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Confusing Confucius
Nancy Fisher | 24th Street




Rose Carson and Brooke Eisenberg-Pike becoming “fancy” under the tutelage of Jacquie Schmall.


Learning to play Mah Jongg isn’t for wimps. Just ask the eight residents (two tables of four) who gathered at the Del Mar Community Building for the first session of Del Mar Community Connection’s (DMCC’s) new “Beginning Mah Jongg” class.

For newcomers to the over-two-thousand-year-old game, which originated in China when Confucius was around, just getting acquainted with the terminology is a huge accomplishment. Dots, cracks, bams, dragons, winds, flowers, hot and cold walls, and charlestons. Huh?


Mari-Ann Alford contemplates her wall.


But, in spite of the challenge, most of those who attended the first class of a series taught by Jacquie Schmall plan to stick with it. “I really want to learn to play,” says former Del Mar mayor Brooke Eisenberg-Pike. “I was raised by a working mother who played poker and told me that only the fancy ladies played Mah Jongg, and I’ve always remembered that. And then my brother, who also plays poker, learned to play Mah Jongg in his late-eighties. So I’m not only making my brother proud…I’m becoming fancy!”


Mah Jongg newbies Wan Young and Greet Hostettler. trying to separate dots, cracks, bams, dragons, winds, and flowers.


According to the history of the game, provided by Jacquie, Brooke’s mom was right. For centuries, playing Mah Jongg was exclusive to the royal class, and was against the law for commoners to play. And, as an incentive not to break this rule, the penalty was decapitation. However, when the ban was lifted around 500 A.D. and everyone could play, the game spread to various countries around the world, including England and Australia, and was finally introduced to the United States in 1920. To promote the game English translations, and index letters and numbers, familiar to card players were given to the 152 tiles used to play Mah Jongg.


Kathy Agnew building her “wall.”


If this series of classes, which will end on March 29th, produces some enthusiastic new players, and maybe even some who can play with the “pros” who meet each Wednesday at the Powerhouse, DMCC hopes that the classes will be ongoing. “Jacquie is a bright ray of light,” says Program Manager Heather Glenn, “and the response from the community validates the interest in learning Mah Jongg. We’d really like to continue.” For more information please contact Heather Glenn at (858) 792-7565 or email her at heather@dmcc.cc.


Priscilla Orida organizing her tiles. Photos Virginia Lawrence


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