Sunday, September 6, 2015

Mahjong and Expat Life

Ever since I watched The Joy Luck Club, I have always wanted to learn how to play mahjong.  Unfortunately, I never found the right time or place to learn the game.  I would try to read instructions online and even watch YouTube videos, and I would still be confused.  I mentioned my desire to learn mahjong to some of my Chinese teaching friends, so for a farewell gift they taught me how to play the game! 
I was so excited to learn how to play mahjong.  My friends gave me a fabulous Chinglish instructions as to how to play.  

So how do you play mahjong?

The answer is still fuzzy.

The rules of the game depend on where you live and what kind of mahjong you want to play.  For my lesson, we played Shanghainese Teenager Mahjong. Here are some of the basic rules that I understand.

The mahjong tiles come in different suits: sticks, dots, characters, winds, and flowers. 

The wind tiles (located on the top) are the least valuable.  The flower tiles (on the bottom) are the most valuable. I'm happy my set has both western and eastern characters on the tiles.  The eastern tiles can be confusing!

Here’s how you play:
1)  Each player stacks up 36 tiles in three groups of 12. 
2)  Then the players line the groups of tiles to make a square.

3) The previous winner rolls the dice.  The number on the dice determines which tiles are picked.
4)  Players take turns grabbing three piles of four tiles.  Then each player takes two tiles.
5)  In an orderly manner, players swap tiles to make consecutive tiles of the same suite (chi), matching sets of three (peng) or four (kongs) of the same tile, or pairs.
6)  The first person to have all of their tiles in chis, pengs, kongs, and/or pairs wins. 

I was very lucky to have my native friends help me out.  I would've been clueless otherwise.  The game is very fast paced, so I struggled to keep up.
Keep in mind there are many other nuances to the game that I have failed to mention, and not all versions mahjong are played according to the same rules.  If you are looking to learn how to play mahjong I suggest checking out some of these sites:

Learning how to play mahjong is a lot like learning how to be an expat in China.  There are many different spoken and unspoken rules that apply only to certain situations.  You can read about the game in books and watch how to videos online, however nothing will prepare you for the situation until you jump in and play.  Most importantly, if you surround yourself with supportive natives, keep an open mind, and listen carefully, you will win! 

I am happy to report that with a little time and help I actually won a hand or two!


Unknown said...

Hello Anne,

How are you? I was searching for Chinese learning online and found your article:
(Thanks for the awesome tips:)

It's funny, we recently made an infographic about Chinese learning. Love to know if I can send it to you and maybe share it to your readers? My email is:

Either way, love your site Anne and keep up the awesome work:)



Unknown said...

Hello Anne-Marie-

Please forgive me if I am commenting twice.

I just discovered your blog and it is exactly what I have been looking for. My boyfriend and I are looking to move to Shanghai with our little dog child, Wyatt the puggle, and your lifestyle def hits the mark for us.

Would you happen to have any time to speak via email and give me any advice or tips about living there and also your experience teaching English?

My email is

Any help at all would be so appreciated. Also, I see you are a Cardinals fan. We are, too, and have already come to terms with there not being a Ted Drewes in China. So sad.

Anne-Marie said...

Thank you so much for your kind words! Hang tight and you will see my words of wisdom on my departure post. :)