Monday, June 30, 2014

From Westchester to Pearl East

Chinese food and Mah Jongg go together.  This afternoon the Mah Jongg Doctors took a road trip from the northern reaches of Westchester County to Pearl East in Manhasset, NY.  We tucked into some of the best Chinese food we've had in a long time.

The owner ordered a variety of dishes for us and we dined on:

  • Rice paper shrimp rolls

  • Crabmeat and pork Shanghai soup dumplings
  Each dumpling is served on its own spoon.
(these were so good, they were gone before we could photograph them)

  • Thin sliced beef with leeks and hot peppers 
  • Barbeque jumbo shrimp with scallions, ginger and mixed vegetables
  • Young Chow fried rice with Chinese sausage, chicken and shrimp

We shamelessly photographed our meal and left totally satisfied.  Only a game of Mah Jongg could have made the afternoon better!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Looking Back on 50 Years of Mah Jongg

A few days ago I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to speak with Annelise Heinz. She is working on a doctoral dissertation related to the history of Mah Jongg in the US from 1920 to 1960.  We had a lengthy conversation about my memories of Mah Jongg …the game itself, the people who played it, and life as it was at that time.

And, like a bucket filled with fish hooks, as we pulled out one memory it linked to another. It is amazing to me that there are times I cannot remember the items on my shopping list as I enter the supermarket, but, clear as day, I was able to pull up names and events from 50 years ago. 

The summer of 1964 kicked off as we packed up our car and headed to the Catskills for our traditional bungalow colony experience in Mountaindale, NY. And, always the last item to be slipped into a narrow space left in the trunk was my mother’s Mah Jongg set, because, summertime was Mah Jongg time. My mother and her friends would play Mah Jongg for hours every afternoon while we were in day camp, and then again in the evenings when we were happily catching fireflies or playing ring-a-levio. 

Campers by day…Mah Jonggers all the other times!
After day camp we would stand around the Mah Jongg tables and watch as our moms played their last hands so that they could then turn their attention to preparing dinner.  We felt so lucky to be able to pack up the sets for them, always making sure that the tiles matched evenly in the box so we knew all of them were accounted for.  Soon we began to play around with the tiles before we packed them up. Building walls and picking tiles, putting them on the Mah Jongg card, and flippping them up just like our moms did.  We practiced that tricky move many times!! We even picked and threw, naming the tiles (which we must have learned from years of watching and listening) and racking the new ones. The only thing we didn’t do was actually try to make a hand because we didn’t know how. Our faux Mah Jongg games were wonderful!! 

And then, I’m really not sure if it was their idea or ours, but our moms told us that they would teach us how to really play.  There were times we each shared a rack with our mom as she explained how to read the card, pass the tiles, and form a hand.  Other times, as we became more competent and independent, one mom would stay with us to guide our play. It was such a seamless, natural learning experience for us all! We looked for every opportunity to play and practice. I was totally hooked…and I remain so to this day.

Here’s to the next 50 years of Mah Jongg.
And…thank you Mom!!

~ Barbara

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Fastest Gun in the EAST....(and debriefing from CT tournament)

Barbara and I spent the day at a tournament in Danbury, CT.  It was a benefit for AAUW and run by Libby Kasimer.  It was a great tournament and a lovely day, held at a lakeside venue with an outdoor area where one could chat between games.

To top off this enjoyable day Barbara made the following hand: (click on the photo and it will enlarge)

OK.  It's a pairs hand....FF 4B4B  5B5B  6B6B  7B7B  8B8B  9B9B  GG
Not SO unusual..... BUT....she made this hand as EAST before the first tile was thrown.

This can only happen when one is EAST.   After the last right on which Barbara made a blind pass....she optioned one tile with WEST and received the tile that completed her Mah Jongg.  So...instead of throwing the first tile....she exposed her Mah Jongg!

Have you EVER seen this happen?   It was a first for me...and Barbara, too.

An exciting day all around.  BTW....Barbara came in first at the tournament.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Debriefing from Piscataway

The tournament is over and we're home from Piscataway.  We didn't win but we got to play lots of Mah Jongg with great, fast players.  Thanks to Joanne for arranging another super tournament!

When we arrived on Friday the tournament room was buzzing with activity as 41 tables got ready for the 1st round of play.  (That's 164 players.)

Barbara and I surveyed the room as though we were in a Mah Jongg Museum!  Each table has a different Mah Jongg set supplied by the East at that table.

As we photographed some of the sets we asked if the owners would tell us about their set. 
 It became apparent that players are very connected to their sets and were happy to tell us about them. 

 Many are chosen for the color or design of the tiles. 
 Often players want their jokers personalized.

 Sometimes sets are passed from one Mah Jongg player to another and have developed special meaning given the people who played with them before.
 Some sets reflect the personalities of their owners.
 We saw so many beautiful sets.  Too many to put up here. 

But if you're looking for a new've got lots to consider when choosing!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Off to Piscataway, New Jersey.

The doctors are off to Piscataway, New Jersey for a tournament this weekend.  This tournament is organized by Joanne Bourne of Four Seasons Mah Jongg Tournaments.  We love Joanne's tournaments and try to go as often as possible.

The games go from Friday night to Sunday at noon.  The tourney is held in an Embassy Suites hotel where players stay.  The hotel is great, the games are fun and most meals are included (except Sat. night dinner, when you're on your own)

We are looking forward to great, fast-paced mah jongg, and schmoozing with friends. We also look forward to playing with the variety of mah jongg sets that are used during the competition. Each set tells a story, and like fashion, each makes a statement.  My mah jongg set is vintage 1950’s and was my mother’s. I love the worn tiles, the stickered jokers, and the Bakelite racks and dice. The sets we will see this weekend have tiles that are often multi colored, glittered, striped or layered, even jumbo sized! The jokers are often engraved with names, initials, or sayings.  At many tables the racks are enhanced with pushers. And the dice…often sparkled and spangled. In the course of the weekend we will play with 16 different sets. I hope my favorite set, the one with the calming seafoam colored layered tiles will make an appearance! 

We know we’re in for a fun time! We will give you our play by play once we return.

~ Barbara