The pandemic has been a real bummer to say the least. But despite all the negatives there has been one amazing thing that resulted directly from this event. I moved to Japan midway through 2020. Like most people around the world, I wasn’t socialising at all. The school I worked for went through large periods of time where the campus was shut so I was working from home and could go several days without interacting with another person face-to-face. This is challenging when you live alone and are a social person.
There were three other women I knew that were also struggling with the isolation so I had a marvellous idea. I had brought with me to Japan my grandmother’s mahjong set. As a girl I had learnt to play with her, Aunty Phyl and Mrs Ogilvie after Mrs Topham became too old to travel and make up the four. I have started mahjong groups in other places previously and decided this might be a good time to start a new one.
So, I floated the idea to Angela, Ari and Srishti. All three women shared characteristics vital to the success of the group.
- No public transport needed – we all lived in the same building complex and being covid safe was very important to us
- Single and childless – no pesky interruptions to a weekly commitment from family responsibilities
- At least one dead parent – something to bond over
In January of 2021 our first meeting took place in my lounge room. Despite being the middle of winter, we had all the windows open and wore masks the entire time. I introduced them to the game and they immediately took to it. “The Masked Mahjongers” were born!
For the next 18 months, our weekly meetings were a life line for the four of us. Something to look forward to in very troubled and uncertain times. In June of 2022 though, two of our members left Japan for good and our group was dismantled. Not to worry though as we have decided to make a yearly mahjong adventure tour. Our first one took place in Srishti’s home of India over Christmas of 2022.
I was particularly excited as I’d never been to India. Myself and Angela travelled to Mumbai together where we met Ari the following day. We then took a car to Pune where we reunited with our fourth at her home there.
To give you a bit of an idea of the characters amongst the group, here are the player profiles of the “Masked Mahjongers”.
Srishti, our host for the tournament. The most competitive of the four. Known for really only having one hand, The Three Philosophers, which she plays in minor variations for a quick 500 to1000 points. Also known for saying she is nowhere near completing her hand and then going Mahjong after the next two turns.
Catchphrase: “Oh my lord dot com.” (Usually accompanied by a hand gesture we refer to as the one of sticks.)
Ari was the most sceptical about the game at first but was hooked after one session. Known for completing all honours hands on a regular basis although they failed her in India for some reason. The first to acquire her own set.
Catchphrase: “You don’t know me!” (I beg to differ my dear!)
Angie is the keenest player of the group. Would happily play to 2am every time if allowed. She is also the least successful overall although finished up the tournament in India with a convincing win on the last day. Known for occasionally ending up with an extra tile or two in her hand without any idea of how they got there.
Catchphrase: “I’m so hot.”
The subsequent two weeks were filled with laughs, amazing food, displays of the one of sticks and a lot of crude language. Our tour took us to Goa where between games we enjoyed the beaches lined with restaurant shacks.
After Christmas we had to say goodbye to Ari who travelled back to South Africa to visit her actual family. However Angie and I remained in Pune to celebrate New Year’s with Srishti and her family before heading back to Mumbai.
Sadly, we finally left and returned to Japan. I did receive one final gift from India however with a violent case of Bombay Belly hitting me in the middle of the luggage carousel area of Narita airport. For the next six hours as my body purged every trace of chicken tikka masala from my digestive system, I reassured myself with the knowledge that now that I’d shat my pants, I could truly say, I’ve been to India.
Next stop on the Mahjong International Tour will be South Africa in 2024!
I love all of this story except for the Bombay Belly part – it’s horrible to be sick on a day that you’re travelling. Are you all teachers as well? Is teaching another thing that you have in common?
In fact we are all teachers. Somehow, that point missed me! Anyway, I only have six more months of teaching left so it won’t be a common factor on the South African tour!