaho, and now, on the other side of the world, I have a new crew to run with.

Running is all I seem to be doing here, and not just literally. City life is fast-paced and it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve started to actually gain consciousness about being here. Yesterday, walking back from the market with my 10-year-old neighbor boy, Jem, eggs and milk in hand, I had a strange sort of an epiphany. I looked around at the colorful, French-style buildings, the street food carts, the road full of motorbikes. I am in Cambodia. It’s something I often forget with all of the day-to-day tasks and events. Time goes by too quickly here in the city.

For example, my week also included 40+ hours of work, an intensive karaoke session with co-workers, Khmer lessons, dinner and lunch meetings, movie-watching, used book shopping and reading, a morning run with friends around the city, and a couple of concerts. I started personal training my friend Liza and she’s giving me guitar lessons in exchange. I gave a presentation to 100+ people on the X-Men and import taxes at an event called Nerd Night, with 20 slides at 20 seconds each (it was super nerdy). I had an interesting run-in with the Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister’s son–the two of them just opened a ridiculously fancy club. Last night, while having chicken wings and Anchor at a street restaurant, some friends and I witnessed an electrical fire; everyone gathered around to watch the action as the street filled with smoke and three Khmer dudes went at it with three fire extinguishers. Things happen often, which makes life go by quickly.

It’s a lot of running. But hopefully I’ll keep finding short, simple moments of consciousness to fully appreciate my existence here. I think I’m most aware when I share special moments with others, like Jem. We walked to the market together and had just finished eating coconut rice cakes. There was a pause in our conversation as we walked back home and he looked up at me, so much depth in his eyes, a wrinkle of concern between his brows, “Sok sabay?” (“Are you happy?”) That’s when I looked around and noticed my surroundings as if for the first time. “Sabay,” I said, “sabay. Ah-koon, Jem.” (“Thank you.”)