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The underground world of mahjong

sunny 73 °F

Today I thought I had the bird flu. It's the hypochondriac in me speaking up. At dinner I didn't each much, I didn't talk much, and I wasn't really interested in trying to play charades and "let's guess what aunty is trying to say." I didn't feel well so I spent my dinner staring at my rice bowl, nodding and sayings I understand every few minutes. While they were trying to talk me up I was just trying to keep my dinner down.
After dinner I went to my room and curled up on my bed. I had just bought a VPN so I got the chance to get on facebook and see photos from home. I was in my room for no longer then five minutes when my aunty and granny come in. They said I seemed sad and that the previous night I had gone to bed really early (11pm). They were worried I wasn't comfortable. I explained I walked a lot today and because of the hot weather I wasn't feeling that well and I just needed to rest. I didn't mention anything about the bird flu. That seemed to deter them and they quickly shut my door and said ok ok take a rest.
A bit later I hear my aunty yelling my name. Come quick come quick she yelled in Chinese. Hurry come look! I was really confused and I followed her into Mary's room. There was a huge group of white people walking down our small neighborhood street. My aunty and granny and I hung out our windows as I eavesdropped on their conversation. They were all new students from Australia who attend the nearby international school. I eventually yelled at them from our 5th story window and explained that my host family was very curious what they were up to and wanted to welcome them to China. They definitely thought I was a crazy person, but explained they were doing their new student orientation. I can't wait till I run into them on the street.
Later my 奶奶 asked if I wanted to go for a walk. She wanted to take me to her sisters house so that I could see her 画画 (Chinese painting). We walked to her house but ended up passing her on her way out to the grocery store. Instead of going home we decided to wait for her and my 奶奶 taught me how to play mahjong. For those of you that don't know, mahjong is a very popular game that uses tiles. It is very similar to rummy in the way you have to make runs and the first one down wins, but there are more complicated rules that i have yet to understand.
We walked into a filthy looking apartment building, and It was very dark. However I have learned not to judge a building by its outside in China. We came to a door and my 奶奶 searched for her keys. A man showed up who I later discovered was my 奶奶s nephew. He unlocked the door and we walked through a small nasty kitchen. He unlocked another door and led us inside this small windowless room. The room reminded me of something you would see out of an insane asylum and i was surprised it didn't have padded walls. There were chairs stacked in the corner and nothing on the white tiled walls, the floors were dirty as well. However in the middle of all of this was a gleaming mahjong table. The man kindly grabbed down chairs for us. Grumbled something about how I wasn't going to find mahjong interesting and left only to return later with a plastic Dixie cup filled with boiling water.
I couldn't help but be amused at the difference between the quality of the mahjong table and the quality of the room and apartment building we were in. It was a night and day difference. The table was electric. You pushed all of the tiles into a small hole in the center of the table, and pushed the button. All of the tiles would spin inside the table and later 4 sets of mahjong tiles would appear through secret doors on the sides of the table. I was beginning to understand the importance and seriousness of mahjong. There were poker chips on the sides of the table as well...and then I really began to understand the importance. My grandma is an underground mahjong gambler. She explained to me that everyday after lunch she came to this windowless room and played mahjong for hours. I can't help but think of a family friend from back home who enjoys going to the casino, and how much they would like each other.
Word must have spread there was a foreigner in the building. Every ten minutes or so another middle aged man would come up with some excuse to need to come into the room to "get something." There was only one small locked cupboard i the corner filled with cigarettes. Sometimes they would walk in, and just say oh your right there is an American in here, and walk out with out getting anything from the cupboard. Others would come in look at my mahjong tiles say 不错 (not bad) and walk away. At one point I asked one of them to help me. He replied only if we could play sometime in which I bet American money and he bet Chinese yuan. I told him I no longer needed his help, and they all laughed.
After an hour or so we got tired of waiting and decided to head home. Before we left my 奶奶 pulled me through the hallway towards another door. She told me to be very quiet and we cracked the door open a bit. Inside were tables and tables of mahjong, dozens of men with a heavy cloud of cigarette smoke hanging in the air. We were spotted and the confused looks on their faces when they saw a tall white girl and an old Chinese lady spying on them was priceless. My 奶奶 and I are quite the pair. We made our way home and couldn't help but wonder if Chinese air pollution would improve if cigarettes became illegal.

Posted by Kaceyroo 21:36 Archived in China

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Comments

Hey, I think you should
give up looking for a job and become a professional mahjong player with your luck in Las Vegas you could make a fortune.love dad

by quilbilly

Oh...that was a great story! love, Gram

by Grandma J.

So awesome!! You sure can paint a good picture! Love ya!

by AddiAsh

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