Category Archives: Mah Jongg and Me

THE COGNITIVE BENEFITS OF MAH JONGG

Lately I have been giving lectures about the cognitive benefits of Mah Jongg. Our beloved game is not only great fun but it is great exercise for the brain, too! Our wonderful friend, Sandra of Gehazi Collections, found an article from this past April about the resurgence of Mah Jongg within the senior community. The article is from the Patriot Ledger out of Massachusetts and was written by Susan Scheible. A tip of the dice to these beautiful ladies!

The Chinese board game of mahjongg is growing in popularity at local senior centers. “It stimulates the brain,” is a common refrain.

HINGHAM — Lorraine Crowell’s mahjongg moment came three years ago at a retirement community in Florida. “I discovered you can only zumba so much,” the Braintree resident said. “You have to find a sit-down activity. Mahjongg looked like a game that would help my brain activity and I enjoy a challenge.” She now plays twice a week in Hingham.

Rickie Moriarty of Rockland was captured by the Chinese board game when a neighbor recruited her; today she teaches others. “It really uses your mind, its fun and the people are lovely,” she said.

At age 82, Dick Ponte has been mastering mahjongg for 45 years and teaches a beginner’s class at the Hingham Senior Center. One lesson: “You focus on building your hand and don’t have to worry about letting a partner down.”

Challenging but fun, complicated but not impossible, the ancient game that uses Chinese tiles is making a comeback at local senior centers. You can find a drop-in session somewhere almost every day of the week if you are willing to travel and at the Rockland senior center, they are.

“We have people from Norwell, Abington, Weymouth, Braintree, Randolph, Stoughton, Hanover,” Moriarty said. The game of Mahjongg gained widespread popularity in the 1950s and 60s.

I heard about the game’s resurgence from Ginny Ballou. In an email, Ballou described the “Mahjongg Mavens (who) all met at the Hingham Senior Center about five years ago. From there we’ve become a close group who watch out for one another, check in on one another and continue to play mahjongg twice a week. All of us are over 70, several in their 80′s and darn, we are still having fun!!”

Ballou first heard of the game in the 1960s when she was in college and living in Brookline where “everyone played it.” She always wanted to learn and in retirement, when Ponte offered lessons back in 2011, she signed up. By 2013, this social networker was organizing tournaments.

A few weeks ago, I dropped by to see the Mavens in action and was intrigued as they all reached their hands together onto the tables to shuffle the sets of 144 tiles with Chinese characters and symbols. I asked them why they play.

“It’s just fun to play with friends and there’s no real big gambling,” said RosaLee Goldstein of Hingham, in her 80s.

“I thought it would help keep the mind active,” said Carol Anglin of Cohasset. “It’s a lot of fun because you’re not playing against anyone, just yourself,” added Chris Reeves of Hingham. “Socially it’s a great group of women, very welcoming.”

For Cecilia Hanrahan of Weymouth, the concentration the game requires is a stimulating challenge. Ann Millburg of Hingham took Ponte’s beginning course twice to make sure she had the basics.

A week later, I checked out the Rockland senior center where the reasons were similar and the friendships also strong.

Moriarty explained that mahjongg still requires a strategy and an ability to figure out what the other players are doing. “You have to be defensive and know how to sort your tiles based on several different characteristics,” she said.

“You use your brain, you really do,” said Barbara Lathrop of Braintree.

Some pick up the game more easily than others but Moriarty was firm: mahjonng “is never easy.” It takes time to learn. She will sit with a new student for several sessions and then have them join a game just to experience the give and take.

“Don’t give up!” was the take-home message of Ann Shannon of Rockland. “You think it’s hard, but it’s not that hard. Keep on going.”

Reach Sue Scheible at scheible@ledger.com, 617-786-7044, or The Patriot Ledger, P.O. Box 699159, Quincy 02269-9159. Read her Good Age blog on our website. Follow her on Twitter @ sues_ledger.

Sue ScheibleSue Scheible is a staff reporter for The Patriot Ledger who writes a weekly column, A Good Age, about life after 50. In her blog, she shares extra anecdotes about the people she meets, readers’ e-mails, videos, photos and phone messages, and ideas for what to do in retirement or to prepare for retirement. 

EVERYWHERE…

Perhaps the Mah Jongg craze sometimes goes a bit too far…my wonderful friend Charlotte sent the following photo to me from the June issue of Hamptons MagazineJoanna mahjong set, Ralph Lauren ($4,495). 31–33 Main St., East Hampton, 631-324-1222; 41 Jobs Lane, Southampton, 631-287-6953. Bellamy clover tall vase ($350) and clamshell bowl ($345), AERIN. 83 Main St., Southampton, 631-353-3773

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AMAZING!

The other day I told you how my dear friend Jeri was out and about scouting Mah Jongg-related things in NYC for this blog. On a recent visit to the Museum of the City of New York she came across an exhibit of Carrie Stettheimer’s famous dollhouse. As the museum notes, “one of the Museum’s most popular artifacts, the dollhouse of Carrie Walter Stettheimer (1869-1944) weaves together the fashion and style of New York’s Gilded Age in miniature form. Stettheimer worked on the 12-room dollhouse for nearly two decades, creating many of the furnishings and decorations by hand.”

So, why am I blogging about a dollhouse…well, among the many rooms is the Library, which features a beautiful Mah Jongg table displaying a miniature Mah Jongg set, citing that the game is “one of the most fashionable games of the 1920s” 

Enjoy this photo and, if you are in NYC, be sure to visit the Museum of the City of New York located at 1220 5th Ave at103rd Street to see this incredible dollhouse for yourself. 

I KEEP TELLING YOU…

Mah Jongg really is everywhere! My dear friend Jeri has been scouting NYC for me and sending photos of evidence that Mah Jongg has infiltrated every aspect of daily life! As she passed a lingerie store on Lexington Avenue and 64th Street, she came across this bag in their window…I did a little research myself and found out that the store is called Lingerie on Lex at 831 Lexington Avenue (between 63rd and 64th Street) in NYC. I called and spoke with the absolute loveliest lady, Melissa, and she told me all about this darling zippered pouch. It is mesh with raised “leatherette” letters and sells for $25. It is 7″ x 9″. Melissa and her sister grew up listening to their mother play Mah Jongg and became Mah Jongg players and collectors themselves. When Melissa saw this pouch she thought it would be great to hold MJ card, coins, etc. Melissa is such a doll and, if you live in NYC, I hope you will patronize her store. And there is a sale going on right now!

Melissa has two of these bags in stock if you are interested and she told me that she can reorder it if she sells out. If you are out of town or can’t get over there to buy this adorable bag, you can call her at (212) 755-3312.

Much thanks to Jeri and Melissa!

If you see any evidence of Mah Jongg in your neighborhoods, take a photo and send it to me and I will post it!

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I’ve received this message from a reader of this blog. I’d love to hear how your Mah Jongg group deals with this issue. My group doesn’t pay for wall games but I think many groups do. So, let me know your thoughts.

I have two groups that I play with and love them both for different reasons.  I have been playing with my original group for over 5 years, but the other for only a year (they have been playing together for over 5 years, almost 50 years each individually!). One of their table rules is putting up a quarter for a wall game.  However, we disagree on how this should work when playing with more than 4 people.  They say the person coming in pays the quarter because they are the one who has a chance to win it.  I say the person who played the wall game pays it because it is in lieu of the (minimal) quarter they would have paid had someone won.  I can see it both ways, but it still bothers me a bit each time.  It’s only a quarter and I am a newer player so I go along with it.  I am wondering how other groups deal with this issue.  I’m sure there are some great stories about this!  Thanks for listening/commenting.

DID YOU KNOW?

The wonderful Gladys Grad, the Grand Master of American Style Mah Jongg, offers a Q&A in her monthly newsletter. This month there were a number of very interesting questions. Here are a couple of them with more to follow in a day or two. I’d love to hear your comments!

Q. Someone who winters in Arizona said that the white dragon should be called “white” during play. She got this instruction from a person who runs tournaments in Arizona. Is this now correct for all tournaments?

A. We call the white dragon “Soap.”  The NMJL has called it “soap” for many decades.  It’s common in Canada to name it “white.” Either name is acceptable in most tournaments. However, if a tournament Host states they want it named “white,” then you should abide by the Host’s rules.

Q. I don’t want to build walls, and I don’t want to throw the dice to break the walls.  Too many additional things we have to do.  Why? 

A. We just love these kinds of questions.  How about like what Mom used to say, “Because I said so.”  In this case….’because the NMJL said so.’  It’s the rule. However, here is a wonderful response…on Facebook,  “This is a game of ceremony, rules and etiquette. Building the wall is part of the ceremony. I cannot imagine forgoing this in the traditional four person game.”  Moreover, breaking the wall arbitrarily by the throw of the dice is a method to prevent stacking East’s wall with Jokers; to prevent cheating.  This process is used throughout the Mah Jongg playing world.

Does your group build walls and throw the dice to know where to break the wall? I recently played with a woman whose group always breaks the wall at 8. They never throw the dice. I personally like the rituals and ceremonies of the game and would not want to give up any of them. Also, as Gladys pointed out, throwing the dice to determine where to break the wall is a definite method to prevent any cheating. Let me know your thoughts…