Tuesday, April 24, 2007


We recently celebrated the birthday of one of the women with whom I play Mahjong. Pictures were taken (not by me of course since I rarely take pictures of anything that isn't Caleb themed) and sent around and upon receipt it occurred to me that I have not yet blogged about Mahjong. The actual origin of Mahjong (which means "sparrow" in Chinese) is unknown, though most accounts agree that it first appeared in China sometime in the mid 19th century. There is also a fair amount of evidence to suggest that Mahjong is based on a card game called Madiao created early in the Ming Dynasty. Mahjong became popular in the West in the 1920s and over the years has waxed and waned in its appeal. In the East, Japan and Hong Kong especially, there are grand tournaments with huge cash prizes and bragging rights. Today there are several versions of the game with scores of books written about the origins and rules of the game. The Western version of Mahjong is played with 144 tiles representing the four winds, three suits (bamboo, circles and characters) and three dragons (red, green and white). Broadly speaking, Mahjong is sort of an expanded form of gin rummy, but it is very fast-paced and generally involves betting.

I play Mahjong nearly every Friday with a group of women from all over the world (Austria, Bosnia, Belgium, Trinidad and Tobago, Paraguay, Sweden, Peru and the US). It's a nice opportunity to speak English, chat about whatever and have fun -- we do not play for money. I first learned to play while growing up in Hawaii and at some point my parents even acquired a Mahjong set for the family. It has been years since anyone has removed this set from the games closet in my parents' home, but with my renewed interest in the game it will shortly be winging its way to me in Peru. The women I play with have lived all over the world and have always been able to find other Mahjong lovers. I'm sure this is a new hobby that will travel with me as well.


Adrianne said...

I love that the photo is not of the actual Mahjong game, but of all surrounding the dessert! Glad to confirm that around the world it is not games but food that truly brings peopel together...

laurel said...

I just wanted to say hi and thank you for the book recommendations that you posted on my blog. I have read a couple that you suggested, but the others were new so I am excited to put them on my list.

I also wanted to tell you that I love Mahjong! My parents learned and taught my sister and I when we were younger. We have been playing ever since. My husband and I have a set and we have tried to teach some people here in NY, but it hasn't really caught on to the point where we can play it often. I am jealous of your Mahjong Fridays!

robin marie said...

mahjong is so fun and addictive! but i've never played it with the tiles... i should start up a group here in seattle... maybe that is a good way to make friends! i think you and your ladies' group look so beautiful!

and i had no idea you worked at the PCC so much!! i'm glad you enjoyed the post about your home-island! we had a great time!

Unknown said...

I have a friend (from Indonesia, now living in Hong Kong) who is a major majhong player. Her mom (in her 80s) lives with her and is notorious for her bluffing style. She is constantly looking downtrodden, shaking her head in a dismal fashion, then ends up sweeping the floor with her opponents. Go figure!

My other friend, whose family is Jewish, said her mother played all the time -- in Michigan -- with her other Jewish lady friends.

I pledge to learn so we can play together!


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