Lining up the tiles

He had a smirk on his face that came as quick as it disappeared. A winning hand perhaps?

It was hard to tell with the room thick with cigarette smoke and the clattering sounds of mahjong tiles on wood.

I had ducked into the hallway of a 3-storey house. Standing next to a large wooden red door, I heard low murmurings that gave way to loud yelps of triumph. It was a victory so spectacular that people were yelling back and forth with loud thumps of the table signaling another go at Lady Luck.

I knocked hesitantly, wondering if I was walking into some gang-related activity. A middle-aged man opened the door with a cigarette in his mouth and frowned at me. Behind him, the frenzy behind muffled doors revealed China’s all-time favorite indoor activity: mahjong.

A game of mahjong, poker or anything that involves the thrill of hedging money will draw neighbors and friends round a table like that of a free buffet. A winning hand would inevitable draw chuckles, hoots and backslaps.

But it seemed that the mahjong table had entered the 21st century. The whole contraption was mechanized such that with a touch of a button, the middle section would open up and you could dump your tiles in to be automatically shuffled. Another button would elevate your arranged tiles into 4 lines in front of each player. The entire contraption started at a modest RMB 1,500, ready to light up and boogie at your pleasure.

December 2009



  • Reply March 18, 2010

    Adam Daniel Mezei

    Still having “trouble” deciding what I enjoy more about your site, Sue Anne: the snaps or the copy. Both resonate mightily. Nice little inbox gift, this was…

  • Reply March 19, 2010

    Adam Daniel Mezei

    And another thing I adore about your work, Sue Anne: you take the time to meticulously annotate and title each and every one of your photos, like precious cargo or delicately intricate things. This hasn’t gone unnoticed and I, for one, am deeply appreciative. This is going to be fun as the photos spread around. I’m going to post a couple of your links on my Facebook wall now…

  • Reply March 26, 2010

    Expatriate Games

    Really well-written SA. I was there… with you… could smell, hear, feel and taste the place.

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