Like most international students, I came to the United States after finishing high school, when I was 18 years old. Now I am 21 — and like most of my American peers, I love meeting new friends, experiencing new challenges, and observing new environments.
But I also like to hang out with my Chinese friends at parties and … PLAY GAMES.
One of my favorites — a traditional Chinese game that is typically played by four people — is called Mahjong. Some people say this game was created by Confucius, the famous Chinese philosopher, in 500 BC. The word means “Sparrow” in Chinese — though the game has nothing to do with a little bird. And regardless of where you come from in China, there is very little difference in how the game is played. Further — many other Asians from Korea and Japan also play Mahjong. So really, here in Iowa City, I can always find a group of people who will want to play with me.
To some extent, Mahjong requires the players to put their strategy and skills to the test. But like every game, it also involves some degree of luck.
When we first gather to play the game, three friends and I sit on different sides of a square table. Four players throw a dice; the “dealer” is the one who throws the biggest number. The game requires a full set of what we call “Pai” — which are essentially brightly colored rectangular tiles, similar in shape and size to dominoes. The symbols on the Pai represent different Chinese words — like kinds of flowers, seasons of the year, or colors. The goal is to collect certain patterns of tiles — what I understand to be similar to the American version of “rummy.”
We typically sit around the table for two or three hours playing Mahjong, but there’s really much more going on than just the game: We tend to talk during this time about our lives, our time in Iowa City, the stories we have about attending the University of Iowa, and our reminiscing about our families back home in China. It’s a great time, and a chance for us to come together and relax after a hard week of studies.
The party host will usually prepare snacks to serve — our favorite here in America tends to be brownies. I had never eaten brownies before coming to America: my friends introduced this yummy treat to me and I think they are really delicious. But we also eat some Chinese snacks too — such as “miao cui jiao,” which are small, umbrella-shaped snacks made from flour, salt, and sugar.
Some party hosts like the American music — such as the Billboard Top 100. Others like Chinese pop music.
Only one thing is missing from these parties — more American students to play with us. It would bring our cultures together; they could bring their games to us, and we could show them our Mahjong, and we could learn from each other.