In preparation for our upcoming trip to the Philippines, my fiancee and I are teaching my parents how to play mahjong. It’s a fairly straightforward game, even though its rules can change slightly, depending on where you’re playing. The general idea is to win by having four groups of three and a pair. The groups of three must be of the same suit (Balls, Sticks, Characters, etc) and can either be a run of consecutive numbers or three of a kind. There are exceptions and wild-ish tiles, like the Winds, of course, but their use follows the general set of rules. It’s a little like poker, gin, and Go Fish all rolled into one, and played with thumb-size tiles instead of cards.
Theoretically, this is an easy game to learn, once you memorize the Chinese numbers. Little did I know how difficult it would be to differentiate balls from sticks. My parents are artists, but the ball and stick thing is a huge hurdle. We’re working on it, though. Also confusing are the Chinese characters, particularly for the Winds, which to the Western eye can look very much the same at a quick glance. Past that, though, it’s just like any other game–symbols and strategy.
My mother, against whom it took me many years to defeat in Scrabble, has now begun aggressively cleaning up. I’m beginning to think she is only pretending not to know what the difference is between balls and sticks.
We got sharked.