• Shanghai Expat Assoc

Going Mahjong



By Pamela Murray


Many of us came to the small group Mahjong at the invitation of a fellow SEA

member. For me, it was my friend and neighbor Esra. “Come with me, don’t

worry, we’ll teach you how to play, you’ll catch on fast,” she said, as I protested

that I didn’t know the game, didn’t want to impose, wasn’t even sure I’d like

it—I needn’t have worried. The Mahjong group is full of the most welcoming

ladies (and currently one gentleman), and also some of the sharpest. I wouldn’t

say I caught on quickly, but I absolutely love playing this complicated game

with this wonderful group.

As one of the longest running SEA Small Groups, Mahjong is open to anyone

who would like to join. We play almost every Friday, at Café Sambal in Jiashan

Market (Note: Puxi Mahjong is moving to a new location. Pudong Mahjong is played at Bollywood restaurant). We have a WeChat group to determine how many members plan to join each week, and then we let the venue know how many tables need to be set up.

Café Sambal generously lets us store our tables, tiles, and other game pieces at

their restaurant. We play from 10:15am to 1pm (Note: Puxi Mahjong time may change when the venue changes), then we often stay for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to assimilate into the gang. It is an extremely social group, very open, with smiles and laughter ruling the day.


“I love SEA Mahjong group not only because of the game but also because it's a

lovely way to get to know my fellow players better,” says Margrit, who is chairperson

of SEA’s Welcoming Committee. “For me, it’s not really about winning or losing, it is way more about having a great time together.”

“Playing weekly mahjong with a lot of different people from around the world

is a real pleasure,” says Martine. “Currently, there are at least 12 different

nationalities represented. I look forward to it every week, and I will really miss

it when I move back to Germany. Maybe I will start my own mahjong group

when I get there!”

We will miss Martine, she’s a skilled player with a ready laugh. But she’s not alone in looking for a new mahjong group after a move. Many of the mahjong players I spoke

with here in Shanghai already knew how to play mahjong when they joined, though globally there are many different versions of the game.

“I started playing in Hong Kong in 1995, so 23 years ago”, says Catherine. “I’ve been playing in Shanghai for 6 ½ years. I just love the game! When in Switzerland, I play

with my Hong Kong friends. The HK style is similar to our SEA style, but no animals and less counting. There are also more special hands. With the game here, people often

prefer not to make special hands because there is a good chance they won’t be clean or pure. I like making special hands—it’s more fun!”

One person who plays to win, is mahjong expert Coco. First she teaches people how to play, then she beats them mercilessly. But Coco is so lovely, and the way she adds

in Japanese is so remarkable, we are all just happy for the lesson. “During play, there are several priorities to consider,” says Coco, “such as:

1. making hands

2. thinking about the other person’s strategy

3. trying to avoid discarding a tile needed to go mahjong

4. thinking about scoring

5. thinking about probability


Choice and decision play a big part in making it a fun game—deciding which hands to go with, which tiles to discard . . . One of the most interesting aspects of mahjong

for me,” continues Coco, “in addition to how gambling impacts the game, is how both skill and luck are required. Professionals and beginners can play together; sometimes

very experienced players lose to people who are new to the game. A person can’t win with only skill—much luck is also needed. It’s a very inconsistent game. That’s why I like it.”

“I come to mahjong for the challenge, says Evan, who joined just a couple of months ago, but has already hit the high score for the day. “Every hand is different and you need to be flexible with your strategy. It’s been such a pleasure spending time with intelligent and fun-loving people in this group.”

About the author:

Pamela Murray was an ER/ICU nurse before joining the expat world in 2001, and has since become an editor. Her current freelance project is “Brandywine, the Chicago Trilogy”, which she is editing for the author, Don Miskel, set to publish later this year. www.transitionsquared.com


Original Courier publish date: May, 2018

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