Maybe. I had my first mahjong lesson yesterday. In China this is probably closer to the opium of the masses than religion. As I discovered doing a little pre-reading there are many varieties of mahjong. I was learning the Guangdong-style. It seems that whichever style you play all others are decidedly infra dig.
I had a very tolerant and patient sifu (my wife) and three equally patient opponents. Mahjong is often compared to rummy but I think bridge is more apposite. Except for the noise. I played a lot of bridge at university and none since. However the only noise I recall was the clinking of beer glasses and the bids. Noise seems to be integral to mahjong, whether it is the washing of the tiles (shuffling the pack), the clacking of tile on table or cries of ‘pung’ or ‘seung’. And if you win, “sik wu!”
My challenge is that the tiles have no western numbers added so when I look at the tiles, particularly the numbers, I first have to run my mental HP12C over them to work out exactly what I have. It is not yet fully embedded.
4, 7 and 8 I recognize so that leaves my brain in third gear running through 5, 6 and 9. Pardon me while I double-declutch. Mahjong is fast so this is ‘bad form’ in the sense that I am needlessly holding up the game.
The rest of the tiles look like this (again, source Wikipedia):
Now here is another glitch. None of the players knew what I meant by dragons, despite the fact that my pre-reading invariably referred to them as such. No. They are: hung jong, bak ban and fat choi. More Chinese to learn.
And the winds…. Westerners start at North and progress South, East West or if going round the compass, N, E, S, W. China is in the East so they think of winds in the sequence East, South, West, North or dung, nam, sai, bak. And many of these words have a glottal stop at the end so ‘bak’ sounds like ‘ba’ with the ‘k’ being swallowed. Are you still with me? Anyway, the challenge for me is to recognize the characters as they don’t have NSEW on the tiles as some sets have, designed I presume for export to the American market.
Well with a little coaching I managed to lose my first 4 games in a row. And then, miracle of miracles, I had this:
You will note, if even moderately observant, that not all the tiles are the right way up. Hey! I’m Welsh. What do you expect? I was thrilled. The adrenalin was jetting through me. They say that if a golf beginner ever lets rip with a driver and it sails imperially down the middle of the fairway he will be hooked for life. That was how my win felt. Well, perhaps a little more like smugness. I didn’t shout ‘fore’ for a start. And there was no tee cartwheeling backwards.
My fellow players paid up in bewilderment – some yellow plastic chips and a few red ones I think. No matchsticks.
And what occasion brought me to this rite of passage. A Chinese wedding banquet of course. Two hours mahjong before the ceremony, and an hour between the ceremony and the reception. And so, to satisfy my followers’ lust for photographs, I give you the Bride and Groom.
May all their troubles be little ones.
To be continued.