You Know

Mabel's cousins win big Last year I learned how to play Mah Jong.

I've said before that Mah Jong is a stupefying game to attempt to watch and learn. There are several reasons:

· Many of the tiles are in Chinese characters. If you wish to play you must learn to read some them.

· Skilled players are lightning fast. Tiles fly around the table; it's easy to become lost.

· The rules of the game appear to defy logic. Players seem to move out of turn.

· The game is punctuated with mysterious phrases such as Pung!, Kong!, Sik Wu! and Jee Moh!

· It's noisy. It's a loud game. Until you're accustomed to the volume, it's distracting.

"... Mah Jong is a stupefying game ..."

The game was enigmatic, but I was determined to learn. My mission was to find someone willing to teach me. Mabel's cousin Victor was most accommodating. He explained the rules and basic strategy, and gave me a set of tiles he was no longer using. What a cool guy!

Once I had a grasp of the fundamentals, I needed to practice. But with whom? After all, this is a money game, and I didn't want to play with pros who'd enjoy a round of fleece-the-rookie.

You know, take me for everything I own.

I solved the problem by downloading demo software that matched the real game. Before long, I increased my playing speed and learned to read some Chinese in the bargain.

The real test came New Year's Eve, 1999. We went to Yuen Long in the New Territories to stay overnight with friends and see in the new millennium. During the run up to midnight, we played Mah Jong.

I won. Call it beginner's luck.

· ƒ ·

Over the past year I've grown bolder, though I'm not the best player. I'm not as fast as Chinese players, because I have to pause to read the tiles.

"I'm not as fast as Chinese players ..."

I've often asserted I'd never play Mah Jong with Mabel's mother, because I've seen her play. She's good... very good.

Scary good. I've seen her win hand after hand when it looked as though she had no hope of winning. Were I to play her, I reasoned, she'd cream me.

You know, take me for everything I own.

Yet when she moved in with us, I told her I wanted to play Mah Jong with her. I figured I'd surprise her, but she didn't want to play because she didn't know if I'd be able to keep up. She'd never seen me in action.

I got the chance to display my chops when we visited friends. I sat down with Mabel, her mother, and one of our friends. We had a blast; the game was lively and fun. I didn't win, because my lovely, demure wife, who hasn't played for many years, kicked our butts!

Afterward, Mabel's mom was impressed with my skill level. She believes I might be able to play with Mabel's aunt, whom her mother says is a better player.

I think it's a set up. They'll get me to sit down and then Auntie will rob me blind.

You know, take me for everything I own.

How much they take me for depends on the dollar-per-point limit. With low-money games, a few dollars lost here and there doesn't qualify as gambling. I think of it as tuition, and it's cheaper than going to a movie.

I hope to get a number of games in during the Christmas holidays. If not, there's Lunar New Year. Should I disappear from the Internet afterward, it can only mean one thing.

You know.

December 19, 2000

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