When you hear the word ‘Mahjong’, there’s a good chance you might be thinking of that funny little game on your computer, where the objective is to make pairs out of a big pile of mis-matched tiles covered in Chinese characters, sticks and flowers.
Sadly, this version of Mahjong, or Májiàng (麻將) as it is written in pinyin, is pretty far-removed from the game played daily by tens of millions of Chinese, which is in fact a lot more like the card game Rummy. If you’re wanting to see how authentic Majiang is played by ordinary Chinese people, however, one of the best places to go is Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, where Majiang is not just a game, it’s a way of life. The mellow pace, relaxed atmosphere and relatively simple gameplay of Majiang perfectly epitomise the Sichuanese approach to life: “Take it easy” (Mànmanlái 慢慢来). It’s no surprise, therefore, that you need only go to one of Chengdu’s famous teahouses to see an entire garden full of people of all ages sat playing Majiang, sipping on cups of green tea and chatting away life’s many troubles.
So what are the rules of Majiang, and what does a Majiang set even look like for that matter?
A set is made up of three suits:
…and there is four of every tile, like this:
…which means that you have a total of 108 tiles, three suits of tiles numbered one to nine, and four of every tile. Hopefully you’re not getting too confused by all these numbers and symbols, but just in case, here’s a quick example:
Before you even touch the Majiang tiles, be sure first of all to find 3 good friends (plus yourself) and a chilled spot somewhere. Comfy chairs are also a good addition. This isn’t a game to play in the deadly silence of a library, but a subway station isn’t ideal either.
To begin playing, you must first shuffle the tiles face down on the table and each player then builds a wall 13 tiles long by two tiles high. Two players will have 14 tiles in their wall, but that’s normal. It should look something like this:
To get started, each player rolls a pair of dice, and the person with the highest roll becomes the ‘dealer’, and gets to start play. The dealer then rolls the dice again to decide from where to start ‘breaking the wall’ – i.e. dealing the tiles to each player. The total of this second roll of the dice determines which wall, as counted anti-clockwise starting with themselves. So, a total of 3 would be the wall opposite (1 – yourself, 2 – player to the right, 3 – player opposite). The lowest number of these two dice then tells you precisely where to start breaking the wall, counting in from the right. This can all sound a bit tricky, but once you’ve played a few times it will come very naturally.
The dealer then starts by taking a stack of four tiles from the starting wall, and then each player does the same in an anti-clockwise direction until everyone has 12 tiles in their hand. Then, the dealer takes two more tiles to make his hand total 14 tiles, and each other player takes one more tile, so that each of their hands total 13 tiles. The dealer then discards one tile and everyone has 13 tiles – let the game commence!
Once the dealer has discarded his first tile, the game continues in an anti-clockwise direction. Each turn consists of picking up a tile from the remaining wall, adding it to your hand and discarding another tile (or, the discarded tile can be the one just taken).
The purpose of the game is to keep a poker face throughout, and end up with a hand that contains four sets of three tiles and a pair. The sets of three can be three of a kind (3-3-3) or a run (3-4-5). It could look something like this:
Now, here’s where things get interesting…
There are two special moves you can make:
Peng 碰 (pèng) – If you have two-of-a-kind in your hand, and another player at ANY point in the game discards a matching tile that would enable you to complete your set of three, proudly shout “PENG!” and before anyone has a chance to react, reach over and add the tile to your hand. You must then turn over the completed set for everyone to see and leave it visible for the rest of the game. To finish your turn, you should discard one more tile (to bring you back down to 13) and continue play from the player to your right.
The second special move, Gang 杠 (gàng) is perhaps even more fiendish! If you have a three-of-a-kind in your hand, and another player at ANY point in the game discards a tile that would enable you to make it in to a complete set of four, take a deep breath and scream an almighty “GANG!” Grab the tile, add it to your hand and proudly turn over your four-of-a-kind for everyone to see. Take a tile from the wall and discard another.
It is important to note, it doesn’t matter where the vital fourth tile comes from, whether it’s a discarded tile or taken from the wall, making a set of four is always a gang and you must always turn it over and reveal it straight away. Even if the three-of-a-kind is already face-up on the table, you can convert it into a four-of-a-kind with the gang move.
When you pick up the final tile completing a winning hand, shout “HU LE!” (胡了hú le) and add the tile to your hand (or turn it over to complete a peng or gang). It’s not necessary to show all of your tiles at this point, as some of the sets may have been completed by taking tiles from the wall, and gameplay doesn’t even stop here! The rest of the players must “battle to the bloody end” (血战到底 xuè zhàn dào dǐ) until there is only one player left.
About now, some of you may be wondering, don’t people usually bet money on Majiang games? The answer is absolutely yes, but since almost every city, district and even household has its own system for scoring and gambling money, we’ll save that for another blog post.
Now you’re fully equipped and ready to go out into the streets of Sichuan and challenge your friends to a fiendishly fun game of Majiang – but be careful, if you find yourself locked in a battle to the death with some well-seasoned local players, you just might leave with a suspiciously light wallet…
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Recently, we had our family day in Zhuhai. What’s that you may ask? Well, it is a day where we meet up with the Zhuhai host families – including their children – in the park. We wanted to spend time with them and get to know them better. Also, there were some families who have not yet hosted a foreigner and were interested to learn more.
We were very lucky as we had perfect weather; the sun was shining and it was around 30°C. Maybe even a little too warm for what was waiting for us…
First of all we brought all the stuff we needed to the park and marked a big circle on the grass with flour, hung up our IC-flag and put the bottles of water we brought in the shadow. Some visitors of the park stopped wondering what we might be up to, some also took pictures.
While waiting for the families we watched some children and men flying kites. We invited some boys who came by to try out their English skills and join our gathering. And then the first families showed up and the fun began. The children were aged between 3 and 14 but all of them were happy to play some games with us. We played ‘Duck, Duck, Goose’, some other tag-games and animal guessing. I didn’t know that children could run so fast! Unbelievable! We all had a lot of fun and the day ended too fast.
We finished by sitting on blankets on the grass talking with some of the older children about our home countries, hobbies and languages. That was really nice. We were able to communicate well and the children made a lot of effort to speak English.
After that sunny day full of running I was very thankful for a cool shower in the evening and we ate some dumplings, prepared using the flour we didn’t use for the lines in the park. They were really tasty thanks to our cook Li!
See you and 再见，
Gianna aka Gini aka 吉娜
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If you have lived, studied or worked in China you may have seen Chinese people playing different drinking games in KTVs, bars and clubs. There are lots of different games and they are actually quite fun. If your a foreigner and you go out with a group of people you are not well acquainted with, or perhaps you are a little shy; it’s a kind of Chinese way of breaking the ice. I’d like to list a few and how to play them.
Game 1 – 吹牛
First of all, there is show-off 吹牛, it has many different names but this is the easiest one to remember. This is perhaps the most common game all around China as the standard rules can vary between the provinces and cities and there is no limit to the amount of players at one time. Each person has a plastic cup with 5 dice inside, each number is representative of its real value except for one which is random (anything you want it to be). The aim of the game is to guess the amount of dice that everyone has together by only looking at your own, although you can lie. However you are not allowed to have 5 dice of different values, there must at least be two of a kind. As a quick example, if there are only two people playing (10 dice), and I have a two 1’s, two 4’s and a 3 – I can say four fours as adding in the one I have four fours (as well as the unknown amount in my opponent’s cup). They may not believe that I have that many and can open (開!), but of course they have lost and they must drink. Similarly, if in the same situation I called 5 threes, and they opened as there cup did not have any three’s inside, then I have lost as I only have 3 threes (adding in the one). So, the aim of the game is to guess whether the other person is bluffing and catch them out or to guess the correct collected amount of dice. Although, Here is an OK explanation of the rules as I am sure many people are confused.
There are also some very specialised rules, for example when playing 吹牛, you can say two/three/four/five …. 1’s. Whenever, you say 1, it can no longer be a wild/random dice and it is only one. This rule continues to be in effect until someone doubles the amount of their next call. For example If player 1 calls four 1’s (three players), and the next person says five sixes only (栽)….that means that if player 1 or 3 were to open player 2’s cup, the collected amount of dice must total five sixes discounting one. However, if player 3 believed that five of the 15 die were sixes he could say 7 sixes flying (飛), as the wager has jumped from 5 to 7, they can now include one.
There are also lots of other rules, like reversing the order, playing with dead dice (nothing is the same), not looking at your dice/or only looking once, and jumping the queue but they are hard to explain at most Chinese people play with the standard rules. Another thing to remember is when the club/bar/ktv is noisy many people will use hand signs to denote their wager….
Game 2 – 青蛙青蛙跳
There are so many other games I could talk about – like 十五二十 (15/20), 美女/警察/流氓 (Beautiful woman/Policeman/Vagabond), 蘭州拳 (Lanzhou fist), 007啪 （007bang), 大西瓜/小西瓜 （big/small watermelon), lucky, clapping rock/paper/scissors, 過反 (pass/reverse),….in fact I think I know around 20 different games. However, I’d like to share one I learned recently, its really easy to play. Its called 青蛙青蛙跳 – froggy froggy jump. No matter the amount of players, each person puts one hand palm face down on the table with their fingers flat, whoever decided to call first must say 青蛙青蛙跳 and then raise one of their four fingers on their thumb whilst keeping the others pressed down on the table. If any one else raises the same finger or thumb as the person who called, they lose and must drink. Then it is their turn to call. Easy.
This is just a brief introduction to the thousands of games that are played throughout China, there a lots of different games and some people even mix the games together (for example 大戰遊戲 – big war game). If you learn just a few, you can have a really great time.
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As an intern at Internchina, we frequently go out for meetings in the city: introducing InternChina to companies who are looking for an intern from the West, finalising contracts with companies, visiting interns we have successfully placed and so on. It is (almost) always nice to get out of the office for an hour or so, because it is a nice change to the many hours a day we spend in there.
One of the places we quite frequently go for business meetings is the “Tianfu Software Park” in the Southern part of Chengdu. It is not far away from the so-called “Biggest building in the world”: the “New Century Building“. However, the “Tianfu Software Park” has a total of 2.2 million sq.m and hosts hundreds of IT companies: IT consultancies, game and app developers, IT designers and many more.
Chengdu’s software park is often referred to as the “Chinese silicon valley”. During my visits to China since my first time in 2006, I’ve encountered such denotations like the “Chinese Venice” (the city of Suzhou) or “the Chinese Las Vegas” (Macao) quite often. In Europe, we also have similar monikers for some places – think of the Polish capital Warsaw as the “Hong Kong of the East” due to its skyscrapers symbolizing the city’s importance as an economic hub for trade and investment from the East.
However, I think that Suzhou has little association with Venice and if the Chengdu’s software park will ever have roughly the same importance in the future as Silicon Valley has for the world now – we don’t know (A few Indians and I, I guess, have their doubts). Basically, it depends on how Chengdu and China as a whole cope with it’s main economic and social challenges ahead.
In Europe, I have the feeling that we talk too much about democracy in China (the “Chinese Democracy – there is it again) and way too less about the countries problems and (potential) instabilities. The main challenges that also pose barriers for “Chengdu’s Software Park” on its way to its goals to be the “the Chinese silicon valley”, are enormous; an aging workforce, a widening gap between rich and poor, social media challenging the ruling party, environmental degradation on a vast scale – just to mention a few.
Alas, if you want to experience living in a city that thinks it can boost it’s importance and reputation of software development sky-high; a city that is said to be THE place for software and IT that everyone in the world will know in ten years’ time; a city that smells and stinks at the same time of economic growth and aspiration – come to visit Chengdu! Now! This unique atmosphere won’t last forever.
Apply now for a real China experience, in Chengdu, Zhuhai or Qingdao.
Last saturday InternChina organised a Laser Tag event at the Zhongshan Park in Qingdao.
I’ve already played some laser tag games in France, and every time I played, I had to run into a dark labyrinth with loud metal music. So I imagined that in China it would be the same, but I was totally surprised to hear that actually we would play a laser game outside and in the afternoon.
So we arrived at the place around twelve and we directly divided the whole group in two teams, one led by Jack the other one by me. Both teams had to wear special outfits with some targets on them for the laser guns, Jack’s team had dark outfits and in my team we were wearing camouflage outfits.
The organiser told us the first team has to go into the park and hide, and the second team will attack them. So that was quite funny, because this park is really popular in Qingdao and in the afternoon there are lots of people there.
So, while we were playing the little soldiers and crawling on the floor, two meters next to us there were many Chinese families having a relaxed afternoon picnic in the park, or old people sitting on a bench and thinking “What are these strange foreigners doing here?!”
We organised two games, after which we decided to do an InternChina staff team against interns, there was a kind of temple on the top of the hill in the park and the game was named “Defend the temple”. InternChina had to defend it. But 6 against 18 was quite unfair and it didn’t take long for our opponents to beat us.
At the end when we decided to pay and stop playing, everyone came back to the meeting point and then we noticed that someone was missing.
The best player of the day was certainly Mathias, a German intern. He was so involved in the game and so well hidden that it took us about half an hour to find him! Saving private Mathias…
As Jack was playing with him in the same team we asked him to call Mathias, the dialogue sounded like this:
Jack: “Mathias, the game is over, you can stop hiding now and come back.”
Mathias: “They’ve got Jack, it’s a trap, they’ve forced him to say that.”
Finally our super warrior came back and asked “Is the game already over?”
Playing Laser Tag is really funny but also tiresome and some of us had a nap during the waiting time…
After we found our missing soldier we all decided to have an ice cream together to celebrate a real nice day.
InternChina has planned some amazing trips and activities in the past, so I figured the first activity I plan would have to be a pretty great one. The majority of the interns in Zhuhai at the moment are boys, so paintballing was a pretty obvious choice!
We all met up at 2pm and got on the bus that took us straight there. One of the best things about China is the fact that the 40 minute bus ride only cost us each 2 rmb.
Before the event, everyone seemed to be pretty excited, and having never done paintballing before I was super excited as well. I knew that it would hurt if you get hit, but other than that I didn’t know too much about the game. To be honest, part of me just thought that you stand around and shoot people; I definitely did not at all realize it was so strategic! We split up into teams and headed out for our captains to tell us the battle plan, the captains of course being Philippe, and “Captain Morgan”. The other team quickly snatched up the brown body suits, which at the time I was pretty happy with because I thought the blue ones were cooler, but on the field it was virtually impossible to see them, whereas our team stuck out like a tiger among lions.
The rules of the game were that if you get hit, you’re out, and the last man standing has the winning team. Easy enough, right? I was not at all prepared for how it is out in battle, I actually though I would be pretty badass and had a vision of me standing in victory on a hill with everyone defeated on the ground covered in paint. Turns out, not so much – the second I saw someone pop out from behind a giant pile of dirt and aim their gun at me I hid behind a tree, and pretty much stayed there for the rest of the game. Bullets were flying everywhere! I didn’t see much of the action, but I hear that some of the others were pretty amazing. Although our team won the first game, Morgan was able to shoot Philippe straight in the face (revenge much?) But fair enough, when else can you shoot your boss in the face? Philippe also was in the middle of the action the whole time, running and sliding left and right across the field.
The brown team owned the next two rounds, they virtually slaughtered us. I thought I would be a lot more help if I didn’t hide behind a tree, but within seconds of trying to run to the other side I was hit and got the benefit of watching the rest of the game from the sidelines. I want to blame this on the fact that my mask was completely fogged up and impossible to see out of, but everyone had the same advantage in that department. The blue team put up a good fight, but I’m sure the fact that the brown team’s leader is American had something to do with their victory, Morgan’s competitive nature and her ability to use real guns was clearly nothing we could compete with.
Towards the middle to end of the games everyone was complaining that they were running out of paintballs and they all had to go buy more. I, on the other hand, had to stand in the field and start firing at the trees when the games were officially over; I must have had over 100 paintballs left. Pathetic.
Afterwards we all had had some refreshments and snacks. Philippe told everyone that the InternChina record is to pick up four peanuts horizontally with your chopsticks belongs to a Brit, and very quickly that is all that seemed to matter to everyone for the next half an hour – everyone was attempting to break the record. A couple were able to pick up three at once, so still the record stands for four peanuts!
The day overall was amazing, but holding the heavy gun and running around in all the gear tired everyone out pretty quickly, so by the time we got off the bus back in JiDa everyone was ready to eat and go relax at home.