For some strange reasons, I never pick up the game of majong, although I often watch my grandmother, my aunties or their “kakis” have their afternoon sessions. My grandmother only invited folks who were Cantonese-speaking and who lived in the Tiong Bahru SIT estate area. Sometimes my grandfather participated because someone backed-out at the last minute. So having male players was the exception.
Pic 1: My grandmother and grandfather at the majong table (circa 1959)
My very first introduction to majong was probably before I went to primary school. My grandmother was responsible for setting up the table and covering the top with the smoothest white paper my eyes ever saw. My “duty” was to greet each aunty and offer them their favorite drink. I was also tasked to do the refilling when ever I spotted the glass or cup empty. Chinese Jasmine tea and black coffee were the popular drinks. The drinks were placed on a small wooden stool next to each player. If my grandmother won the game that day, I was sure to get rewarded with my favorite “Ku Lu Yoke” from San Hoi San, the Cantonese cook across our flat. If she lost, she would not speak and I would not dare to ask her “what’s cooking for dinner”.
This game fascinates me. I always wondered why someone would shout “Pung” very loudly, utter swear words, open small little boxes below the table and exchanging little colorful plastic tokens. There was the “breast stroke” motion of moving the tiles around on the table, and arranging the tiles into 4 rows at 90 degree to each other. I saw each player taking turns to take the tiles from the center of the table. Then the game ended with a shout of “Pung”.
The game commenced shortly after lunch (when “Lai Dai Soh” came on the air) and ended just before dinner time because it was my uncle’s turn to listen to “American Top 40”.
Perhaps If I took to the game, I would have achieved wonders for my Chinese Second Language in school.