Mary Kelsey's introduction to the game of Mah Jong
I don't remember when I first heard about the game of Mah Jong (although my family would play numerous board games most Saturday evenings). That was all to change though when in 2002 I joined three friends for a holiday in China.
While in Beijing I walked around the city and at one point went down a residential street full of flats. I heard strange clattering noises coming from the windows on that hot, sultry evening but didn't understand what it was - later of course I realised it was the sound of the "twittering of the sparrows". The holiday included a cruise on the Yangtze River where we were offered three cultural Chinese sessions one of which was Mah Jong. I was immediately hooked and went along to all the three sessions of the game rather than taking advantage of the other subjects - making and flying a kite and the history of opals. Continuing the holiday on shore I purchased a set of Mah Jong tiles from an evening market, not understanding at that point we needed the English letters and numerals on the tiles. While walking around a town one day we saw a group of men sitting crossed legged on the pavement playing Mah Jong but they flatly refused to allow me to photograph them. I was sorry about that as I was intrigued with the tiles and really did want to look at the ones they were playing with. However, I did note there were no racks, rather the men appeared to be holding the tiles in their hands and up their arms, they were also playing at an incredible rate (gambling no doubt).
Back in England we couldn't find anyone who played or could teach us the game. We tried learning from a book but were defeated. Then I saw that the Somerset County Federation of Women's Institutes was offering educational courses and amongst the wide programme there was one game included … Bridge. I immediately rang the office but was told there were no plans to include Mah Jong (actually I doubted the person I was speaking to understood what I was talking about). By then I was more determined than ever to learn this fascinating game and persuaded a number of WI friends to phone enquiring about learning Mah Jong and finally an introductory course was offered. The bookings were sufficient for two days rather than one and I attended both of them. I was definitely hooked then.
From those WI members we set up playing sessions and gradually these became more regular and four of us were playing on a weekly basis. Three of that initial group still play as often as we can but instead of always talking about different hands to achieve Mah Jong we now chatter about everything under the sun - we definitely play the social form of the game!
Gradually I began to show a few people how to play Mah Jong and regular playing times were set up. From this growing interest Ken and I decided to set up the Taunton & District Mah Jong Club.