Yuans, Chinese Firewater, Yangtze River

I just returned from a wonderful trip to China and Tibet.  Part of the itinerary was a cruise down the Yangtze River to see the Three Gorges.  Our group of 15 was the only (group of) Americans on the cruise.  While the ship was sailing I wandered around listening to the other people on the ship talking, laughing and having a good time.  Of course, I could not understand a word.  There was one room on the ship where a mah jongg game was going on the entire day. Because of the Project Mah Jongg I really wanted get involved. I have never played mah jongg. It took me until the middle of the day to get up my   nerve to enter the room, smile and with many hand jesters asked if I could watch.  The group of six from Shanghai was the most welcoming.  My buddy told me her name was Shirley.  First we laughed, then we drank and then Shirley tried to explain the game to me.  This was all done in Chinese and I began to believe I understood what they said.  Chinese Firewater definitely helps.  I must describe the table.  It is shaped like a bridge table.  In the middle is this globe that has dice enclosed.  After the game is over the hole opens up, the tile go inside and are mixed.  There are 2 sets of tiles.  Automatically a new set up tiles appears before the 4 players and they are ready to go.    By each player is a drawer where the yuans – Chinese money – are kept.  After each round the money, liquor and laughter flows.  Well, I finally got my big chance, they let me play.  The tiles are oversized and quite lovely.  The numbers, I think are in Chinese.  I sat down and said “I have never played before!”  We all laughed and I figured we somehow understand each other.  I played with Shirley’s help and I won her more money.  My fellow travelers gathered round me, pictures were taken and I made a wonderful new friend.  I know her name is not Shirley but I do have her e-mail and somehow we are going to communicate.  Friendships are formed through maj jongg!

– Charlotte Guggenheim