For nearly 10 years now, people have been asking me to learn this game. And for 10 years, even though I have a beautiful retro set from my grandmother, I have said, “No, I do not want to learn. Thank you.”

So, now, after my second lesson and two winning games (albeit open hands with lots of help) I am trying to understand what kept me from this game before.

Before I tell you the revelations that I’ve excavated from the recesses of my odd little mind about what my problem is with Mahjong, I want to tell you what I’ve learned and what I like about this game.

What I’ve learned:

  • Suits don’t have to look alike to be alike. Be one with the suit.
  • A dragon can look like a bar soap instead of like a dragon.
  • Crak is not an illicit drug.
  • Bam is not just what Emeril says.
  • Four different tiles put together are not necessarily a set.
  • Flowers all look different. But they’re the same.
  • Left, across, right, across, left, left stacked…. (I think?)
  • If you’re the one who dumps the tile that makes someone else win? You pay double.
  • Stick to one area of the card.
  • Relax. And don’t commit too early.


  • It’s hard to remember how much trail mix you eat when you’re concentrating on the hand.
  • Playing hooky rocks.
  • It sure is fun to be with friends for a couple hours with no distractions.
  • I sure appreciate my patient teacher.

Back to the scheduled programming. Why I resisted learning this game for so many years. I think I might have figured it out. First of all, that tile mixing makes the most distinctive (and annoying) sound. It brought back memories of my childhood. I hate that sound.

And until recently, I didn’t know anyone younger than my mother’s generation that played mahjong. And though my mother played when she was younger than me, I had no perspective. So to me, only older women played. I imagined more of my grandmother and her friends clicking their tiles at the club.

And it seemed to me that people had games every week. More than one time a week. Surely, I couldn’t imagine signing up for a hobby that was that frequent. No time! Plus, it felt like a secret club. Know what I mean?

So why did I relent?

I don’t know. Maybe I wanted to be in a secret club. Maybe I just got asked at the right moment when the stars were aligned. Maybe I figured I’d be losing my hearing soon and the tile-sounds wouldn’t bother me for long. Maybe my schedule opened up.

I have no clue.

But if it keeps being fun, I’ll keep playing.


6 thoughts on “Mahj

  1. I too, have always been a bit apprehensive about playing the game of Mahj- I always felt I was never old enough, or it looked to confusing, or some other excuse. Then I found out people I KNEW were playing and they never asked me to join! Even after I learned (the 1st time), so maybe I wasn’t that good? Or maybe they didn’t have patience to play with me? Or maybe, they didn’t want me in their secret club! I’m so happy I’m in YOUR secret mahj club! And we have a great teacher! and I get to see my friends once a week!

  2. Oooh, I feel so honored that it was my secret club invitation you finally accepted! I’m really glad too, because it’s been fun.

    I decided to learn mahj because so many women I’d recently met were playing and I had to see what the fuss was all about. I hate not being in the know!

    I don’t come from mahj culture — my mom didn’t play. And like you, I’d always thought of it as an old Jewish lady’s game. But like knitting or crochet, everything “old” can be young again these days if we want it to. Besides, some day we will be old Jewish ladies…why not learn now while the memory and eyesight are still relatively sharp?

    Here’s to good timing, and to making mahjongg hip. Now all we need is a secret handshake!

  3. Glad you guys are having fun with maj. Sorry I missed the last lesson. By the way, it’s right, over, left, left again, over, right! When’s the next secret club meeting? Risa

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