M is for Mahjong

There are certain sights, sounds, and smells that remind me of childhood.  The smell of autumn leaves, the taste of blue moon ice cream, the exciting flurry of a first snowfall.  One of these sensory memories is the clattering shuffle of mahjong tiles heard over the laughter and cheerful conversation of relatives and family friends at parties held when I was young.

Mahjong is game that originated in China, but now has many variants.  The gameplay is similar to rummy in that a player needs to get sets of matching numbers or suits.  Filipino-style mahjong, the way I was taught by my lola (grandmother), is a much simpler form of mahjong than other variants.  In Filipino mahjong, only three suits are used: bamboo/sticks, stones/balls, and Chinese characters.  All other tiles are considered “flowers,” and are taken out of play as the game progresses.  (I’m sure anyone who plays any other form of Mahjong is shaking his or her head in bewilderment and horror right now.)  The goal of the game is to complete five sets of three matching or sequential tiles and one pair, or seven pairs and one set of three.

Mahjong tiles

I love playing mahjong.  My older sister, younger brother, and I were all taught how to play by our lola and our parents.  As such, the game is more than just a fun activity, rather, a piece of our cultural heritage passed down.  It’s also just a great reason to sit around a table together and have a relaxing time talking and having fun.

No blog post of mine about tabletop gaming would be complete without me going on about my love of components, and mahjong tiles have to be among my favorites.  I love the sound they make when you stack them together or shuffle them around on the table.  I love the weight and feel of them in my hands.  My lola (who, even in her 80s, can still beat the snot out of anyone in a game) can tell what tile is in her hand without flipping it over to look at it.  When she draws a tile from the stacked wall, she merely grazes the pad of her thumb over the etching, and can figure out what it is — it amazed me as a young girl and continues to do so to this day.  I suspect magic. 

Filipino-style mahjong is relatively easy to learn.  But it is still an excellent game of decision-making and strategy.  For me, it is also something more than that.  It is a game learned from family and for spending time with family.  When I hear the clacking shuffle of mahjong tiles, I’m reminded of my childhood, of my loved ones, of home.

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