Printer Friendly

'Stuff the washing up - let's play Mah Jong'.

Byline: Hilarie Stelfox

THE rule book that came with our new Mah Jong set had, quite clearly, been translated directly from Chinese into Chinglish by someone who was not overly familiar with the nuances of the English language. But, having said that, they did a much better job than any of us could have done so it would be churlish to complain too much.

Suffice to say, on the first page there was reference to a 'green dragon' and the somewhat mystifying information: 'The word with the papentnesist is the romanized'.

"We can't play with these, said Firstborn, scurrying to the fount of all knowledge. "I'll get some rules off the internet." He returned some time later with a neatly typed sheet of Hong Kong rules, which are, apparently the most commonly followed.

At this point I should say that all members of the Stelfox family are avid game players with a strong competitive streak. We set about everything from darts and dominoes to Risk (the divisive world domination game) and cribbage, as if our lives depended on the outcome. I'm often heard to remark: "I don't know why I care so much," as I scrape my armies off the Risk board after a particularly vicious attack. "But I do."

Every Christmas and most birthdays we search for new games to do battle. This summer I dug out a Mah Jong set that Firstborn brought back from China last year.

For some reason I've always fancied learning Mah Jong (also known in Mandarin as Ma Jiang), mainly because it seems exotic and has a reputation for being fiendishly difficult.

Mah Jong is not, as I once thought, a particularly ancient game, although it is believed to have its origins in a Ming Dynasty (14th to 17th centuries) card game called Ma Diao, which was played with 40 cards in four suits.

Mah Jong became popular in China in the 19th Century, was banned during the Communist Revolution, and found its way to the West in the 1920s when, somewhat oddly, it was adopted by the Jewish community in New York. Today it is played all over the world and has many different variations and sets of rules. My Chinese teacher says that families can invent their own house rules so Mah Jong can be as simple or as complicated as you wish.

Essentially, Mah Jong is a game for four players using, in our case, a set of 144 tiles. It's like a cross between dominoes, gin, rummy and bridge.

Each set has three suits - tong (stones), suo (bamboo) and wan (ten thousand) - along with sets of dragons, winds, seasons and flowers. The tiles are exceedingly pretty, adding to the appeal.

Players begin by building a four-sided wall of tiles and taking up positions - north, south, east and west - around the table. The aim is to collect melds of tiles - peng (sets of three the same) chi (runs of three) and gang (sets of four) with one liang (pair).

The skill of the game rests in knowing which combinations of sets provide the highest scores. There's one hand, for example, called the 13 wonders, which involves collecting one of each major tile (ones, nines, dragons, winds and flowers) and no sets at all.

An acquaintance from Singapore, whose husband is an enthusiastic Mah Jong player, says the game is highly addictive. However, it needs no government health warning as studies in Hong Kong have shown it to be good for people with cognitive memory problems, which has led to the introduction over there of Mah Jong therapy.

We took our set on holiday with us and played every evening in the hotel lounge, attracting a small crowd of young Italians fascinated by the dinky little tiles.

I think I have already become addicted because when Firstborn departed for his caving trip I realised that we'd have to train up another player in his absence and have been counting the days until my friend Susan comes back from her holiday so that she can be initiated. "Stuff the washing up," I have been heard to say.

"Let's play Mah Jong."

CAPTION(S):

NIGHTS ON THE TILES: Mah Jong set with tiles showing Chinese characters (S)
COPYRIGHT 2009 MGN Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Aug 15, 2009
Words:704
Previous Article:Out came the Snickers and the hiking boots.
Next Article:Cozching in style on the Emerald Isle.
Topics:


Related Articles
iWin Brings Universe into Balance with Mah Jong Quest II.
Find Your Balance with iWin's Mah Jong Quest III(R) Balance of Life.
Abacus and mah jong; Sino-Mauritian settlement and economic consolidation.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters