By Raymond Zhang
Throughout the varying amount of cultures in the world, people have developed different games to pass time. However, none might be as peculiar as the game of Mahjong.
Tile games have been played for centuries in China, Mahjong’s place of origin, and have dated back to around 1120 AD. However, mahjong resembles card games that were played in China more, with many theories suggesting how the game was created. Evidence shows that it originated in the China near Shanghai, in the provinces of Kiangsu, Anhwei, and Chekiang. In 1905, Mahjong was unknown outside its place of origin. However, it spread quickly across China in 15 years and overtook chess as the most popular Chinese game. In 1920, mahjong was spread to the West, and it become popular in areas outside of China.(Source: http://www.tradgames.org.uk/games/Mah-Jong.htm)
At Tech, there is a whole club dedicated to the game that meets every Monday in room 310. Seniors Vincent Ni and Angus Wong are in charge of the club activities. During the visit to the club, the room was chaotic, most likely due to the recent addition of Filipino Club into the room. Upon entry, I noticed that the club was informal. There were people chatting with one another on the side, while others surrounded the single Mahjong table the club owns. Another Mahjong game was played by putting covers over four classroom desks pushed against one another (not an optimal flat surface that a mahjong table provides). Amidst the friendly chatter and the sound of Filipino Club practicing their dance, I interviewed members Angus Wong and Justin Wu about their experiences in Mahjong Club.
Raymond Zhang: Why did you join Mahjong Club?
Angus Wong: It was very appealing. My grandma always plays it, so I thought of it as a way to get closer with her.
Justin Wu: I joined another club, and someone recommended that I also join Mahjong Club.
RZ: What is mahjong, and how would you describe it to somebody who hasn’t heard about it?
AW: It’s like a four way Yu Gi Oh duel, but with more luck. (Note:Yu Gi Oh is a trading card game that often requires the luck of drawing good cards to win).
JW: It is a game that is made for old people, but it is surprisingly fun. It is a very hard version of poker.
RZ: Where did you learn how to play Mahjong?
AW: I learned from a friend’s house, and that friend was in charge of the club.
JW: I learned from watching my parents play.
RZ: Other than in the club, do you play Mahjong elsewhere?
AW: Sometimes with my family. Of course with no money on the line.
JW: Yes, I play it at home.
RZ: How does mahjong in the club differ from Mahjong outside?
AW: In the club it is weird because everyone speaks English, but when I play with my family they are all yelling the tiles out in Chinese.
JW: In the clubs it is very wild and chaotic. It is still loud when someone wins, but it just isn’t as crazy as it is at home.
RZ: What is your favorite aspect of Mahjong Club?
AW: It’s just fun to gather with everyone.
JW: The community obviously. It is a great place to talk with your buddies and play a great game.
RZ: Mahjong is often stigmatized as solely for gambling. In what ways does this club defy that stigma?
AW: First of all we don’t gamble, it is against the rules here. It is purely for fun here. No one really plans on gambling either.
JW: First of all we don’t gamble in this club, it is only seen that way because the older people play with money. In this club we just play for fun. I hope that this club doesn’t encourage gambling.
RZ: To many onlookers, the pieces seem to be indistinguishable Chinese symbols and pictures. What are the different types of pieces in mahjong?
AW: It goes from one through nine, and there are three basic symbols that represent those numbers. the bamboo sticks, the Chinese symbol, and the circles. The other pieces are easily distinguishable symbols and colors
JW: It is a game of matching with different types of cards, kind of like poker, but it is a lot harder to win because there are seven types of cards.
RZ: How do you win in the game?
AW: It depends on what you consider winning. You either have to play like a support, where your main objective is to not win yourself, but help someone else win. Your hand is bad, and you can’t do anything with it. The other way is to go big or go home.
JW: Three people start with 13 tiles and one person starts with 14 tile. Everyone will take their turns drawing and dropping tiles until one person successfully created four sets of three and one pair.
RZ: It seems as if a majority of the club are seniors. What do you expect for the future of Mahjong Club after the seniors graduate and leave at the end of the year?
AW: I’m always trying to get the seniors to teach the freshman how to play, but they are always busy playing themselves. The freshman don’t come back because of that, and that is a problem.
JW: It’s going to die out of no one picks it up. I honestly think it will die out. I don’t see any way it can continue.
Although Mahjong Club might seem unusual from a distance, a closer look at the club will show that it is an informal place of friendship and socializing. To members Angus and Justin, mahjong has been ingrained in their lives. Mahjong is a part of their household, and their households have influenced their decision to start playing the game. To many, the game of mahjong is often associated with gambling. However, mahjong club seeks to defy these beliefs by showing how mahjong can bring people together. Although it takes time to identify the tiles and the rules, the game of mahjong truly is a great experience once you start playing.
Despite its great success, the club faces a few underlying problems. The club only has one mahjong table, an aspect that makes the game more enjoyable. Playing on the unevenly leveled school desks can make organizing and moving tiles difficult. Furthermore, the club’s aging has shown that it will be difficult to continue the club in the next school year. Many of the club’s members, including the leaders, are seniors. The graduating club members will need increase their efforts in recruiting new members and teaching them the game of Mahjong.