I have been on a rigorous training programme. My wife has been most tolerant in teaching me the basics of mah jong and I am now able to play a basic round without embarrassing myself too much. I still seung at the wrong time occasionally, forgetting I can not pick up anybody’s discard but only the player immediately preceding me. Quite different from the pung. I am also learning when to get rid of my wind as quickly as possible and why it is sensible to hang on to my fat choi as long as possible. Gong Hei!!
On Saturday we passed what must be the world’s smallest shop or certainly the smallest mah jong shop. Here it is almost in its entirety.
It is called Wing Shing Cheung. It is a small corridor shop about 4′ wide and the only bit you don’t see is the display cabinet fronting the road. As a Westerner I suppose it is natural that I hanker after old things. I like books that have been read, cared for, even bearing annotations. I like furniture that shows its age gracefully, rich of grain and hoarding memories of times gone by. The Chinese on the other hand do not like antiques. I generalize of course but my wife confirms that they are treated with suspicion. She does not like them in the house. I am the only exception. You never know if the previous owner had bad luck that could be passed on through that wonderful cabinet you have bought. Ghosts may still drift around it and spook the new owner. So the Chinese buy new, plastic mah jong sets whilst the Westerners seek out old bone or even ivory sets. I bought an old bone set in Hanoi. I had to give it away. It sat in my office for several years but when I vacated the room last week it was despatched to a new home, strangely enough, that of a Chinese friend. So the exception proves the rule.
I do however find it amazing that in a city like Hong Kong, that considers anything over 50 years old unworthy of preservation, fit only for demolition and redevelopment, such a shop can survive and hopefully prosper. I hope it continues to do so but if it sells primarily plastic mah jong sets I fear the market may not be deep enough. Where is the replacement market, the built-in obsolescence? Where is the emotional pull to possess a thing of beauty……. in plastic? How many plastic sets do you need let alone want? Can they be collectible like the old bakelite wireless sets? Perhaps. It seems unlikely though.
At least for now the playing population of Hong Kong has risen by one. The question remains when my coach will allow me to venture out into the real world of competitive mah jong. For now I remain confined to the kindergarten table for learners. And if I don’t win I shall throw my tiles across the room, stamp my foot and scream. Only an ice cream will calm me down. Haagen Dazs of course so I can share it with Lulu. She will eat nothing less.