Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Lessons Learned From Mahjong

Mahjong is a Chinese cards game using small tiles.  There are many variations to this game, Ilonggo style, 3-Fan style, Tagalog style, with joker, without the joker, with flowers and without the flowers.  Being Ilonggos, we learn the game as early as we could count.

If some kids had legos to play with when they were young, before legos, we had mahjong tiles.  The sound of mixing up the tiles is like rain falling on the rooftops.  It is relaxing as well as stimulating, waking up the almost sleepy players who have put on an all-nighter for a game.

In our home, you begin your introduction to mahjong like you would in any other board games.  Your elders, on a rainy day, when school is out, would put out the brown case, filled with the mysteriously carved Chinese characters.  You begin with the wall.  This is done on the special square table with small drawers along each of its four sides and a brown paper on top, as big as the table's square that you can peel off, one page at a time, where the older members would write things down - like this radar-like drawing - keeping track of who is winning, called a high.  "Isa pa ka high," they would say after midnight when everyone is tired or really sleepy.  "Sige, last high." like a 'one for the road' for the players.

To make the wall, you need to create 16 tiles - a row of eight plus another row that goes on top.  Then you make this your own wall - east, west, north and south walls for all four players.  You add up to your wall until all tiles are neatly piled one on top of the other.  This alone is a fun activity already and we'd vie for being the child called up to do the wall as the players take a break.

Then you are taught to feel the tiles and guess what they may be.  The round balls, the straight, thin sticks, the Chinese characters from one to nine, the four winds, the dragons: red, green and white, the flowers, and the joker that has nothing at all.  You can use your middle finger to feel them or go old-school and use your thumb.  We even had a game of feeling for the tiles and if you get it right, it's "yours".

Life like mahjong is ruled by luck and determination; ambition and right-timing. Nothing is certain but the fact that you will win some and lose some, and sometimes, it could even be a draw.  You can win a little, or win a lot and sweep everyone dry but you can also lose just as much.  That when you take, you must also throw something back and that you have to take care of your wall.  Taking chances is all right but cheating is a big no-no.

So my blog, inspired by mahjong is about some of the lessons I've learned whilst playing it.  I'll make it into an even ten for inspiration.  Yes, the 10 Things That I've Learned in Mahjong That I Can Use in My Life.

1.  What you throw, comes back to you.  Often in life, people or things that you leave behind or discard have the capability of coming back after many years.  Some even come back multiple times, as if mocking you for letting them/it go.

2.  When in doubt, bunot (take one!).  When you seem to have run out of choices, just pick one and go with it.  Life has a way of sorting itself and if you ever reach a crossroads, just choose one path and take it.  It would eventually take you to where you ought to be.

3.  Stop settling down for the immediate win.  Take a swing at the higher stakes.  Small wins can be good but sometimes, you have to go for the big one.  Mahjongeros call this "todo-ambisyon".  Yes, ride that star and aim for the biggest win.  If you do, it feels great.  If you lost, at least you took the chance and you know you can take another swing at it, maybe later when your cards show better chances.

4.  When you take, you also have to give (bunot-tapon).  You pick a mahjong tile, add it to your set if it makes sense or throw it back out if it doesn't.  You pick friends and keep them if they improve your life but eventually let them go if they don't.  You take things but you must also give back.  Life is a give and take situation.  It always is.

5.  Don't force your tiles into what you want them to be.  Just play the game.  Often we force our lives into this image of what we want it to be, forcing ourselves, our families into this idea we have in our heads.  There is no template.  Often there is just life and we should just live it.  One day at a time.  Listen or watch out for the signs.  Usually there may not be a manual but there will be bells and signals.  Whether your tiles are going for an escalera, a seven pairs or just plain pong-chow, you will know.

6.  It feels good to win by what others threw at you but a self-pick win is always the best.  When you play mahjong and you finally picked that card you need to win, you shout gleefully, "Bunot!" Meaning you, by your own hand, picked the winning card.  It is so much sweeter than a mere "tapon" (throw).  A self-earned victory is always the sweetest of all.  In life, when all your hardships turn into some form of vistory, it is well-earned and it is the best.  Yes!  I made it!  I won!

7.  Respect the first (bunot).  Well just respect all the firsts and go through all your firsts in life.  You need it, you should just bear it.  The good firsts and the bad firsts are firsts, one and the same.  First love, first crush, first kiss, first break-up, first heart-ache, first job, first time away from home...even first time alone.  Rejoice in your firsts.  Learn from them so there are no seconds.  Try to make them your last.

8.  Throw the unnecessary tiles.  Things that complicate your life, things and people you don't need, things that you could live without, these are just clutter and confuse you and distract you from winning.  Throw away the things you do not need.  Keep only the tiles that show potential for winning; that will help you win.

9.  What you think is trash can be golden to the other players.  Related to #8, what you throw can be what they others actually need.  So even if you consider something or someone as useless, they could be everything to the next person.  Others could even win from what you threw away.  So be careful about what you throw away but do not let that stop you from throwing away the things you no longer need.

10.  Push your wall.  In mahjong as in life, you have to share your wall with others.  Kindness goes a long way to making our journey enjoyable.  Besides, the game can't go on if you don't do your part.

In the end, the last high does come, the final winner takes the pot.  You count your wins against your losses and well, todas is todas.  The end.

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