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Wednesday, Oct. 4
The Indiana Daily Student

Mahjong helps students bridge culture gaps

Playing Mahjong helps junior Wan Chun Chang relax.

“The noise of the tiles while playing is so soothing that it relaxes you, and you can unwind from an otherwise monotonous lifestyle,” Chang said.

Chang teaches students Mahjong from 2 to 4 p.m. every Friday at the Asian Culture Center. Originally from Taiwan, Chang is a transfer student from Green River Community College near Seattle, where she was the Mahjong Club’s president. She said she began teaching Mahjong at IU in fall 2010 and continued to instruct new students throughout the year.

Chang took up Mahjong two and a half years ago, when her Cantonese roommate at Green River taught her how to play the game. Despite having only a few years’ experience, she is now able to teach others who wish to learn how to play.

Because her family did not own a Mahjong set, Chang said they instead played Chinese Chess for fun.

Mahjong is most commonly played by people of Cantonese descent, Chang  said, while people of Taiwanese descent prefer Chinese Chess and poker.

“They all are old, but in comparison with each other, Chinese Chess is the oldest, and hence most Taiwanese families prefer to play it,” Chang said.

Chang said she personally enjoys playing both poker and Mahjong, though she said she feels that poker is more fun because it can include a larger group of players, whereas Mahjong is restricted to four people.

The object of the game is to collect a set of 14 tiles grouped into four “melds” of three tiles each and a matched pair. The melds can either be a Pung, three identical tiles, or a Chow, a straight of three tiles of one suit marked with consecutive numbers.

As in many other games, Mahjong also has its set of unwritten rules. During the game, players cannot say words that sound like “loose” in Mandarin, and words like “book” are forbidden because they can be taken as bad omens.

“Mahjong is easy to learn, but as you keep playing it becomes difficult to win as you progress,” Chang said. “Usually, winner’s luck is a predominant feature of Mahjong. The newest player is the one who usually wins the most.”

Lisha Tan, a Chinese student at IU, said she learned how to play Mahjong from Chang and won a few games in a row during her first time playing.

“Initially, when you start playing, you think there are so many tiles that it’s impossible to remember each one of them,” said HaeSook Park, a secretary and administrative assistant at the Asian Culture Center. “But as you start to play, it is astonishing how easy it is to remember the tiles.”

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