Mah Jongg brings players together for a break from winter

Jan Loveland Contributing Writer

Photo by Jan Loveland

A visitor from China, Li Qing Ju, joined Bellaire residents Yuning Wang, Yolanda Ayala and Marian Johnson at a recent mah jongg game at the Bellaire Senior Center.



REGION – While winter socks many in with frigid temperatures and slick roads, functioning under less-than-ideal conditions is often a constant challenge. In order to keep busy, some local folks spend time each week playing mah jongg, a Chinese game that is played worldwide.

Because the game is complicated and full of rules that may initially seem overwhelming at first, the game brings people together with a required mental focus that can put all other troubles on the back burner. Those who are regulars enjoy both the social opportunity and the attentive skills that mah jongg offers.

At the Alden District Library, a group of women and men engage in a weekly contest, even in the depths of winter. In 2010, librarian Sue Riegler held a workshop featuring a mah jongg expert, and the group has continued since that time.

Claire Schiebner was one of four women involved in that workshop. She remembers that the first few games were challenging and that the game was “very hard to learn.” Schiebner had just moved to the area and knew that she needed a social pastime beyond the summer and early fall. The newcomer had seen the game played, but upon gaining skills, she particularly appreciated the “not aggressive” atmosphere at the library.  Schiebner recalled her early days as “very challenging,” and remembers going home in tears until one person was able to teach her.

The group’s longtime member Carolyn Buxenstein echoed the sentiment that the rewards include social bonding and the necessity of focus during play.

Like any game, there is strategy in seeing what other players are trying to accomplish as they pick up and discard the small plastic tiles to build winning hands. Winning hands must be built from the “Official Standard Hands and Rules,” published annually by the National Mah Jongg League, which sets the rules for a year at a time.  The sets contain 166 plastic tiles, in suits like cards but with more ornate decorations.

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