The Shuffling Sound Of Mahjong Chengdu Reviews
Oct 12, 2007
Chengdu is not the place of origin of mahjong, but it is well known for leading the trend in the country. Those inhabitants, who have indulged in or observed this dominoes-like game for years, do not feel anything peculiar. Nevertheless, it can appear extraordinary to those who are from other places. Effervescent westerner Charles Carceller heard the shuffling sound of mahjong being played maybe ten or eleven stores away whilst wistfully walking the streets one day. This inspired him to enthuse gleefully about his interest in this indispensable element of Chengdu tea culture, and led to the enlistment of local assistance in buying a mahjong set to take back home to his family abroad.
Charles has been regularly commuting from Australia to Beijing for business reasons over the past couple of decades. He was finally privileged to come to Sichuan Province and sample some leisure time here in the hometown of the giant panda. To this chirpy chap’s way of thinking, characteristic Chengdu is much more pleasant, and feels like Beijing did in the early nineties when westernization was not so evident, and vendors did not drag potential customers into their shops to buy. The hustle-bustle of hectic cities with populations in a seemingly constant rush to make a dollar is convincing international visitors these days to travel further inland to absorb the “real” China.
A mixed ethnic heritage that included a mother from Spain and an entrepreneurial father from the Philippines (who studied and settled in Australia), exposed infant Charles Carceller to the excitement and late night rustling noise of mahjong when his mother, grandparents and friendly neighbourhood girls would gather together to play. Chinese traders are recorded as introducing mahjong into the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era. Apparently in twenty first century Australia, most people have no idea of the game with the exception of the Chinese and Filipino communities, in which it is very common. Charles plans to teach his wife and son to play with a Chengdu mahjong set.
When reduced to basics, mahjong is remarkably simple. Perhaps, the current Carceller generation will develop a more Chinese character, loud and animated as they slam their cards down on the table. The Chengdu method of playing differs from elsewhere. The standard international mahjong consists of one hundred and forty four cards. Chengdu mahjong previously had one hundred and twenty pieces (without east, south, west and north and flower), but now only has one hundred and eight pieces (only bucket, strip and number). The rules of play are also different from other regions. It is required to have one set absent out of bucket, strip or number. Otherwise, the player can never win.
In addition, there are also special rules such as rainfall or bloody battle. Raining is also called “Gang”, which is comprised of evident Gang and hidden Gang. Evident Gang is when one player has three same cards in his hand, and one other player discards another same card. Then, the first player can choose to take it, which is called “direct Gang”’, and he is eligible to take the chips of the player who discarded that card. Otherwise, the player picks the fourth card himself to “Gang” it with the other three same ones in his hand. In this case, he is eligible to take the chips of all other players. Hidden Gang is when a player has four same cards. He can use it to do rainfall and win all other players’.
Bloody Battle means the game will continue until there is only one player failing to match out his cards, or all the cards on the table have been used. In Chengdu mahjong, Chi is not allowed. One can only win by Peng, Gang and Hu. Upon finishing the last card on the table, if there are still some players having matched out his cards, the caller (the player having only one card left before match up) is eligible to ask for chips from the one who has not called. Some folk think mahjong is the most decent of games because every side only works out their own mahjong and stays harmonious with others. Other sorts of entertainment games and sports activities aim to defeat the counterpart.
Mahjong zealot Charles Carceller mused that there is always one thousand and one things to do each day, but “places like Chengdu gets rid of the clutter in your head”. In most cases, the leisure life of Chengdu people is essentially associated with tea. Representative of this culture is the so-called “Bowl Tea”, which is made up of a tea lid, tea bowl and tea ship. The simple and unsophisticated ideology of Sichuan people explains that this trilogy embodies “sky lid, earth support, and man’s cultivation” respectively .The tea ship is the tray that holds the tea bowl. It is claimed that this was invented during the Tang Dynasty by the west Sichuan Governor Cui Ning’s daughter between 780 and 783 AD.
Before this invention, people did not drink tea with a tray under the cup. As a result, their hands were burnt. Cui Ning’s daughter devised a clever wooden plate to hold the teacup in the shape of a ship. The lid is put on the tea bowl so that the drinker can conveniently keep the tea at a moderate temperature. It is generally accepted that hot tea helps to improve body health and clear the mind. Holding the tea ship with the lid half closed on the bowl, allows the drinker to sip the tea from the thin gap between the bowl and lid. This not only looks elegant, but also prevents the tea leaves entering your mouth, thus establishing a gracious and artistic level to worldwide tea drinking practices.
Within twelve months, Charles and wife Fiona could seriously consider shifting house for a period of up to ten years. As proud parents, they advise that their son has just completed his university degree, moved out of home, and wants to travel, thus placing them in the proverbial “empty nest”. When children grow up & leave, many parents face an extreme sense of loss and change in identity. However, one proactive transition is to regard this as a new season of life. Charles has already discovered the social aspect of teahouses and the backroom shuffling sound of mahjong. Future visits to such establishments could run into hours of gossip, intrigue and all-night games in true Chengdu fashion.
Expatriate writer Warren Rodwell has been in China since 2002, and teaches university postgraduates in Chengdu. Many of his feature stories, reviews and photographs have been published online or in hardcopy media form. Warren also narrates documentaries and administers various websites as part of his efforts to promote Chengdu and Sichuan culture more globally.
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